By Neil Davidson, THE CANADIAN PRESS
Mar. 13, 2009
Will Montreal be the Iceman's last hurrah?
Rashad Evans (left) rushes in after knocking Chuck (The Iceman) Liddell to the canvas at UFC 88 on Sept. 6, 2008, at the Philips Arena in Atlanta. THE CANADIAN PRESS/ho-UFC-Josh Hedges
Chuck (The Iceman) Liddell has lost three of his last four fights and, at 39, the clock is ticking. The last image many fight fans have of the former light-heavyweight champion is face down on the canvas after Rashad Evans knocked him out with a right to the chin at UFC 88 in September.
Liddell (21-5) looks to revive his flagging career against Mauricio (Shogun) Rua in the co-main event of UFC 97 at Montreal's Bell Centre on April 18.
UFC president Dana White says the Iceman needs to put on a show north of the border.
"I've made it very clear to Chuck. Very clear," White told The Canadian Press. "It's not about money, it's not about this, that. Chuck is one of my good friends. Chuck (has) cemented his legacy in the UFC and in the fight game. I'm not even saying if he wins, unless he looks incredibly impressive (in Montreal) - I mean, he's going to have to go out there and dazzle me, for me to want Chuck to still fight."
"I love him, and I don't want to see what I saw in his last fight ever again," he added.
Liddell was once the most feared fighter in mixed martial arts, with knockout power in both hands and legs. With his mohawk and tattooed skull, he was also the menacing face of the sport.
But in recent fights, it seems his opponents have figured out Liddell's game.
Quinton (Rampage) Jackson took away Liddell's title at UFC 71 in May 2007, felling Liddell with a crushing right to the chin after the champion left himself exposed throwing a lazy left.
"I made a mistake and got caught," Liddell said after the fight.
Liddell hired a chef to help with his diet and said trainer John Hackleman was working on tightening his game.
At UFC 76 in September 2007, Keith (The Dean of Mean) Jardine took advantage of Liddell's stance to punish him with leg kicks. Liddell connected early - "I was seeing stars the whole first round," Jardine said later - but Jardine put Liddell down in the second round with a left.
As the fight wore on, the kicks took their toll and Liddell's left side was splashed with red welts.
"I've been to fights with him (Liddell) all over the world," White said last week in Columbus, Ohio. "I've never seen his body look like it looked after the Keith Jardine fight."
"He comes in with a wide, kind of tilted stance, so he can't really block kicks that way," Jardine explained.
Liddell did not dispute Jardine winning split decision (29-28, 29-28, 28-29). "I left it too close to complain about it," he said.
The Iceman bounced back by winning a decision against Wanderlei Silva in a wild brawl at UFC 79 in December 2007. Liddell used his reach to good effect against the shorter Brazilian, even showing off his wrestling skills late in the fight when he took Silva down several times.
"I thought I did all right out there for an old man, I guess," Liddell said after the fight.
Like Liddell, however, Silva is widely seen as being on the downside of his career.
Just how far down was shown at UFC 88 by Evans, who drew Liddell in and then knocked him senseless as he attempted to throw an uppercut.
"I got caught, man. What do you want me to say?" Liddell said afterwards.
Greg Jackson, Evans' trainer, summed up Liddell's current predicament as he explained the Evans camp had seen the opening for the big right hand.
"That's what we planned for," said Jackson, who also helped mastermind Jardine's win over Liddell. "He (Liddell) always does the same thing."
There is talk that Liddell has taken steps to change that for the Rua fight, adding to his training. It's clear the status quo is no longer working.
Liddell is a counter-puncher who can create great power from odd angles. He is also unorthodox as a striker, to the extent that he can wave one hand as a distraction and then hammer you with the other. He also mixes kicks and punches well.
But against the herky-jerky Jardine, Liddell was unable to find his rhythm. And Jackson and Jardine saw openings and made him pay for them.
What were once idiosyncrasies are now cracks in the armour.
Perhaps most importantly, the intimidation factor is largely gone thanks to his recent losses.
Prior to Jackson, Liddell had been on a roll. He had won 15 of his 17 UFC fights, with the last loss to Randy Couture at UFC 43 in June 2003. Between the Couture and Jackson losses, Liddell registered seven straight knockouts.
Liddell still remains a draw. And while he is a wealthy man today, the big paycheques are no doubt always welcome. Liddell's purse has been listed at US$500,000 for each of his last four fights and that doesn't include a cut of the lucrative pay-per-view revenue.
Rua, 27, also needs to look good in Montreal. Sidelined by double knee surgeries since losing his UFC debut to Forrest Griffin at UFC 76 in September 2007, the Brazilian looked rusty in his UFC 93 TKO over 44-year-old Mark (The Hammer) Coleman at UFC 93 in January.
Rua (17-3) has run out of gas in both fights and looked a shadow of the young buck who tore through Pride opposition in Japan.
Liddell and Rua were slated to meet at UFC 85 last June in London but the fight was shelved because of injuries to both men - Liddell (hamstrung) and Rua (knee).
The bottom line in Montreal is both Liddell and Rua need to show they still have it.
"A year and a half ago, people were arguing over who's the best light-heavyweight in the world. Shogun or Chuck," White mused. "And here we are, with these guys basically fighting to see who's going to really stick around in that division."