Liddell '100 Percent' Healthy, Eyes on Evans

By Brian Knapp Aug 29, 2008
The landscape in the UFC’s light heavyweight ranks has changed quite dramatically since the last time Chuck Liddell (Pictures) stepped inside the Octagon. Anderson Silva (Pictures) dipped his toe in the 205-pound waters, Wanderlei Silva (Pictures) regained some of his mystique and the promotion’s first reality television star rose to the top of its deepest division.

Liddell wants to restore order.

As he primes for his first bout in eight months -- a main event showdown with unbeaten Rashad Evans (Pictures) at UFC 88 on Sept. 6 in Atlanta -- Liddell (21-5) declared himself physically fit for battle, fully recovered from the torn hamstring that kept him on the sidelines for the better part of a year.

“I’m 100 percent,” said Liddell, a UFC headliner for the 10th time in his career. “It was all a muscle tear. I had plenty of time to get healed. I can’t wait to get back in there. I was in the gym for quite a while without a fight. I’ve said all along that the fight is my reward.”

Evans (11-0-1) has not competed since his split decision victory over Michael Bisping (Pictures) in November. A former collegiate wrestler at Michigan State University, he was still a teen-ager when Liddell made his professional debut in 1998. Despite a marked gap in experience between the two, he has the attention of the former champion.

“He finds a way to win,” Liddell said. “He’s done a good job controlling his fights. He’s good on top, and he moves well on his feet. He’s elusive and hard to hit, but I’m going to see if I can catch him.”

Evans -- who fought Tito Ortiz (Pictures) to a draw last summer -- remains in search of a signature win that could thrust him into the upper tier at 205 pounds. Liddell, a certain Hall-of-Famer who turns 39 in December, represents his best chance yet. Victory will not come easily, however.

“I’m on a mission to get my title back and end my career on a streak of wins,” Liddell said. “I’m in shape, and I’m going to keep throwing like I do. The knockout power is still there.”

Few can match Liddell’s stellar body of work. Nine of his 21 victories have come at the expense of former UFC or Pride Fighting Championships titleholders, including two each over Ortiz and Randy Couture (Pictures). His list of victims also includes reigning Strikeforce heavyweight champion Alistair Overeem (Pictures), Renato “Babalu” Sobral and Jeff Monson (Pictures). Though he touched on the subject, Liddell does not plan on leaving the sport anytime soon.

“I still love fighting,” Liddell said. “I still love training. I’ll be here as long as my body lets me. I still have the desire to prove I’m the best at 205. I think it’s great that you have these [young] guys coming up. Proving I can still beat them is fun for me.”

Despite the threat Evans poses, talk has already turned to potential future matchups for Liddell, including rematches with Quinton “Rampage” Jackson (Pictures) -- the only man to beat him twice -- and Wanderlei Silva, a man against whom he waged one of the more memorable battles of 2007. Whispers of a showdown with current light heavyweight champion Forrest Griffin (Pictures), whom Liddell coached on season one of “The Ultimate Fighter,” have also begun to circulate. For now, Liddell only has eyes for Evans.

“That’s a bridge we’ll have to cross when this is over,” Liddell said. “We’ll talk about what’s in my future after this fight.”
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