Liddell: “Now it’s My Turn”

By Mike Sloan May 25, 2007
In the professional fight game, nothing sells more than revenge, especially if two fighters aren't particularly fond of one another. The fights that harvest the most dollar bills are typically over-hyped rematches exploiting only two scenarios, sometimes used in conjunction.

A) One fighter must prove the first win was not a fluke; B) the other fighter is out for revenge; or C) both happen to be the case.

Coincidentally, Saturday night's blockbuster Ultimate Fighting Championship card inside the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas is being promoted using option C.

The main event is the ballyhooed rematch between UFC light heavyweight champion Chuck Liddell (Pictures) and challenger Quinton "Rampage" Jackson. Will Liddell redeem himself against Jackson (revenge) or will Jackson prove the critics wrong (fluke).

"Losing the first fight [to Quinton] makes a big difference for me," Liddell told "He's the one guy I haven't had a chance to avenge a loss, so this means a lot. This is my last one, man. This is it."

In mixed martial arts, no elite fighter knows more about revenge than Liddell, a premiere striker who has already erased two of the only three losses currently on his professional ledger. He first avenged a disheartening loss to multiple-time UFC champion Randy Couture (Pictures) and shortly thereafter redeemed himself against Jeremy Horn (Pictures).

Now all Liddell has to do is eradicate the loss suffered at the hands of Jackson almost four years ago and The Iceman's vengeance trifecta will be complete.

Liddell, of course, is brimming with confidence entering what will be the fifth defense of his 205-pound title.

"I don't have any real concrete predictions, but I am going to try to get him out of there within the first two rounds," Liddell said confidently. "And I think it will go that way if he comes at me the way I think he will. He's got a hard head, he's a tough guy and we'll see what happens. I think it's going to be an exciting fight, that's for sure. I don't know how long it's going to last but we'll keep hitting each other until one of us falls down. I know that if I keeping hitting him, he'll be the one falling down."

Landing clean, effective punches on Jackson was a difficult task for Liddell in their first encounter, hence the reason "Rampage" prevailed. Liddell looked sluggish in that skirmish while Jackson appeared to be a killing machine hell bent on thwarting Liddell's proposed showdown with then-PRIDE 205-pound king Wanderlei Silva (Pictures). Liddell's punches were loopy, his stamina deceitful, and he was uncharacteristically taken down to the mat several times.

Liddell's career low point eventually metamorphosed into one of the most brilliant winning streaks in recent memory. Since that loss to Jackson on Nov. 9, 2003 inside the PRIDE ring, Liddell has been unstoppable, a relentless force bludgeoning everyone and everything in his path.

He twice stopped rival Tito Ortiz (Pictures) and twice knocked Couture out cold. Scattered between those conquests were destructions of durable opponents Vernon White, Renato Sobral (Pictures) and Horn.

"It's been four years since our first fight," Liddell said bluntly. "I'm a different person now, a different fighter and I'm just in a much better place than when we first fought. I'm much better this time as far as being in shape, being healthy and I'm ready to go for this fight. I've gotten my training down and I just feel better with everything I do. I'm a totally different guy these days compared to when I fought Rampage."

Asked to explain what exactly went awry in his initial tussle with Jackson, Liddell shrugged it off, like it never occurred. He's not a film-watching type of guy and the 37-year-old from San Luis Obispo, Calif. said he felt it unnecessary during preparations leading up the rematch to wear out a tape of the first fight.

"I looked at that first fight once and that was it," Liddell said. "That's all I needed. I watched and then moved on, basically. In that fight, it wasn't me as far as what went on in the ring. So, there really was no point in watching it over and over because I knew what went wrong. I knew that wasn't the real me out there, so I just moved on. But this time I am ready, though."

Every coin has two sides, as does every story and debate. While Liddell has been showered with triumph and championship belts since his "Rampage" debacle, Jackson has treaded dangerous waters.

Following his conquest of Liddell, the fighter from Memphis was knocked out late that evening against Wanderlei Silva (Pictures). He bounced back to score a win over the gutsy Ikuhisa Minowa (Pictures) followed by the legendary KO slam of Ricardo Arona (Pictures). However, Jackson was knocked out again by Silva, won a lackluster split decision over Murilo Rua (Pictures) and then was stopped by Ninja's brother, Mauricio.

Speculation floated around that Jackson had lost his fighting hunger and that he would never return to his old savage self. Though he has won four consecutive fights, there still surrounds Jackson, now 28, a cloud of doubt as to how good he can be.

"You know, nobody's invincible," said John Hackleman, Liddell's head trainer. "I think he's as good as he ever was. I don't buy into the notion that Rampage has lost a step because of a few losses. He's won his last few fights and he's looked great. He has so much respect for the sport and he has that warrior spirit, but I just think that Chuck at this stage of the game is a little bit stronger, a little bit faster and a little bit more explosive. I think Chuck is going to win but I don't take anything away from Rampage."

Liddell also brushed aside the notion that Jackson has seen better days.

"I don't really have an opinion on that matter, as far as him losing some of those fights," the champ stated. "That's how it goes in this sport: sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. I think maybe he got a little rusty but I think he's come back from that and he's ready to fight again. He's been a winner in his last couple of fights and I think he's on a roll. I think he's gotten back to what he used to be."

Fans worldwide tuning in to witness Liddell-Jackson II are certainly praying for not only a primo Rampage to show up into the Octagon, chain and all, but also for a top-of-the-line Iceman. If both fighters lock horns at full strength in the best condition of their respective lives, the mixed martial arts world will be in for a treat.

Liddell's team has been vocal the past few days as to how superb The Iceman looked during training camp. Hackleman, John Lewis (Pictures) and Scott Lighty have all gushed about Liddell's camp and they all agreed that the future UFC Hall of Famer has never looked more sensational while getting ready for a fight.

Liddell, most importantly, agrees.

"I have no injuries or anything. I feel great," he said. "We train very hard all the time and we really push each other. Sometimes you just get lucky where there are no injuries or anything like that and then other times, there are injuries. More than anything else you don't want to get hurt in training. And this time I haven't gotten hurt. Everything just feels right this time around, unlike some of my other camps. My diet's right, my sparring is great and my conditioning is great."

Now, after a hard camp, the rematch Liddell has coveted for almost four years is just a day away.

Too often fight fans are subjected to "bitter rival" match-ups that wind up being bigger duds than wet firecrackers. Too often fight fans are force fed angry "revenge" fights between two guys "who really hate each other" only to get a staring contest at mid-cage.

That doesn't appear to be the case with Liddell and Jackson, who have shown a genuine mutual respect leading up to the anticipated bout.

"Chuck really, really likes Rampage, just like I do," chuckled Hackleman. "They don't hang out like buddies but they really respect each other. Chuck doesn't have any animosity towards Rampage like he has towards some of his other opponents in the past. He doesn't have any of that, but as soon as that bell rings, it's going to be bombs flying. So whoever Chuck is fighting is going to have to get out of the way of those bombs or else they're going to go down."

"I think he's a funny guy and he's entertaining," Liddell added. "He's a tough fighter, too, and I have a ton of respect for him. He's done a lot in his career and beat some great fighters and he beat me.

"Now it's my turn."
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