This past weekend, Chuck Liddell, one of the godfathers of mixed-martial arts in the United States, fought in what many experts are saying was his last match ever, one where he was knocked out by Rich Franklin. The Iceman, who is 40 years old, is said to be washed up, past his prime. Two weekends prior to that event, Quinton “Rampage” Jackson, another huge star in American MMA, lost a decision to Rashad Evans. Although he’s only 30, his future is uncertain. All told, it hasn’t been a kind month for legends of the octagon.
Now, I don’t pretend to be a fan of UFC at all. Yeah, I love pro wrestling, but I never got into MMA. However, that doesn’t mean that I don’t know who the major players are and recognize their star power. Liddell, who garnered some mainstream pub with his appearances on The Simpsons and Dancing with the Stars, and Jackson, who hosted Monday Night RAW two weeks ago and is starring as BA Baracus in the A-Team movie, are two of MMA’s most recognizable personalities. Given that both are bombastic, charismatic personalities with backgrounds in combat sports and waning careers in MMA, I have to wonder if Vince McMahon or Dixie Carter have given any thought to contacting either one to be a full-time talent in their respective companies.
To the untrained eye, the jump between MMA and pro wrestling should almost seem interchangeable. I mean, wrestling is fake, right? So why wouldn’t MMA fighters make the jump when their careers come to a close? It would give them a renewed income source, more time to shine in the spotlight and it would be familiar. Plus, wrestling is lower impact than MMA, right? Well that’s the thing. I’m willing to bet that the average UFC fighter has less wear and tear on his body at the end of a 10-year career than a pro wrestler would have in 5.
[adinserter block=”1″]Because MMA is “real”, it falls under heavy scrutiny and regulation from state athletic commissions, which is why you may see Brock Lesnar fight, oh, maybe three times a year (when he’s not battling diverticulitis, that is). When Lesnar was making his bones in the WWE, he was wrestling three times a week minimum. And don’t let the ignorant fans and the haters fool you; while pro wrestling is staged, it’s far from fake. Having to take flat-back bumps and other wear-and-tear several times a match, several times a week every week of the year is going to add up. I mean, why do you think wrestlers have such a high incidence of painkiller abuse? Just take a look at Carlito; he was fired for refusing rehab after being addicted to painkillers. What caused that addiction? His own finisher, the Backstabber, caused him so much knee pain that it wasn’t even funny. All in all, the residual bumps, bruises, scrapes and such add up to a whole lot more over a career in pro wrestling than does the three or four intense bouts of taking punches and kicks at full speed in a career of MMA.
So we’ve established that promoters like McMahon would have way more to gain from having a Liddell work for him than the other way around, right? I mean, this isn’t the late ‘90s, when MMA still had the stigma of being one step away from being an unsanctioned Thai pit fight, when Ken Shamrock had to defect to the WWF in order to make more money and more of a career for himself, and in turn, help legitimize MMA and the UFC in the process. So why even bring it up? Well, people want to be famous and continue to make big money doing something that they love, or is at least a reasonable facsimile of what they love. The truth of the matter is, a guy like Vince McMahon would be more than willing to make concession after concession to get a guy with the mainstream credibility of Rampage Jackson in the fold.
Just look at the schedules that Undertaker works now and Shawn Michaels worked before his retirement at WrestleMania. They were able to take chunks of time off, skip house shows and still get the same kinds of star treatment that a guy like John Cena or Randy Orton would get by working a full schedule. Neither one has the kind of mass appeal that Jackson or Liddell have. Hell, they even offered that kind of schedule to Jeff Hardy to come back to the company, and he was a liability in terms of his legal problems. That kind of thing doesn’t matter as long as he can bring fans in and sell merchandise.
Granted, Liddell’s age is a problem, as well as his enthusiasm for pro wrestling, which is unknown. However, Jackson is a professed life-long fan of the WWE. He’s 30. He’s got some sort of mainstream credibility with his movie, and with it getting its clock cleaned by the Karate Kid spoiled-brat vanity project remake, him becoming a Rock-esque runaway box office star isn’t as likely. He’s the perfect candidate to bring in, train and let loose.
[adinserter block=”2″]I always thought that the WWE made a huge mistake in not aggressively courting Mike Tyson to be a full-time roster member back in the day. Sure, it didn’t look like they needed him with the Attitude Era and stars like Steve Austin, the Rock and Triple H coming through the pipeline, but it’s never a bad idea to have more than one back-up plan in the works. Tyson might have prevented some of the doldrums brought on by the botching of the WCW Invasion and the exodus from the company of guys like Austin, Rock and later, Kurt Angle and Lesnar. Now, the WWE is desperate for guys who can get them back to high ratings and mainstream relevance. TNA is just looking for a spark that can get them to a level near what the WWE does on a bad day. Why they aren’t looking at courting high-profile UFC fighters at careers’ end is beyond me.
Or maybe they are. Maybe they’ve contacted Liddell, Jackson or any number of past-prime fighters and are being rebuffed. Who knows. From a fan’s standpoint though? Even though I’m not a huge follower of UFC, I’d mark out if I ever saw Chuck Liddell stand toe-to-toe with John Cena in a WWE ring.
Don’t front. You would too.
Tom Holzerman is a lifelong wrestling fan and connoisseur of all things Chikara Pro, among other feds. When he’s not writing for the Camel Clutch Blog, you can find him on his own blog, The Wrestling Blog.
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