Former UFC light heavyweight champion Chuck Liddell paid McKenzie Intermediate School in Guadalupe a visit Thursday, talking with and signing autographs for students and staff before giving a short presentation to the students in the school cafeteria.
Liddell is a Santa Barbara native and San Marcos High School graduate who wrestled for Cal Poly and was inducted into the Cal Poly Athletics Hall of Fame in 2009. He was the face of the UFC for years and is credited, along with fellow UFC fighter Randy Couture, with helping bring mixed martial arts (MMA) into the mainstream of U.S. sports.
Liddell graduated from Cal Poly in 1995 with a degree in business/accounting. He amassed a UFC record of 16-7 and an overall record of 21-8 before retiring. He came out of retirement for one match, a loss, and wound up with a 21-9 career record.
"I've done these before," Liddell said before he addressed students in the cafeteria. "I just tell them to set goals, work hard, follow their dreams."
Jaime Cuello, a teacher at McKenzie, helped organize the event.
Former Cal Poly assistant football coach Carl Grisanti Jr., a native of Buffalo, New York, and a Cal Poly alum, was also on hand at McKenzie Thursday. Grisanti was on the staff of three Cal Poly Great West championship football teams when the Mustangs were part of NCAA Division 1-AA.
Grisanti said he coached Asa Jackson at Cal Poly. Jackson was a cornerback for the Baltimore Ravens team that defeated the San Francisco 49ers in the 2013 Super Bowl. He has been active in karate for years, and said he is an international karate champion. Grisanti holds the rank of Sandan in San Luis Obispo.
Liddell answered a series of pre-submitted questions when he spoke in the cafeteria. One concerned whether or not he wanted his children to follow in his footsteps as a UFC fighter.
"Not particularly," Liddell replied. "If that's what they really want to do, then I'll help them, support them, try to help them get to where they need to go.
"But I want them to do what THEY want to do," said Liddell. "I want them to set THEIR goals, follow THEIR dreams, and do their own preparation."
Liddell said that doing the vast majority of hard work beforehand in the form of preparation helped him relax when the real thing was at hand, whether it was a test or a UFC fight.
"It's all about the preparation," Liddell told the students. "Prepare, prepare, prepare."
Liddell said, "When I was taking a test, I wouldn't be sitting there thinking, 'Do I change this answer because I think it might be this one?' No. I had done all the hard work beforehand, so I knew which answer I thought was best."
The former UFC champion said the same principle applied in the ring. Knowing he had put in rigorous work beforehand helped put his mind at ease before a bout.
Concerning a question about his most memorable fight, Liddell replied, "After losing to Randy Couture once, I came back and beat him to become champion. That meant a lot."
In their first match, Couture landed a barrage of punches against Liddell, and the referee ultimately stopped the fight. In the re-match, Couture moved in for a punch and Liddell knocked him out cold with a punch to the head.
Grisanti told the students, "Listen to your parents, your teachers, your friends. You're going to be the doctors, the lawyers, the police officers of the future. You're going to be the ones to take care of old guys like me."
Liddell said to the students, "It's much harder work to be mean to people than it is to be nice to them. Be nice."
Kenny Cress is a sports reporter for the Santa Maria Times, covering local sports in northern Santa Barbara County. You can send information or story ideas to him by emailing it to KCress@SantaMariaTimes.com.