MONTREAL — There was history aplenty at UFC 97. Mauricio (Shogun) Rua knocked Chuck (The Iceman) Liddell out of the UFC, Anderson Silva set a record for most wins in the Octagon and looked bad doing it, and Dana White went though a news conference without dropping a single F-Bomb.
All that and a record sellout crowd of 21,451 at the Bell Centre on Saturday night, producing a gate of $4.9 million — the kind of figures that surely will have Ontario government officials looking to do the necessary paperwork to welcome the UFC’s lucrative travelling show.
The show will be remembered for Liddell’s fourth loss in five fights and his apparent departure from the sport of mixed martial arts he helped build from the ground up. The 39-year-old Liddell said it was “probably safe to say” his career was over. “It’s not working for me lately,” he said simply. And then he left the news conference to go drinking.
It was up to UFC president White to handle the requiem.
“You’re never going to see Chuck Liddell on the canvas again,” White said. “It’s never going to happen. It’s done.
“Tonight was the end of an era. One of the greatest guys in the sport fought his last fight tonight.”
White revealed he had tried to get the former light-heavyweight champion to retire after his last loss — a devastating knockout at the hands of Rashad Evans at UFC 88. But Liddell convinced his friend and former manager that he would do the things in training to tighten his game for one last go-round.
White says the aging gunslinger lived up to his part of the bargain.
“He came out firing and put on the most exciting fight of the night, in my opinion,” said White, on his best behaviour after a messy video blog brouhaha in advance of the card.
Liddell (21-7) showed more movement that he had in recent fights and changed up his game, taking Rua down at one point. But Rua, 12 years younger, matched Liddell’s striking and, like others before him recently, found his defence and chin wanting. He beat Liddell to the punch and floored him with a lunging left 4:28 into the first round.
Rua (18-3) finally showed glimpses of the talent that made him a star in Pride as he improved to 2-1 in the UFC. He picked up an extra US$70,000 for knockout of the night.
Liddell won 15 of his first 17 UFC fights but only one since beating Tito Ortiz in December 2006. It is clearly time to move on. White said he will have a job for life in the organization, just not in the cage.
Silva won a drab decision over Thales Leites in the main event, drawing boos from the crowd and a scathing review from his boss.
“After being in this business for almost 10 years now, I’ve never been embarrassed of a UFC fight like I was tonight of the main event,” said White, who included Leites in that failing grade. “I did not like the fight at all, period. On either side.”
Silva had not impressed last time out at UFC 90, when Canadian Patrick Cote had to quit early in the third round after his knee gave out. Silva won but was criticized for seemingly toying with a lesser fighter.
Silva seemed to do more dancing than throwing against Leites, although he turned it on at times as he did during the Cote fight. Leites was unable to show anything of his vaunted ground game. Whatever he tried, he seemed to end on his back liked a flipped-over turtle while Silva looked down at him.
It was an uninspired performance but still one that sent Silva into the history books by winning a record ninth straight fight in the UFC, erasing the mark shared by Royce Gracie and Jon Fitch. He also tied a record with his fifth title defence.
History aside, Silva recently has been a far cry from the fighter who destroyed Rich Franklin twice and submitted Dan Henderson.
“I don’t know how you go from executing people left and right to dancing for five rounds,” said White. “I don’t know.”
“Not every fight is going to be a knockout,” Silva countered through an interpreter. “Not every fight is going to be some spectacular finish.
“But what I trained to do, I felt I executed in there . . . And I walked away with the victory and the belt still.”
White said Silva needs a tougher challenge at 205 pounds, where he will find “somebody who poses a serious threat to him.”
Canadians won five-of-seven fights on the night, thanks to lightweights Mark Bocek of Woodbridge, Ont,, and Sam Stout of London, Ont., welterweight T.J. Grant of Cole Harbour, N.S., middleweight Denis Kang, and Winnipeg light-heavyweight Krzysztof (The Polish Experiment) Soszynski.
But it was back to the drawing board for middleweights David (The Crow) Loiseau and Jason (The Athlete) MacDonald of Red Deer.