Former UFC light-heavyweight champion Chuck (The Iceman) Liddell had an up-and-down start on “Dancing with the Stars” on Monday, drawing a warm reaction from the crowd but some mixed reviews from the judges.
Paired with professional dancer Anna Trebunskaya, the 39-year-old mixed martial arts fighter was second up as the eight male celebrities took the floor in Hollywood.
Liddell wore a suit and tie, and a black hat that barely covered his mohawk, as UFC president Dana White and co-owners Lorenzo and Frank Fertitta III watched from the front row.
“I have to say the gentle Neanderthal and the Russian princess went down very well with the audience,”said judge Bruno Tonioli. “Nevertheless the Foxtrot was very very rough. But you know that. It’s a long way to go. You’ve got 10 weeks. You’re very charming, people liked you.
“The footwork was poor, the lines were terrible and the timing went. So you’ve got a little bit of work to do, that’s all.”
Added judge Carrie Ann Inaba: “It’s true you’re not graceful, yet but you were smooth and you were charming and they loved it.”
Head judge Len Goodman offered the Iceman some advice.
“Now don’t get overexcited but it was much better than I thought it was going to be. It was a little bit aggressive throughout. I want you to get in touch with your feminine side a little but more, a little more graceful if you could. But great entertainment, I smiled the whole way through.”
The couple received scores of six, five and five for a total of 16 out of 30.
Liddell wasn’t the bottom of the scorecard after the first dance. NFL Hall of Famer Michael Irvin got 13 and Ashley Hamilton, son of George Hamilton, earned 15.
The fighter got some kudos for his performance in a subsequent salsa relay which saw four couples go in rapid-fire succession.
“I’ve got to say Chuck you know how to work a woman,” said Inaba.
Still, he finished third out of the four couples, as Donny Osmond took top honours.
Singer Aaron Carter won the Viennese Waltz relay to top the overall standings with 32 points at the end of the evening. Hamilton and Irvin, were tied at the other end at 19. Liddell had 22 points.
The eight female celebrities are slated to be showcased Tuesday. Viewers vote and their verdict, combined with the judges’ score, will determine the first celebrity to go on Season 9.
The UFC is doing its part, using its website to urge fans to vote to keep Liddell.
At Saturday’s UFC 103 fight card in Dallas, White said Liddell was down to 212 pounds thanks to his dancing training.
“Chuck doing ‘Dancing With the Stars’ is great. He weighs like 212. He doesn’t weigh 212 the week of a fight so he’s taking this more seriously than he was taking the fighting,”‘ White said at the post-fight news conference. “I’m happy that he found something to focus on and I think everybody knows how I feel about Chuck Liddell. He’s nothing left to prove – other than he can dance.”
The UFC boss, a close friend and former manager of the Iceman, still he hopes Liddell retires from fighting.
“But I’m not his dad,” White said.
The former champion has lost four of his last five, with his most recent loss coming in April at UFC 97 in Montreal.