Thomas Gerbasi, UFC - With thousands filling the Mandalay Bay Convention Center Friday for autograph sessions, a grappling tournament, and the opportunity to buy anything and everything related to mixed martial arts, it’s safe to say that the first day of the inaugural UFC FanExpo was a success. But it was the final event of the day that made the most impact, as an emotional Chuck Liddell and his close friend, the late Charles “Mask” Lewis, were inducted into the UFC Hall of Fame.
LAS VEGAS, July 10 – With thousands filling the Mandalay Bay Convention Center Friday for autograph sessions, a grappling tournament, and the opportunity to buy anything and everything related to mixed martial arts, it’s safe to say that the first day of the inaugural UFC FanExpo was a success. But it was the final event of the day that made the most impact, as an emotional Chuck Liddell and his close friend, the late Charles “Mask” Lewis, were inducted into the UFC Hall of Fame.
“I never felt like it was me out there,” said Liddell, addressing the fans who packed the hall for the ceremony on the eve of Saturday’s UFC 100 event. “I’ll never forget the first time I walked into the MGM and how loud it was. And it was us walking out there, it wasn’t just me.”
The crowd then roared in unison for ‘The Iceman’, the former UFC light heavyweight champion who became the sport’s first crossover star.
“Back then we couldn’t get this many people in here to watch a fight, much less to see a guy talk,” chuckled Liddell.
But having the opportunity to honor one of the greats has a way of bringing out loyal fans who have followed his storied career, one which included memorable victories over Randy Couture, Tito Ortiz, Jeremy Horn, Kevin Randleman, Vitor Belfort and Babalu Sobral, all of whom Liddell thanked for stepping into the Octagon with him. And if that sounds like a Who’s Who of MMA, it is, which is why he was being honored with a spot in the Hall of Fame.
“This is a guy who has defined a sport,” said UFC co-owner Lorenzo Fertitta. “When you think about the UFC, he personifies the UFC. Whenever anybody sees that logo, I think they think of Chuck Liddell. He will forever be a part of the UFC, he will always be tied to us in every way. He’s a special person because he never did it for the fame, he never did it for the money – Chuck is a 100 percent fighter. It’s something he was born with.”
And as UFC President Dana White explained, Liddell’s impact went far beyond what he did on fight night.
“Once we bought the UFC and we started to get on the road to educate people and sell the sport, Chuck was on the road with me a lot,” said White. “We spent a lot of time traveling to all these cities, doing radio appearances, anything we could do to get the sport out there. This guy has been more than a superstar to us and a guy who sells pay-per-views. This guy has been such a close friend to Lorenzo and I and a true partner.”
Talking about their friendship, White was visibly moved, as was Liddell, who also had to deal with the emotions of seeing another friend, TapouT co-founder Lewis, inducted into the Hall on the same night.
“When Lorenzo and I first met him, this was a guy who had this aura about him and this persona,” said White of Lewis, who was tragically killed in an automobile accident earlier this year. “I don’t care when you met him or what happened in his life that day, this guy was never in a bad mood. He was always upbeat and positive about everything. He was a big part of helping us attack a lot of grassroots marketing in getting the UFC out there. TapouT was an established brand with the hardcore fans when we bought the UFC. And in every shipment they’d send out they’d put UFC flyers in there. Anything they could do, to help grow the sport, they did. He was an amazing human being – he loved fights, he loved the sport, and he dedicated his life to it when it looked like there would never be any money in it. You want to talk about risktakers, innovators, guys who have a vision and who believe in something where they’re willing to risk everything to do it – Charles Lewis and the guys from TapouT are just like us, and they were here before us.”
“Charles loved the UFC so much and I can’t even explain how much he loved the fans and he loved the fighters,” said TapouT co-founder Dan Caldwell. “When we saw the very first UFC on television, we were just glued to the screen and we both just said that this was gonna be something and a few years later we said we’ve got to start a clothing company built around this. He never stopped believing, and it’s awesome how he’s still touching lives, even after his passing.”
“It couldn’t be better than Chuck and Charles being put in at the same time,” added the third member of the famed TapouT crew, Skyscrape. “They were so close, and Chuck was one of Charles’ best friends besides us. For them to be here together is amazing.”
Amazing is certainly the word for what transpired in Vegas Friday night, the first night of what may be the UFC’s most memorable weekend ever.
The second day of the UFC FanExpo begins on Saturday, July 11th.