Right before Chuck’s title defense against Rampage Jackson in late May, 2007, it felt like the UFC was peaking. Chuck had just been on Entourage and appeared on the cover of ESPN The Magazine, where I’m an editor. He was in commercials, doing photo shoots for GQ, crossing over from cult hero to the guy celebrities want to get close to. All of it was building towards this fight, the most hyped in UFC history.
Given the buzz surrounding the sport, I was pumped to be a part of the project. On the night of the fight I sat down on my couch, ordered the cage-match on PPV and settled in. Then I watched Chuck get KO’d on one punch a minute into the first round. My wife looked at me and said, “Wow, he’s not very good, is he?”
I didn’t really know. But, a week later, when he and I met for the first time in Manhattan, after he did a taping of Letterman, I learned this: The loss hadn’t diminished his star power. Waiting in the lobby of the Peninsula hotel, I watched fans block Chuck as he tried to walk in. Then me, Chuck and his girlfriend, Erin, decided to stroll a few blocks down Fifth Avenue to Saks so Erin could shop. Every few feet, people took Chuck’s picture with their cell phones. We passed the Cartier store, which was having an event, and the paparazzi working the red carpet turned around to shoot Chuck. In Saks, as he and I sat on a recliners talking about our kids while Erin looked at couture dresses, sales people and other bored boyfriends gave him I-know-your-famous nods and smiles. On the way back to the hotel, a hot dog vendor asked Chuck to sign a napkin. Chuck couldn’t have been cooler or more comfortable with his fame.
When I jumped in a cab that night I called my wife. “I have no idea if he’s any good,” I told her. “But people freaking love the guy. This is going to be a fun book to work on.” It was. And, oh yeah, I learned this too: He’s actually not too bad of a fighter.