Though Liddell (21-7) returned with the expectation of fighting Tito Ortiz at the conclusion of the currently airing season of The Ultimate Fighter, an injury knocked Ortiz out, leaving an opening filled by former middleweight champion Rich Franklin.
In an interview with MMA Fighting, the 40-year-old Liddell spoke about the Ortiz fallout, facing Franklin, changing his lifestyle and whether his June 12 fight is a must-win affair.
Mike Chiappetta: We've seen some pictures of you lately that your girlfriend posted on her Twitter page and you look to be in incredible shape. Is this the best physical shape you've been in in a long time?
Chuck Liddell: It's the best shape I've been in for a while, yeah. I was sort of in shape since Dancing with the Stars, since I made that bet with Dana to get down in weight in September. In November, I started training camp to get ready to coach the show. I wanted to be in shape for the guys when I got there. I did kind of a mini-camp for seven weeks. I kept training and working out and went right back into camp after it ended. I made some changes and it's put me in the best shape I've been in in a long time.
When's the last time you were in shape like this?
It's been a while. I don't know for sure, but it's been a while. I'd say since back to the days when I had to be ready to fight any time. Back then a few years ago, you never knew if someone was going to fall out and you'd have to take a last-minute fight, so you always kind of stayed in shape.
What are you weighing right now?
About 216, 217.
Is that weight-wise normally what you're at this close to a fight?
I had been hoping to be 218 this week. I've been down under 220 for three weeks now. In the past, I got my weight up in the offseason and worked most of camp trying to get my weight down and get in shape. In training, I was doing everything I should do when I was there, but spent a little too much time putting on weight and not doing things I should have done when I wasn't training.
What did you do differently diet or workout wise to get in this kind of shape?
Quite a few things. The first thing was watching what I eat. Eating healthier the whole time. I cut my weight down and tried to keep it down for this. I started making a lot better choices with my meals and keeping my weight under control. I've been working a lot harder in the offseason, started doing fitness and resistance stuff.
Did you do it with a fitness expert or nutritionist?
I did it mostly on my own. My girlfriend helped me quite a bit. She likes eating healthy and eating clean, so that helped a lot. But it was really changing my lifestyle. I treated it like camp getting ready for The Ultimate Fighter, so I stopped drinking and got in shape to coach the guys. It was like a minicamp training them and then I went into my own camp, so it's sort of been like one long camp.
Being in this shape has to give you a lot of confidence for the fight. It's one less thing to worry about.
Yeah, I feel great. One of things is that I realize I didn't spend as much of my training camp just trying to get in shape; I spent it trying to get better at things and working on new things and getting my game to flow better. Working on my timing and concentrating on the things I need to be concentrating on instead of just getting in shape and getting through the workout.
What does your body feel like overall after the time off?
I think the time away was very good for me. Both mentally and physically I'm back into it. I spent a lot of the time off working out and lifting. I didn't hit mitts until December. We did some jiu-jitsu but I wasn't striking at all until December, so when I came back, it felt good. It made me hungry. I wanted to get back in there and learn more.
Your old foe Rampage Jackson just came back from a 14-month layoff and he said he didn't want to think about ring rust beforehand but later said that he experienced it during his fight. Your layoff is also going to be 14 months from fight to fight. What are your thoughts on that?
I'm not worried, and I'm not going to worry about it. My timing is on, my training is on, so I can't see that affecting me in the fight. I don't think it's going to make a difference. Like I said, being in shape the whole time, it's not like I'm cutting a bunch of weight. I didn't take a year off and get fat. I've been in shape for a long time. I didn't start my camp at 250. I started at 224.
This fight was supposed to be you against Tito. He said on a recent episode of TUF that after his last fight, he was having headaches and numbness in his hands, etc. It seemed like he knew something was wrong even before taking the fight with you. Did you get that feeling while on the set with him?
I knew he was going to back out. I knew it the first week we were there. I heard him say something like, 'I have to be 100 percent if I fight Chuck.' That just hit me wrong. I called Dana that day and said, 'It sounds like he's not going to fight me. What's going on?' Dana told me, 'He signed the bout agreement, so don't worry about it.'
