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Chuck Liddell knows a thing or two about rivalries. Over the course of his legendary fighting career, "The Iceman" staged rematches with five different men, including a UFC 66 title defense against former training partner Tito Ortiz that emerged as box-office gold for the fledging Ultimate Fighting Championship.
Of course, by now Liddell has trading in all the cuts and bruises for the plushy perks of retirement. But with UFC 145 right around the corner, many, including Ortiz, have begun comparing Jon Jones and Rashad Evans' heavy-anticipated grudge match to that fabled UFC 66 clash.
While the parallels are certainly there -- a title bout matching-up former friends and teammates turned enemies -- Liddell's relationship with Ortiz was vastly different than Evans' split with Jackson-Winkeljohn. In fact, the former champ says he wouldn't have had any problems if his coach brought a promising 205-pounder into camp back in the day.
"If (a teammate) can beat me, they can beat me," Liddell said on Monday's edition of The MMA Hour. "It is what it is. They deserve to fight me then. I'm not going to hold back some guy that's in my camp if he wants to fight me. That's not my thing.
"It's just a personal choice and a personal opinion, but I think eventually, hey you guys are going at it, then go out and have two beers together afterwards. Go out there and prove who's best that day, and go out and be friends again."
Obviously, by now it's clear both Evans and Jones see the issue a little differently. An oft-repeated axiom says to always fight with a clear mind and never let emotion cloud your judgment. Yet throughout the lead-up to UFC 145, emotions have run higher than they have for any light heavyweight title defense in years, leading some to speculate if the bad blood could be a detriment to either competitor.
But Liddell had a few wars of words of his own back in day, and the way he sees it, making things personal wasn't ever a bad call.
"I think that helps for me," Liddell admitted with a chuckle.
"Some guys are better when they don't like the guy. For me, it helps me train. ... I say it all the time, but it makes it a lot easier when there's that back-of-your-mind motivation that ‘I do not like this guy. There's no way I want to let this guy beat me, so I'm going to be in the best shape I can be in.' I think (Jones and Evans) have got that."
Still, when it comes down to it, all the verbal sparring and pre-packaged sound bytes are just noise to Liddell, and he isn't much interested in that. No, for the former champ, there's a much more fascinating -- and baffling -- sub-plot to UFC 145's main event.
"What's interesting about this fight is that the (betting) line is 6-to-1, which is shocking to me, because I don't think it's that kind of fight," Liddell explained.
"For Rashad, you've trained with a guy. You've worked with him. There's none of that ‘oh, he's unbeatable' kind of thing that's been out there in the press about Jon Jones.
"Even if it was a long time ago, if Rashad was getting the better of him in (training) ... sometimes that's in the back of your head when you go into a fight. Even if you're a different fighter now and you've gotten a lot better, it's still in the back of your head that this guy used to beat me and I haven't messed with him since."
For that very reason, Liddell is hesitant to commit to an official prediction for Jones vs. Evans, instead calling the long-awaited title tilt a "pick ‘em."
But regardless, you can be sure of one thing. If the grizzled veteran was a few years younger, and UFC 145 had the hypnotic surname of Jones vs. Liddell, he knows exactly how he'd approach the young phenom.
"Well, you've got to take him out of his gameplan," Liddell mused. "You can't let him decide where the fight is going to be fought. You've got to make him uncomfortable.
"When I'm in shape, if you let me engage when I want to, and you don't push me and make me be in situations I don't want to be in, I'll never get tired. ... You've got to put a guy in a situation he doesn't like being in, where he's not comfortable, and make him work."
Only time will tell if Evans can put that advice to good use.
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