Throwback Thursday: The Unique Night of Golden Boy MMA 1

Chuck Liddell and Tito Ortiz
Chuck Liddell and Tito Ortiz Credit: Tom Hogan-Hoganphotos/Golden Boy Promotions

With no major MMA event being held this week, Cageside Press looks back on a classic card.  This week: the one-off Golden Boy MMA event headlined by Chuck Liddell and Tito Ortiz.

On a week without major MMA action, we decided to look back at a classic event from years past.  This week, we look back at Golden Boy MMA 1 which was held on November 24, 2018.  The event was the first and only mixed martial arts event to be put on by decorated boxer and promoter Oscar De La Hoya.  For his first foray into MMA, De La Hoya paired former UFC champions Chuck Liddell and Tito Ortiz.  While De La Hoya’s success in putting on boxing events was well-chronicled, the circumstances surrounding the card led to one of the sport’s most discussed events of the year.

Promotion for the event actually began months prior, with preliminary talks about De La Hoya, Liddell, and Ortiz coming together to do business starting months earlier.  Liddell had long been rumored to be in talks to return to action, and that summer during International Fight Week he and Ortiz had their first face off in years in front of the UFC’s 25th Anniversary wall.  It would not be until months later, at a promotional event for the rematch between boxers Canelo Alvarez and Gennady Golovkin, that De La Hoya confirmed the weekend of Thanksgiving for the bout.

It was in the coming weeks that red flags began to be raised about the event.  For one, De La Hoya frequently referred to Liddell as “Lie-del” which raised questions as to how much he was actually involved and invested in the event.  Liddell’s health was also in question.  At 48 years old, “The Ice Man” had retired from the UFC years prior after admitting that his chin and ability to take punches were not the same.  Though he’d had time off to recover since then, his ability to still take punches from another trained fighter remained in question.  Finally, the decision to air the event on pay-per-view was highly criticized considering the two were far removed from their time as major draws in the MMA landscape.  While De La Hoya and others expressed interest in MMA beyond the event, many wondered if the entire card was a jab from “The Golden Boy” who had publicly feuded with UFC President Dana White for years.

Though it was not made clear in pre-fight promotion, the event had a respectable roster for a non-UFC or Bellator card at the time.  Dotting the undercard were names like future UFC fighter Deron Winn and UFC veterans such as Tom Lawlor, Gleison Tibau, Ultimate Fighter winner Efrain Escudero, Jay Silva, Albert Morales, and others.

The presentation of the festivities left plenty to be desired, whether you attended live or watched it at home.  Due those involved having been in the UFC for years, there were no highlight reel packages available to hype up the event.  Instead, a broadcast team with Todd Grisham and UFC veterans Frank Mir and Rashad Evans led the way through several graphics in-between calling fights.  Inside The Forum Inglewood, the production only aired live shots on the big screen so fans in attendance were left at a loss without the instant replay when incidents such as low-blows were under review. There was also no camera for crowd shots, something that was glaringly apparent when the arena announcer shouted out celebrities in attendance but their faces were not shown on the big screen to generate the desired applause.

One thing that can be said is that the main event was treated with all of the pomp and circumstance that has come to be expected from any pay-per-view headliner.  Say what you will about the match-up at the time, but at least Liddell and Ortiz still looked the part as opposed to other questionable match-ups like Kimbo Slice against Dada 5000 or an older Royce Grace against Ken Shamrock in Bellator.

When the action began, it was very clear that it was no longer 2004.  Liddell circled patiently but it was plain as day from the first few strikes that Ortiz’s shots had astronomically more effect on him than they did years prior.  As the first round was closing, Ortiz landed the finishing sequence that left Liddell asleep on the canvas.

By the time Monday came along, the MMA world sought answers for how such an event took place.  For one, the California State Athletic Commission came under fire for licensing Liddell when it was abundantly clear he could still no longer take a punch.  Secondly, the flop on pay-per-view had many wondering if future plans, were there truly any at all to begin with, would go forward for Golden Boy to continue putting on MMA events.  It should be noted, the event was not up against any competition from the UFC as the Octagon was in China that weekend for an event that took place in the early morning hours in the United States.

Years later, Golden Boy Promotions and Oscar De La Hoya have made zero mention of entering the MMA space again.  Tito Ortiz has stated that business did not end well between himself and De La Hoya.  He has not completely closed the door on a return to competition at 46.  Chuck Liddell at 51 has not shut the door on a return to competition either, with a recent appearance in a trailer for Triller Fight Club fueling rumors that he may bring his services there.  The Golden Boy MMA event was immortalized as a footnote in the final part of the ESPN 30 for 30 documentary Chuck and Tito that aired in 2019.

Notably, several fighters from the event would go on to find more success following the bout.  Deron Winn would go on to fight for the UFC, seen by many at the time as the hidden gem of the entire Golden Boy MMA saga.  Johnny Cisneros and Tom Lawlor would later go on to fight in Bellator and PFL respectively.  Jay Silva and Albert Morales would go on to find success as champions in the regional California promotion CXF, with Morales going on to fight in Bellator.  Juliana Miller, who opened the card as one of several amateur bouts, is now a professional who fights for Invicta.