If there's one thing that can be said about former Chuck Liddell and Mirko "Cro Cop" Filipovic, it's that they plan on leaving absolutely everything in the ring.
"I plan on making another run for the title," Liddell said during a recent conference call. The former UFC light heavyweight champion is battling Rich Franklin at UFC 115 Saturday.
Cro Cop had a similar prognosis for his future, "I will keep fighting as long as I can, as long as I'm going to feel fit, as long as people would like to see me fighting." The 2006 Pride Open Weight Grand Prix winner takes on rising heavyweight contender Pat Berry on Saturday.
The trouble is, with Liddle losing four out of his last five fights, and Cro Cop not having beaten a top MMA fighter since Josh Barnett in 2006, it appears that both men are unable to compete at the elite level anymore. Bad habits that Liddell could get away with in his prime have been punished by devastating knockout losses. Cro Cop, once being feared for his striking, acted gun-shy and was pulverized on the feet at UFC 103 by Junior dos Santos.
Besides poor performances in recent outings, the other thing that Filipovic and Liddell have in common is that both contemplated retirement following their stoppage losses at UFC 103 and UFC 97 respectively. Cro Cop quickly recanted his statements, returning at UFC 110 to beat late-replacement Anthony Perosh. Liddell's retirement was actually announced by a concerned Dana White at the UFC 97 post-fight press conference. A war of words ensued over the forced retirement between Liddell's trainer John Hackleman and the UFC president, with Liddell eventually returning last fall to coach the 11th season of "The Ultimate Fighter" opposite planned opponent Tito Ortiz (Ortiz later pulled out of the fight due to a neck injury that required surgery).
Barry disputes that Cro Cop has lost any of his steam, "He's not older, slower, weaker, nothing. It's everybody else got better is what happened."
Similarly, Franklin greeted the challenge posed by Liddell, saying "When you have the opportunity to fight someone like Chuck, that's just not something you can turn down."
There are reasons why these matchups potentially favor Liddell and Filipovic: With the fight at 205 pounds, Chuck Liddell holds a size and strength advantage over former 185-pound champ Rich Franklin. As for Cro Cop, he has way more experience, having had six times as many MMA fights (36) against much stronger competition as Barry does (6).
Additionally, not only do Cro Cop and Liddell prefer to exchange standing, but Franklin and Barry are also both primarily strikers. That means that whoever connects first or most frequently can notch a win, but is winning the only true indicator of whether the decision not to retire was correct?
Recently, welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre made a statement defending his safety-first approach to fighting: "I'm not going to give names, but if I would tell you names, you would know who's a brawler, who's not, and who now has a problem with his career because he got hit too much," going on to say "They can't take a punch anymore."
Although we cannot be certain, there was some speculation that St-Pierre was referring to Liddell, who has been stopped three times within his last five fights by former UFC champions Quinton Jackson and Rashad Evans, and current UFC light-heavyweight champion Shogun Rua.
As for Cro Cop, he points to a persistent leg injury and substandard sparring partners as factors in his past performances, but Filipovic's No. 1 enemy has been a loss of desire when it comes to beating top-tier opponents. He still easily defeats lower-ranked competition, as Liddell could do if he chose easier match-ups.
Their lackluster fights aside, both Liddell and Cro Cop still enjoy immense popularity, and can still be utilized as assets to the company to headline major shows. But is there a parallel with Muhammad Ali, who went on too long? And should Liddell suffer another devastating knockout loss, does an athletic commission need to step in for his own safety?
We may get our answers Saturday.