Liddell: Franklin More of a Challenge Than Ortiz

By Loretta Hunt Jun 5, 2010
With the prospect of knocking out former friend and current rival Tito Ortiz up in smoke, former light heavyweight champion Chuck Liddell had to rely on other motivations to keep his fire lit in preparation for his headlining bout against Rich Franklin at UFC 115 on June 12 in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.

Luckily, Liddell could fall back on his lifelong love affair with competition.

“I respect Rich and I think he’s a bigger challenger for sure, so that motivates you more to get into the gym and I’ve gotta be prepared,” Liddell said of changing tracks for former middleweight champion Franklin during a Friday teleconference call. “I’ve got to show up ready to go or I’ll pay for it.”

Franklin -- who touts wins over standouts like Evan Tanner, Yushin Okami, Travis Lutter and Wanderlei Silva -- told the media Friday that he thought he might have an advantage over the 40-year-old legend in the later rounds until he saw a recent picture of Liddell’s improved physique. The picture, which surfaced online a few weeks ago, shows the slimmer and more defined Liddell than in recent memory, flanked by his training team.

Liddell said he has UFC President and close friend Dana White to thank for his improved shape. White made a bet with Liddell last September that the fighter couldn’t lose his excess weight before his debut on ABC’s “Dancing with the Stars.” Liddell got down to the 214-pound cut-off. Then, he stayed there.

Liddell said consistency with his training and diet since November following his exit from the TV show has kept him in superior condition. And although Liddell has back-to-back knockout losses and the longest layoff of his career (14 months) stacked against him when he returns the Octagon in mid June, the former accountant said he isn’t concerned.

“My timing’s on. I’m in great shape. I’m ready to go,” said Liddell, who’s lost four of his last five bouts. “I’ll let you know after the fight if I thought I had ring rust. I don’t see it being a problem. I think that’s psychological for some guys.”

Liddell, who was temporarily “retired” by White following his first-round knockout loss to Mauricio “Shogun” Rua at UFC 97 in April 2009, still wants a third match with Ortiz. Liddell handily beat Ortiz on two separate occasions in 2004 and 2006, but has made the third meeting with the former training partner a personal vendetta.

Ortiz, 34, who withdrew from the bout to undergo neck fusion surgery in March, hopes to return to the promotion in October or November. Liddell said he’s stated his case to White that Ortiz should have to face him when he returns to the UFC.

Beyond his burning rivalry with Ortiz, Liddell said he’d evaluate his next career step after his June 12 bout with Franklin.

“I’ll cross that bridge when I get there,” said Liddell. “At the end of the fight, I’ll decide what I want to do next. I’m planning on making another run at the title -- that’s what I want to do, so we’ll see what happens.”
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