Andy Foster says approving Liddell vs. Ortiz 3, in the end, came down to one thing: whether he believed the fight was a mismatch. And heading into the bout he did not believe it was.
The California State Athletic Commission (CSAC) executive officer told MMA Fighting on Monday that Chuck Liddell was medically cleared and he did not feel that the former UFC light heavyweight champion was in over his head against Tito Ortiz going into the main event of Golden Boy’s first MMA card last Saturday night in Inglewood, Calif. Liddell beat Ortiz twice earlier in their careers, once in 2004 and again in 2006.
“Chuck wanted to do it,” Foster said. “I thought it would be competitive. At least I certainly didn’t think it was a mismatch. Your level of inactivity not withstanding, it’s hard to say it’s a mismatch when you’ve got two wins over the guy already.”
Liddell had not fought in eight years and is 48 years old, while Ortiz, 43, fought and beat Chael Sonnen in January 2017. In the end Saturday night, Ortiz knocked out Liddell at 4:24 of the first round at The Forum.
The decision to allow Liddell to fight has come under plenty of criticism. “The Iceman,” a UFC Hall of Famer like Ortiz, looked slow in the fight and didn’t pose much of a threat to the younger, faster Ortiz. Ortiz ended up knocking Liddell out cold. Liddell was knocked out in three of his previous fights, prompting UFC president Dana White to pull the plug on his career in 2010.
Foster said when the fight was first announced, many thought it would be competitive, pointing to close odds in sportsbooks. He said the odds only swung toward Ortiz when videos of Liddell training surfaced. Foster said he watched footage of Liddell training before approving the bout, but it’s hard to make a determination from that and Foster said it looked like Liddell was in good physical shape.
“It just demonstrated that he had been in the gym and he was training,” Foster said. “It’s hard to gauge any of that stuff. You don’t know how hard someone is going. People do different things.”
The media workouts didn’t give Foster pause, he said, because he didn’t know Liddell’s intentions. Even Ortiz’s coach Jason Parillo accused Liddell of putting out “hoax-y” footage of him possibly not going full strength.
“You don’t really know how hard people are going in those things,” Foster said. “Sometimes fighters don’t want to show their best stuff. His opponent is sitting right there watching.”
Foster, a former fighter himself, says it was a difficult decision, especially that the other side of it would be telling an athlete he or she cannot make a living. Foster said CSAC followed the Association of Ringside Physicians (ARP) medical testing plan for fighters over 40 years old, which includes MRA and MRI testing of the brain, an EKG, cardiac testing, neurocognitive testing, blood work and an eye exam.
“We want to keep the fighters safe,” he said. “At the end of the day, it’s a fight. If we hadn’t approved the fight, that fight was probably gonna happen somewhere. California is the safest place for that fight to be at. We had our top referee in there (Herb Dean), he stopped the fight in a timely fashion. If you tell somebody as the executive officer, ‘Yeah, I don’t think you should be doing this even though you passed all your medicals,’ you’re basically telling that fighter, you can’t make a half a million dollars or however much he was making. That’s a big responsibility to tell somebody they can’t make a living. I take that responsibility seriously.”
Foster says he had heard the criticism and knows it would have been easily avoided had he just told Liddell he couldn’t fight. But he believes he followed CSAC regulations the best he could.
“This would have been a whole lot easier for me if I just said no,” Foster said. “If I just say, ‘No, we’re not doing that.’ The regulations and the medical exams are not set up for the comfort of Andy Foster and whether it’s easy for me. This is a business and profession, the fight game. Chuck Liddell made money in this profession for many years. He wanted to enter this business and profession again, a business and profession he had been at the top of the world at, albeit a long time ago. If you pass all the medicals, the only thing left is, is the fight a mismatch? And I didn’t believe it was.”
Foster said Liddell has not given any indication as to whether he will fight again, so he didn’t want to comment on that.
“I think with the fight game, we should perhaps change the focus to promoting these younger, up-and-coming fighters,” Foster said. “I think that’s good for the sport.”