It’s not a matter of Bellator wanting to promote a trilogy fight between MMA legends Chuck Liddell and Tito Ortiz. It’s a matter of whether or not the company would be able to do it.
Bellator president Scott Coker told MMA Fighting on Friday that he would be interested in seeing Liddell vs. Ortiz 3, with some caveats, but there might be a sizable obstacle in the way of Bellator being the company to put it on. Coker said he believes Liddell, 48, is still under contract with the UFC, despite being retired since 2010.
“My understanding is that Chuck is still under contract with the UFC,” Coker said. “I’m not sure. I just thought that to be true. I don’t know the details, but when he retired, I think the contract freezes and they maintain some rights.”
Talk has heated up on social media and on TMZ between Liddell and Ortiz, both UFC Hall of Famers. Liddell has been publicly talking about a comeback since last year and earlier this week Ortiz changed his past course and said he’d be down for another shot against “The Iceman.”
Liddell and Ortiz have one of the most storied rivalries in the history of MMA. They first met at UFC 47 in 2004 with Liddell winning by first-round knockout. Liddell finished Ortiz by third-round TKO in the rematch at UFC 66 in 2006 to retain the UFC light heavyweight title.
The feud between the two men helped elevate the UFC into the mainstream consciousness. Both were top pay-per-view draws in the mid-aughts and remain two of the most popular MMA fighters of all time.
Liddell and Ortiz were supposed to fight for a third time in 2010, after a stint coaching opposite each other on The Ultimate Fighter 11. But Ortiz pulled out due to a neck injury and Liddell ended up being knocked out by Rich Franklin in a fight that has been, to this point, his farewell bout.
Ortiz, 43, last fought in January 2017, a first-round submission victory over Chael Sonnen at Bellator 170. “The Huntington Beach Bad Boy” won three of four fights with Bellator after departing from the UFC.
Coker said Bellator has been in contact with Liddell and his team. The two parties met last year to discuss Liddell being a brand ambassador for Bellator, which has yet to come to fruition. The issue could be Liddell’s contract status with the UFC. He was laid off in 2016 from his executive role, but Coker believes he still has a promotional contract with the company.
“Listen, is it a fight that would be fun to watch?” Coker said. “I think if they both pass a physical and Tito was healthy and his neck was healthy and he was able to perform at a high level, and they were fighting, to me is it interesting? I would definitely watch it. But would we promote it? I don’t think we can, because Chuck is still under contract with the UFC.”
Late last year, UFC president Dana White said he doesn’t want Liddell to fight again for health reasons and that he hoped rumors of a comeback were untrue.
Coker said Liddell vs. Ortiz 3 is not something Bellator is concerned with at this juncture. Bellator is in the middle of its year-long Heavyweight World Grand Prix tournament with another first-round matchup, between Fedor Emelianenko and Frank Mir, set for April 28 in Chicago. The winner of that battle of all-time greats will face Chael Sonnen in the semifinals. Matt Mitrione advanced into the semis with a win over Roy Nelson last week at Bellator 194 and he’ll face the Ryan Bader vs. Muhammed Lawal winner.
“Right now, we’re extremely busy with our World Grand Prix,” Coker said. “We’ve got a great tournament going and we have some exciting things you’re gonna hear about in the next couple weeks. I think we’re gonna focus, keep our head down and keep doing what we’re doing and focus on these great events that we’re doing.”