UFC President Dana White says the most important fighter in UFC history, the man who carried MMA during its unsteady days, is Chuck Liddell.
"I would have to say Chuck Liddell." said White on Fox Sports Radio. "Chuck Liddell was the guy who really carried this thing on his back for the early years when we were getting this thing off the ground. We had some guys who were big stars but Chuck was really the man. Chuck was the guy with that look and everything else. When people saw him you knew that was the Ultimate Fighting guy."
SBNation's Jonathan Snowden has a different opinion.
With due respect to White, I think he's forgetting someone pretty important to the UFC's rise. Walking hand in hand with Liddell, creating the sport's fanbase with his own force of will, has been the "Huntington Beach Bad Boy" Tito Ortiz. Every step of the way, Ortiz has been side by side with Liddell, in most cases beating him at the box office, and on television. He's Liddell's equal everywhere, basically, except inside the cage.
Before Liddell was a star of any significance, Ortiz was already the UFC's poster boy. He and Ken Shamrock gave Lorenzo Fertitta hope during a desperate time, drawing 150,000 buys on pay per view at UFC 40. No one else had come close to that number in Zuffa's six events to that point. It reaffirmed the new sports promise as a spectator spectacle.
While Ortiz played hardball in negotiations with his former manager White, Liddell moved up to the main event. But "the Iceman" didn't have the same cachet with the fans. Against Randy Couture at UFC 43, Liddell managed just 49,000 buys. When Ortiz returned at the next event to try his hand at beating the aged wrestler, the two almost doubled that with 95,000 buys.
Everything Chuck could do, Tito could do better. His own coaching stint on The Ultimate Fighter set records on Spike TV that lasted 10 seasons. At UFC 57 Liddell drew 400,000 buys. Tito did him 25,000 better at UFC 59. Even Ortiz's television cameos were bigger and better- while Liddell had an awkward turn on Entourage, Ortiz starred on the network smash Celebrity Apprentice in front of 11 million people every week.
The two made the most magic, however, together. Former training partners and clients of White, their feud simmered for years. When they met in the cage for the second time, they became the first UFC fighters to draw more than a million buys on pay-per-view.
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