The ESPN series 30 for 30 presents a new documentary by director Micah Brown about the combat rivalry that brought the Ultimate Fighting Championship to the next level.
By John Lavitt
Photos by Andrew Hong (FRAMESNATCHER)
Los Angeles, CA (The Hollywood Times) October 15, 2019
Tonight, on ESPN, “Chuck & Tito” premieres as part of the 30 for 30 documentary series. Directed by Micah Brown, “Chuck & Tito” tells the story of a legendary rivalry in the Ultimate Fighting Championship. Indeed, the bad blood between former UFC light heavyweight champions Chuck Liddell and Tito Ortiz will never be forgotten. Beyond the bad blood, this versatile documentary captures the personal journeys of the fighters while also presenting the bigger picture of their effect on the sport as a whole.
When Tito Ortiz and Chuck Liddell entered the picture, Dana White, the President of the Ultimate Fighting Championship, knew he had a gold mine on his hands if the fighters were correctly handled. Having managed both fighter’s careers before taking over the UFC, Dana White understood clearly both their talent and their potential. He felt they had to be pitted against each other as nemeses to help take the sport to the next level of prominence.
Director Micah Brown of Second Wind Creative agrees that Chuck and Tito’s rivalry helped to fuel the engine of the sport and raise the stakes in the public eye. With a big smile at the premiere, Micah Brown said, “A nemesis certainly helps to provide added motivation in any form of competition. With Chuck and Tito, their rivalry took each of them to a new level. More impressively, it took the entire sport to another level. It helps to have big stars at the primes of their careers with personalities that clash. That kind of clash sells a fight by fueling the passion of the fans. Beyond the personality factor, Chuck and Tito also both had the technical skill in the Octagon to make what could be called the first super fight for the UFC.”
Without question, the rivalry made for an ideal subject for a 30 for 30 documentary. When it comes to their rivalry, Tito Ortiz and Chuck Liddell have very different opinions about what happened. Such different perceptions of the past make for both a great documentary and great interviews. At the premiere, when asked about their rivalry, this is what they had to say:
Tito Ortiz said with conviction, “By having a great nemesis and being able to picture them in front of you, it motivates you to work harder. You want to be better than the athlete in front of you. You have to have the bad blood to rev it up, but that bad blood is not always real. With Chuck and me, it didn’t start that way. The bad blood wasn’t there in the beginning. We were buds and good friends. It was Dana that put us against each other. Dana saw our rivalry as a way to make money, and he made a lot of money off of us.”
Although he wasn’t there for Tito’s interview, Chuck Liddell knew what his old nemesis would say. Shaking his head, Chuck responded, “When Tito says that we were such good friends, I don’t know what he’s talking about. If we were such good friends, why did I never see him outside of training? It was about the business of fighting all the time. He never called me up and asked me to go to a movie or out to dinner or a barbecue on the weekend. That didn’t happen. Sure, we trained together, and I even stayed at his house once when we were training. I didn’t stay at his house because we were best buds: I stayed at his house because he was too cheap to pay for a hotel room. Tito likes to blame Dana and the UFC for our falling out. The truth is way different. You can’t fall out of something that never happened in the first place.”
Ultimately, this well-crafted documentary brings illumination to a rivalry that saw Chuck Liddell beat Tito Ortiz twice in the Octagon. Recently, despite misgivings from the MMA community given Liddell’s advanced age of 48, they fought again under Oscar De La Hoya’s Golden Boy MMA banner. Tito easily finished Chuck in the first round for a brutal conclusion to a great rivalry. The documentary allows us to bypass the bitter taste of that last fight, replacing it with a celebration of the contributions of both fighters when they were in their primes.
When asked if a combat fighter needs a great nemesis to be a great fighter, Chuck Liddell thought for a second, then said, “I believe if you’re a great fighter, you’re a great fighter. You don’t need anything outside of yourself to prove that. However, having a hothead like Tito around helped to stoke the fire. I didn’t need to talk trash like Tito did. I’m not that kind of guy, but his big mouth certainly helped to build up the fights.”
Following up with an undeniable belief in himself and in his sport, Chuck said, “What I love about fighting is the competition. I never needed a nemesis to be great. It was never about being great; it was about living life as a true fighter. Martial arts is who I am, and I never needed anyone or anything to answer that calling. For me, being a mixed martial artist is about finding focus, keeping balanced, and being authentic.”
In contrast to Chuck’s working man’s perspective on fighting, Tito celebrates his understanding of a journey that he’s still proud to be taking. Asked if he ever imagined such success, Tito said, “In the beginning, I dreamt of being a world champion. I dreamt of being a millionaire. I dreamt of being a Hall of Famer. I turned those dreams into realities by never turning my back on them. One of the best moments was when I was able to buy my Mom a house for Christmas. I made her that promise, and then I made it happen. I have been able to make my goals happen because I stuck to them, and I am far from being done. I’m forty-four years young, my body is healthy, and the sky’s the limit for me. I have never stopped, and I’m still pushing forward.”
Indeed, even as they age and transition out of their prime years, our athletic heroes continue to be the men we revered in their glory days. They never lose the quality of being champions. At the premiere, the star presence of both Chuck Liddell and Tito Ortiz was undeniable. Whether they are fighting in the Octagon or hanging out on the red carpet, both of these living legends shine bright like fiery stars in the night sky.