While they weren't around at the UFC's inception, the famed rivalry between Tito Ortiz and Chuck Liddell arguably set the foundation for the sport as it today.

Dating back to UFC 13 when Ortiz came into the sport, and UFC 17 when Liddell debuted, the light heavyweights dominated the early events with the dream clash between the pair seemingly fated.

Starting as friends, the pair's relationship quickly soured and turned into the rivalry that launched the UFC.

In the first 30 For 30 documentary on the UFC — Chuck & Tito — the relationship and rivalry that launched the sport is laid bare, right up to its heartbreaking conclusion outside of the UFC.


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The sport began in 1993 with UFC 1. While it looks a lot different to the sport we know today, it was no less brutal. Eight fighters of different styles entered the ring with a spectacle that shocked the world.

The sport quickly drew criticism and was banned in many states across the US. Then future presidential candidate John McCain labelled it "human cock fighting" and the sport looked set for a quick death.

After UFC 29, the business was flagging and Dana White and brothers Frank and Lorenzo Fertitta scooped up the promotion for $2 million.

Before he became the president of UFC, White owned boxing gyms and was determined to get into the fight game. He didn't understand mixed martial arts but took up jiu jitsu and from there met and began managing Liddell and Ortiz.

At the time, Ortiz was the light heavyweight champion, while Liddell seemed destined to be the man to dethrone the younger star.

They were arguably the biggest names in the sport. Ortiz was brash and outspoken and Liddell, while quieter, was incredibly violent inside the octagon.

The Ice Man was a born fighter but had been on the verge of giving away mixed martial arts before he was given a shot at the UFC.


"You always get these questions about what crazy thing made you this monster that likes to hurt people and firstly, I don't like to hurt people but secondly, I got raised by my grandparents and my mum and that made me who I am," Liddell said.

His grandfather taught Liddell and his brothers how to fight and launched him on his trajectory to become a Hall of Famer.


Ortiz was an earlier version of Conor McGregor, a smack-talking star looking to standout.

UFC champion Randy Couture said the smartest part of Ortiz's strategy was getting fans to view him as "a potential hero" or someone whose "ass they wanted to see get kicked because he talked so much crap".

The Huntington Beach Bad Boy seemed the more likely to lead the new era under the Fertittas and White but it all changed at a training camp when he sparred with Liddell for the first time.

Liddell hit Ortiz with a body shot that dropped him to the ground. "I was blown away," White said. "I told Lorenzo 'this is the guy we're building the company on?' This guy isn't the real deal, that guy is the real deal. Liddell is the real deal."

It was the beginning of the other feud that shaped the UFC as Dana White became as big a star as his best fighters. Despite both Ortiz earning a place in the UFC Hall Of Fame, the pair still hate each other.

But Ortiz defended his light heavyweight title five times with Liddell seemingly copping harder opponents.

"A lot of people, including myself, felt like the UFC was using Chuck to knock off opponents for Tito Ortiz," The Athletic's Josh Gross said. "That Chuck was fighting the toughest guys that he was almost the number one contender gatekeeper to keep Tito Ortiz at the top of the company, keep him winning fights and I think that's why the matchmaking took place the way it did."

Liddell felt a similar way, and it drove a wedge between the former friends when he wasn't given his shot at the title.

"I think in the beginning the UFC thought it would fail if I became champion because I didn't have enough of a personality," Liddell said.

The match-up kept getting delayed. Ortiz said he was holding out for more money. White said it was because he knew Liddell was a better fighter.

In the end a 40-year-old Couture ruined everyone's plans by defeating Liddell in a fight for the right to take on Ortiz — and then knocked off the champ too.

So Ortiz-Liddell I would not be for a title.


Joe Rogan called the headliner at UFC 47 "the biggest grudge match in the history of mixed martial arts" but it was over inside four minutes as Liddell knocked out Ortiz with a flurry of punches that left him bloodied and furious.

The Ice Man became a bona fide star when two fights later he knocked out Couture in a rematch at UFC 52 and finally claimed the title.

Meantime, Ortiz began pursuing a movie career and started dating porn star Jenna Jameson.

Tito Ortiz began dating Jenna Jameson in 2006. Photo / Getty Images
Tito Ortiz began dating Jenna Jameson in 2006. Photo / Getty Images

"Tito was at one point trying to jump into movies to get out of fighting, because he didn't really like fighting," White said. "When he hooked up with Jenna, it was actually sad to watch.

"She became his manager and because of what Jenna had accomplished, he thought she could really help him out with what he wanted to do. Tito thought she was a f***ing rocket scientist, and compared to him she was."

But despite his contentious relationship with White, Ortiz came back for a rematch with Liddell at UFC 66.

Liddell won again, via TKO, but the fight was an enormous financial success.

"UFC 66 was one of the most important events in the history of the company, it's one of the most important events in the history of the sport because looking back at it, it signalled the arrival of the UFC," ESPN journalist Ariel Helwani said. "They are the sole reason why that show did over a million buys. That was a major milestone in the history of the company and the sport because up until that point, that number felt like it was unreachable at that point."

But it was also the beginning of the end of both men's careers. Liddell was beaten in his next fight by Quinton "Rampage" Jackson before finishing his career with losses in five of his last six fights.

"To watch Chuck get knocked out the way he was getting knocked out, I didn't like it at all and I started calling for him to retire," White said.

Liddell took the advice and became executive vice president of business development for the UFC. But he became depressed, drinking to excess.

Ortiz was similar. He had twins with Jameson in 2009, but faced allegations of domestic violence. "That was the hardest thing in my life that I ever went through because I am not that man," Ortiz said.


The UFC was sold for $4 billion in 2016, but Liddell's contract wasn't renewed after the deal. The sport had been built on his back but there was no place for the retired star.

He turned to Oscar De La Hoya's Golden Boy Promotions and at age 48 agreed to fight 43-year-old Ortiz in the third battle between the pair.

Ortiz had been fighting semi-regularly since leaving the UFC with four Bellator fights under his belt. But White was furious with the decision.

"Let me start here — Tito is not a very intelligent guy," White said. "When you meet Tito, he's a really dumb guy. There is no way I would ever do that fight, I would never do that fight. Neither one of them should be fighting."

Liddell had been out of the sport for eight years before the final fight under the Golden Boy Promotions banner.

"When (Mohammad) Ali came back after his three year lay off, he was never the same fighter after that," White added. "Chuck Liddell, after an almost 10 year lay off, I don't know how this fight gets sanctioned. It's the worst thing I've ever seen happen."

Liddell was knocked out by Ortiz late in the first round of the fight. It only garnered 25,000 pay-per-views, one of the lowest performing MMA events in history.

The event was widely panned as it offered a sad end to the storied rivalry as the UFC continues to rise to new heights on the back of the men that helped build the sport to what it is today.