When people work together, travel together, and prepare for battle together, it’s easy for bonds to develop. This is why many MMA fighters are close with their coaches – even after they hang up the gloves.
For anyone who watched Chuck Liddell during his prime and saw his historic light heavyweight title run, they probably also know who John Hackleman is even if only by appearance. Hackleman was a mainstay in Liddell’s corner and founded The Pit training camp to help fighters like Liddell reach their full potential.
But eight years after Liddell walked away from the UFC at company president Dana White’s urging, Hackleman now finds himself in an interesting dilemma. His fighter wants to return, despite widespread worries about whether he’s healthy enough to do so. For Hackleman, seeing his fighters actually do battle isn’t something he enjoys. But given his close relationship with Liddell, he also wants to see him happy.
Hackleman admitted he didn’t like the idea of Liddell returning, saying: “In fact, I don’t like any of my fighters to fight. I wish they were all just training at my gym and were having fun, and that’s what I started The Pit for back in 1985 and I never want anyone to fight…But with that said, if he does [want to fight again] and he really has to do it in his heart, then I’m behind him 100 percent.”
After putting together an impressive title run right around the time the UFC gained mainstream popularity, Liddell soon hit a skid. He dropped back-to-back bouts to Quinton Jackson and Keith Jardine, losing his title to the former. He rebounded with a win over Wanderlei Silva in a fantasy match (albeit one that was a few years too late) before hitting another skid that would be his last – or so the MMA community thought.
Liddell sustained three brutal knockout losses to Rashad Evans, Mauricio Rua, and Rich Franklin. Though the bouts showed Liddell was still athletic and formidable in terms of offense, his chin seemed to be severely diminished from years of fighting. For his own safety, the UFC urged him to step aside. But now Oscar De La Hoya’s new MMA organization, Golden Boy MMA, could serve as a destination for Liddell’s return.
Liddell’s comeback opponent will likely be Tito Ortiz, a man he’s already defeated twice. Ortiz expressed interest in the fight, having said he never got a fair shake against Liddell during their UFC bouts.
Hackleman has said he’d be willing to help Liddell prepare for his comeback. With his coach firmly in his corner, Liddell seems to have all he needs at least in terms of support. But there are still questions about whether he will get the result he wants or whether he’s putting himself in more danger.
While the coach says Liddell hasn’t been training regularly during his downtime, he did note he was impressed by his ability to retain skills despite pushing 50.