The Iceman cometh
Liddell looks to avenge last loss, cement UFC legacy
Posted: Friday May 25, 2007 11:34PM; Updated: Saturday May 26, 2007 2:35PM
LAS VEGAS -- It's a sweltering 95 degrees outside the MGM Grand, but Chuck Liddell is dressed as if he's training in the dead of winter. He's hidden underneath a black hoodie, sweat pants and sneakers as he jogs around the Grand Pool in the back of the hotel.
As he weaves around all five shimmering pools sprawled out in the hotel's massive back lot, he attracts a crowd as he stops every so often to shadow box and high kick. Soon he's surrounded by tanned dudes in trunks and buxom beauties in bikinis, forcing him to take off his headphones and pose for pictures and shake a few hands before he resumes his training.
Liddell is mostly silent during this period, ignoring the chants of "Chucky" showering him, as he puts the finishing touches on his game plan the day before his light-heavyweight championship fight against Quinton "Rampage" Jackson on Saturday night. The only words out of his mouth come as he wraps up his training when he squats down in the elevator heading up to his room and sings along to T.I.'s Bring Em Out blaring in his ears.
"I train all day long," says Liddell. "I do it for fun. I know there's going to big rewards at the end."
So far, Liddell has been right. The rewards have been abundant. Seven straight wins, the UFC light-heavyweight championship and avenging every loss he's ever endured. Well, except for one -- his last one.
Despite his winning streak and rise to mainstream fame, not a day goes by when Liddell doesn't think about his loss to Jackson on Nov. 9, 2003, during a PRIDE tournament in Japan.
"This is the fight I've been looking for since the day I lost," says Liddell. "That's the way I am. I wanted to fight him again the next day. I don't like losing. I don't want to say it haunts me, but it's always in the back of my mind. I've always wanted to fight him again."
Liddell finally gets his chance at redemption on Saturday when he steps into the ring with Jackson, who made his UFC debut earlier this year after the UFC purchased the World Fighting Alliance, which had Jackson under contract. "I was disappointed when he signed with WFA, then I got real excited when (UFC) bought WFA," says Liddell. "That's the only reason they bought them was to get his contract."
That purchase, more than anything, tells how much this fight means to Liddell and UFC President Dana White, who echoed Liddell's sentiments and said, "The purchase of the WFA was for one reason and one reason only. And that was to get Quinton Jackson in the UFC."
It also means a lot to Jackson, who wants to prove that his win over "The Iceman" was no fluke. "I look up to Chuck," he said. "Since I beat Chuck, he's been doing great things and knocking folks out. He's my inspiration. I'm going to use that to knock his ass out. I feel bad for Chuck. It's going down."
Since his loss to Jackson, Liddell is unbeaten and much of it has to do with the way he changed his training routine following his last fight outside of the UFC. "My training changed after that fight," says Liddell. "John [Hackelman, Liddell's trainer] never likes to talk about it, but it did change. We added a whole month to the camp and did a little more film work instead of going full blown from the get-go."
His new training regimen has resulted in one of the most impressive runs the UFC has ever seen, as Liddell has won his last seven fights by KO or TKO, five of which ended within the first two rounds. "He has that Mike Tyson aura about him right now," said White. "He seems invincible. People show up to see how fast he's going to knock his guy out. How his going to knock him out? He's one of, if not the greatest, mixed martial artist ever."
It's a compliment that Liddell appreciates but isn't willing to accept until he beats Jackson on Saturday night. "That's the last fight I lost," he says. "And I need to avenge it."
As Liddell finishes up his training, performing high kicks in front of Shibuya restaurant inside of MGM Grand's Studio Walk, he realizes that even if he weren't wearing sweats and training inside a casino, people would still recognize him. "It's hard to miss me," he says. "I got a Mohawk and a tattoo on the side of my head. I'm easy to pick out of a crowd."