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Liddell Retains and Couture Retires; UFC 57 Results

Written by: Trevor R. Hunnicutt

LAS VEGAS, Nev.—Chuck Liddell defeated Randy Couture Saturday night in the third match of their historic series to retain the light-heavyweight championship. Immediately after the match, Couture, a legend in the sport, announced his retirement.

It took only one slip for Randy Couture to lose the advantage he had worked so hard to attain in the minutes prior, but those moments were exploited by Chuck Liddell to great gain in the second round of their fight at UFC 57 Saturday night. With the two warriors neck-and-neck, Couture took one wrong step, lost his balance briefly, and tried to rebound by taking a shot. The damage was done and his position was lost, however, and Chuck Liddell stunned Randy Couture with six extremely quick and repetitive shots, knocking him to the ground with the first and stopping the fight with 3 minutes and 35 seconds remaining in the second round.

“This is the last time you’re going to see these gloves and these shorts in this octagon,” said Couture, one of the most successful fighters in the history of the sport, after losing the fight. “I’m retiring tonight,” he said, thanking his fans. Stunned fans responded by cheering and chanting his name.

The two warriors danced around each other for several of the first minutes of the fight before Randy Couture took Chuck Liddell to the corner and knocked him down to the ground. Though Liddell recovered quickly, not flummoxed or physically defeated by the encounter, mentally and tactically he had been the first man of this match to be overtaken by the other. Couture's slip in the second round offered Liddell his one and only necessary opportunity to dominate Couture.

Couture is one of the most legendary and popular figures in modern mixed martial arts. Years after it was declared that a man of his relatively advanced age, he is 42 now and debuted at 34, could not be successful, his superior skill and extraordinary conditioning proved all nay-sayers wrong. He became one of the sport’s most successful fighters and, a respectful man with an optimistic attitude, one of its leading spokesmen. He went into almost every fight as an underdog and, regardless, usually won. His latest series of matches in UFC, against Chuck Liddell, have also been among a handful of matches that were the most financially successful in UFC history.

With tonight’s match, the Ulimate Fighting Championship is on track to shatter all previous records in terms of gate and PPV buys ever set before. Their PPV tonight, headlined by the rubber match between Chuck Liddell and Randy Couture, is expected to create $3.8 million in revenue for Zuffa from ticket sales alone, according to the Wrestling Observer website.

At that figure, tonight’s show will replace Wrestlemania XVII in 2002 ($3.5 million for Austin vs. Rock in Houston) as the most successful gate for a pro-wrestling or mixed martial arts show in United States history. Internally, the company is also expecting 300-350,000 buys in the United States which could draw in millions more.

The last match between Liddell and Couture, where Liddell won the light-heavyweight title from Couture by sidelining him with a hard right punch early in the fight, set similar records last Spring with somewhere between 275-300,000 buys and a gate of $2.6 million. The two figures represented a level of success that Zuffa had never before seen in its ownership of UFC.

The buys recalled an era long since gone when Ken Shamrock faced Royce Gracie and Dan Severn in 1995 matches that drew around 260,000 paying viewers. Later, when the company was banned from cable, they lost most of those fans and almost went out of business when they were bought by Zuffa, a company owned by the Lorenzo and Frank Fertitta, in 2001. Dana White, as president, has built the Las Vegas market to be receptive to the brand and created a market for live events to high-rollers in Vegas and, to a lesser degree, in New Jersey. The Liddell/Couture feud has attracted not only that base of fans but a national group of numbers not seen since those Shamrock matches that drew partly from a group of disenfranchised wrestling fans and martial arts enthusiasts.

Liddell now has a legitimate claim, with no competition in the United States and a handful internationally (Silva, Noguiera, Rua, and Arona, in PRIDE, for instance), to the title of greatest current light-heavyweight fighter in the world. It is likely that his next opponent will be Renato Sobral, who beat Mike Van Arsdale with a rear-naked choke submission in 2:21 of the first round tonight.

In other matches, Nick Diaz’ fall from grace continued as he lost to Joe “Diesel” Riggs tonight by unanimous decision after three rounds. The loss comes only three months after a decision upset against Diego Sanchez, the young fighter produced by the first Ultimate Fighter reality show. Despite the win, Riggs still is not totally vindicated from his loss to Matt Hughes in the first round of a fight at UFC 56, after he failed to make weight to challenge for the title. This time, he appeared at the weigh-ins at 169 pounds and then showed up for his fight, lethargic from cutting so much weight, at 202 pounds.

Keith Jardine beat Mike Whitehead by unanimous decision. Jeff Monson beat Brandon Lee Hinkle by KO in 4:35 of round one. Paul Buentello beat Gilbert Aldana by TKO in 2:27 seconds of round 2 (7:27). Alessio Sakara beat Elvis Sinosic by unanimous decision. Marcio Cruz beat a returning Frank Mir by TKO in 4:10 of round one. Brandon Vera, who announced he was getting married Sunday in Las Vegas, beat Justin Eilers by KO in 1:25.

For UFC 58 next month, B.J. Penn returns to UFC and will face Georges St. Pierre on March 4. That show will also feature Rich Franklin against David Loiseau.

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