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By Brian O'Hara for MMA Sports. Photos by Brian O'Hara (c) MMA Sports.
A Night Out With The Ice Man That Included Celebrities, Fans, Fighters, and Incredibly a Las Vegas Style Shotgun Wedding.

The purpose of spending time with Chuck Liddell was to write about the side of him that most people do not get a chance to see; the cultural icon, the father of two and most importantly the person outside of the octagon. Aside from a great interview, I also had an incredible experience with one of the most recognizable athletes in the world.

Not surprisingly Liddell spends a large portion of his free time traveling around the world. What is surprising is to see the number of different places he travels to during any given month. In October alone Liddell was in California, Hawaii, Canada, New York, Alaska, and finally Las Vegas for an evening to blow off some steam.

I spent over an hour with Liddell in his grand suite hotel room before the time came to tackle the night. He noticed that I was wearing a pair of flip-flops, which did not meet the standard dress code for Las Vegas nightlife. He said, “What size shoe do you wear?” Before I could reply he momentarily disappeared into the next room and came out with a pair of socks. He tossed them in my direction and handed me a pair of his shoes. We walked downstairs and jumped into a black Range Rover that was waiting outside of the MGM Grand. The driver took us to the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino to pick up his girlfriend and friends.

Having access to a personal driver and a nice rig are privileges that Liddell does not take for granted however. He spoke earlier about how difficult it was to grow up in a single parent household.

“Actually, we lived with my grandparents because we couldn’t afford rent.

Shoot, at one point it was my great-grandmother in the studio, my great-grandpa in one bedroom, me and brothers were in one room, and my mom and my sister were in another room.”

Liddell’s major life influences were the people who were close to him while he was growing up.

“My grandpa and my mom are the biggest ones, and my coaches were my major influences,” Liddell said.

Meanwhile on the ride to the Hard Rock Liddell told me that the friends he was picking up made a last minute decision to get married in Las Vegas, which meant stopping by the chapel before going to the nightclub. Upon arrival at the Hard Rock, Liddell was instantly surrounded by droves of fans. Some were waiting to ask for a picture, and some were simply staring at him in disbelief. Surrounded by fans, Liddell maintained a great attitude toward the remarkable amount of attention he receives on a daily basis.

“You try to separate it. It’s work. I just always keep reminding myself that plusses always outweigh the minuses. I get paid a lot to do what I love to do for a living and this is part of my job. For the most part, most of my fans are good people. They’re nice people and they’re nice to me. They’re just happy to see ya. If it makes their day to stop for a second to take a picture, then it is not that much out of my way to do it.”

Earlier he disclosed an unfortunate encounter with a fan that made it difficult to maintain his composure.

“There are times when people are out of their fucking minds and do stupid shit. I had a guy knock my daughter down. It was by mistake obviously, but the first words out of his mouth were, ‘Hey can I get an autograph?’ and I was like, ‘Are you kidding me, you better get away from me right now.’ The only thing saving me was that I was with my little girl. If I could have, I would have had someone walk her off to not see me go kick his head into the next planet. I’m a pretty nice guy, and if he handled the situation better I might have been a little bit pissy, but the first words out of his mouth were asking me for an autograph. For the most part fans are great though.”

Liddell shared a number of great stories over a few drinks before exiting the Hard Rock Hotel. As he stepped off of the elevator, he unexpectedly crossed paths with another iconic figure; Hulk Hogan. The two greeted each other and stopped to have a brief discussion. As I saw the two cultural idols together, I recalled his thoughts about his favorite celebrity experience.

“Probably when I met Joe Montana and Steve Young. Those guys were really cool. It was nice to talk to some of the older athletes about their careers and to hear some of their thoughts,” Liddell said.

He also discussed the television experience that he is most fond of.

“Entourage had to be my favorite one. That’s my favorite show and I was asking everybody I knew to get me on that show. They finally got me on. I just wanted to do a cameo on it, but the guys were like, ‘Hey you’re here so we might as well write you in’ and it worked out good. I appreciate it (acting) now that I’ve done some stuff and how hard it is to make it look good. It’s not as easy as it looks.”

Speaking of entourages, Liddell, his girlfriend, and friends continued out the doors towards the limo that was parked in front of the Hard Rock. The soon to be groom was sporting a tall Mohawk with his future bride in arm, and the recently (mere hours before) ordained minister was rocking fully sleeved tattoos. The group loaded into the limo and stopped at the church somewhere in downtown Las Vegas. Spontaneously, Liddell agreed to be the best man in the fly by the seat ceremony. He had a great time with the unusual request without letting his celebrity status interfere with being a good sport. I asked him earlier what he would be doing for a living if he would not have achieved celebrity status as a UFC fighter.