Then a week-and-a-half later, I was told, 'He may need to get neck surgery before he fights you.' This was like 1 1/2 weeks in. I said, 'What the hell is he doing here then? Why didn't he get checked before he did this?' I called Dana again, and again, he said, 'He signed the bout agreement, so don't worry.' And then he did exactly what I thought he was going to do. He was just trying to get on TV, get his Punishment clothing line out there, and then walk away.
You guys were on the set together for five weeks. Did he give any outward indication of being hurt? Did he seem like he was in pain?
I never saw him in pain, but I wasn't really around him enough to say. Luckily on the show I didn't have to deal too much with him. I'd see him for the fights and see him here or there, so I didn't have to see him that much.
Tito's fought only three times since the start of 2007 and now he's facing more time away after serious surgery. Do you think he should retire?
That's his decision, so whatever he wants to do. All I have to say about it is if he's going to come back to UFC, he owes me a fight. Dana shouldn't let him handpick his opponent. He should have to fight me.
So you still want to fight him? At one point you weren't too excited about another fight with him.
I got nothing to prove. I knocked him out twice, I'll knock him out again, but I just don't want him to screw me like that and do the show, get the advertising he wants and then walk away from it and then come back and still get a fight and get paid. If he's coming back, he should have to fight me. I put up with him for six weeks.
Did Dana say that would be the case if and when Tito comes back?
He hasn't said. I told him, and he said, 'I hear you.' He knows what I'm saying, but he didn't necessarily agree to it.
Obviously, the possibility of fighting Tito gave you a lot of motivation and drive. You don't have any hatred for Rich Franklin, so is there any difficulty to continue to drive yourself the way you've been doing?
For a couple days it throws you, because it's such a big change going from fighting someone I really want to hurt to someone I have a lot of respect for. I better be in shape and ready to go. You're not going to get away with stuff with this guy. It's not going to be good to show up out of shape. He's always in shape. It motivates me in a different way, but just as much if not more so just because of his abilities.
You have continued to train with [American Top Team boxing trainer] Howard Davis for a while along with your usual trainer John Hackleman. Are we going to see you bringing a different boxing style to the cage?
John brought him in for a reason. We're known for power, heavy punches. That's what we do. Howard is a stick-and-move kind of guy. Defense, don't get hit, get in, tie him up, get out. So I'm trying to add some of that to game. Work on my defense, move a little more. It's a good mix between what we do and what he does.
You previously said you feel like facing Tito is sort of a tune-up fight for you. With the long break would that have been a better situation for you than fighting someone like Rich? Because it seems like you don't view Tito as much of a challenge as Rich is.
I'm not worried about it. I'm in shape and ready to go. If Rich wants to push, I'll push him as far as he wants to go.
What about the change in style? Rich is a southpaw and well-rounded. Tito is orthodox and is very reliant on his wrestling and ground game.
I had plenty of time to adapt and prepare for Rich. It's not a factor.
Do you think Rich will try to take you down?
I don't expect it. I don't expect it to be part of his plan, but I'm planning on hitting him enough to want to take me down.
On The Ultimate Fighter at one point this season, you said if you can't beat Tito you should retire. Do you feel the same about this fight? Is it do or die for you?
This fight isn't that kind of fight. This guy is a quality opponent and a tough guy. I am planning to knock him out. But I don't have that kind of feeling towards it.
You and Rich were champs at the same time a few years ago. I talked to Rich recently, and he mentioned that the possibility of fighting you was something he thought about. Did you ever think about facing Rich?
No, I never really thought about it once he moved down to 185, but at 205 I thought it was a possibility, and now it's happening.
What about after this fight? Are there any rematches you'd like before you retire, or is there one guy that's on your hit list?
The Tito fight I'm not really worried about. I really don't care. It's just one that if he comes back, he should have to fight me. But I don't really care about facing Tito again after I've already beaten him twice. Rematches, though? I'd like to avenge all my losses if I could. But whatever is the next step moving towards a title shot, that's what I want. That's where I want to get.