“It’s hard to tell. I have a degree in accounting so I probably would have gotten a real job working for some corporation or something. I think I would have been doing something out of the office and working with people. I wouldn’t be behind a desk working nine-to-five, it just wouldn’t have worked,” he assured me.

He also explained how he got his start in fighting after bartending in college.

“I don’t know when it came. I was kickboxing and trying to make money doing that. I tried to make a career doing that. This guy tapped me and said, ‘Hey you wrestled in college right? How about doing this mixed stuff, would you do it?’ I said, ‘Sure, why not I’ll try it’ and that was it. I was smart about it. I went and started learning jiu-jitsu. I was working on jiu-jitsu anyway because it was new and I always liked stuff like that. I always enjoyed the competition of fighting. I always considered it a competition to see who was better. It was always that way. I didn’t want to hurt people,” said Liddell.

“It was almost something that I felt kept me from getting a real job. I was almost at the point where I was like, ‘You know what, if something doesn’t happen in this career, I’m going to have to go get a real job.’ I’ve got a college degree and I was at the point where I really had to think about it. Then shortly after that I started working in the UFC. Everything worked out.”

After the bride and groom said their I-do’s, Liddell and company dashed to their final destination at the Luxor’s newest nightlife hot spot LAX. There Liddell had yet another chance encounter with former Pride (only simultaneous) welterweight and middleweight champion Dan Henderson. Immersed in the crazy environment, the fans, the music, and the drinks I took it all in. There stood two widely famous men and two of the toughest fighters in the world; however at that moment I saw two fathers with the daunting task of balancing their hectic schedules and lifestyles around their personal lives. I flashed back to the conversation I had with Liddell earlier when I saw a concerned father that spoke about how hard it was to be away from his children.

“They’re very good kids. They’re polite and nice kids. They do well in school and they are really nice to other kids. People make comments all the time about how nice they are.”

I asked him if his children are aware of their father’s celebrity status.
“It’s funny ya know, my daughter always knew who I was, but my son has always been kind of a curious person. We’ll be at Starbucks or something and he will say, ‘Hey, do you know who my dad is?’” Liddell said using his best impersonation of a child’s voice.

“I think the first time he realized that maybe daddy is something is when I got him to go with me to this award show because I told him he would get to meet Tony Hawk. I saw him and I walked up and said, ‘Hey Tony’ because he was across from me and he turned around and said, ‘Hey, what’s up Chuck?’ My son was sitting there going like this (Liddell opened his mouth and widened his eyes). I think that’s the first time my son actually realized that hey, maybe dad really is something.”

He also spoke about his experience of being the first MMA fighter on the cover of ESPN the magazine that featured Liddell holding his son.

“It was really cool. That was a really cool cover. Obviously being the first to do a big cover like that, and then being with my son was really cool,” Liddell said. He went on to talk about his daughter. “I’m kind of bummed that she wasn’t in that little article. She was there all day and they took pictures, but they just didn’t put her in. It bothered her, but they just don’t think sometimes.”

Fatherhood has not been as challenging to Liddell as his life as a UFC mega-star however.

“Not so far. It’s been easy. They’re great kids and I love them. You worry more about things as they get older, but so far so good with them. They really don’t want to disappoint me.”

I asked if he hopes to have them follow in their father’s footsteps.

“I don’t want to push them to do anything. I want them to do well at whatever they decide to do. I don’t want to choose what they do for them. I love fighting and I love what I do, but it’s not for everybody. If you don’t love it then it’s not something you want to do.”
Liddell said he was excited to surprise his daughter by picking her up from school later that week and for the chance to spend time with her. After one evening with his daughter, he was scheduled to leave for Alaska to be a part of the USO tour.

“I’m just going there to visit the troops. They’ve been asking me to do it for a while and now there’s finally some time when I can actually go do it so I said OK. It should be interesting. You take a risk anywhere you go, but we’re going to be about as safe as you can be. I think it’s great you know? It’s good for the moral for the troops and it helps them out. I think it’s something I should do.”

The night eventually concluded hours later and I decided to walk from the Luxor to the MGM for a chance to reflect on the evening. Once separated from the wild adventure I realized I never had the chance to return his shoes. It also occurred to me that I had figuratively and literally walked a mile in Chuck Liddell’s shoes that evening. I had the chance to walk alongside a role model for athletes, fans, as well as his children. I was given the opportunity to see the struggles and the perks of living such a unique lifestyle. Finally, I spent time with a humble person who genuinely loves to be social and who is not hesitant to seize the moment.

I placed his shoes in a package the next morning with a note that read, “Thanks for everything!” and mailed the package to his home address.


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