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Chuck Liddell Gearing Up for UFC 97, Confident He'll Be Champion Again

Two years ago, Chuck Liddell was arguably the best fighter in the Ultimate Fighting Championship, and inarguably the most popular. Liddell was there when UFC fights were small-time events that members of Congress said should be outlawed, and he was there in the main event when the UFC first reached 1 million pay-per-view buys.

Now Liddell is 39 years old, and he's lost three of his last four fights. Does he still have what it takes to be a champion? In an interview this week, I asked him that, and he said he's certain that he does. And he's confident that he'll prove it in the Octagon, starting with his fight against Mauricio "Shogun" Rua at UFC 97 on April 18. The full interview is below.


Michael David Smith: Dana White said that he needs you to dazzle him when you fight Shogun Rua for him to want you to keep fighting after that. Do you think there's a chance that when we watch you at UFC 97, we'll be watching you step into the Octagon for the last time?

Chuck Liddell: I don't think so. That's not what I'm planning on. I don't have any plans on this being my last time fighting. I don't know exactly what he means by "dazzle," but I'm planning on coming out and knocking this kid out, so that should leave that situation just fine.

You'll turn 40 this year. How much longer do you expect to fight?
I'll fight as long as my body lets me. We'll see.

Are you as good a fighter now as you were a few years ago?
I think so. Actually, I keep improving. I think I'm better than I was.

In 2005 and 2006, when you were fighting in the UFC and Shogun was fighting in Japan with Pride, a lot of people considered you and Shogun the two best light heavyweights in the world. Did you want to fight him then?
Yeah, I wanted to fight him again for sure, but I didn't get a chance to fight him until now.

Is it disappointing that it took until 2009 for that fight to take place?
No, I don't really think about that. Things that happened way back, I don't think about that.

What did you think of Shogun's most recent fight, against Mark Coleman?
I think he was in horrible shape for that fight. But I'm expecting him to fix that problem, whether it was a problem in his camp or just something that wasn't going right for him, I'm expecting him to be in much better shape when we fight. I'm positive he'll show up in better shape for our fight.

How do you expect your fight with Shogun to go?
I plan on throwing everything I have at him and knocking him out.



That simple?
That simple. I plan on making it an exciting fight and a fun fight for the fans to watch. It's going to be a good fight, an exciting fight -- as long as it lasts.

Your first UFC fight was at UFC 17, a small show in Alabama in 1998. Back then people thought the UFC might go out of business, or be banned by Congress, and now it's a huge company that sells out arenas all over the country and is expanding internationally. Are you amazed by how much the sport has grown in 11 years?
I always thought the sport was great, from the time I was first involved. But I thought it was going to take a lot longer to get really big. There were certain things we needed, like getting on free TV. We knew that for a long time, and the reality show craze helped us do it with The Ultimate Fighter.

And, of course, you were one of the coaches on the first season of The Ultimate Fighter, and you were the most popular fighter in the UFC at the time that it really started booming. How much credit for the sport's growth do you think you, personally, deserve for how much the sport has grown?
Oh, I don't know who deserves credit for what. I'm glad people like the way I fight and I'm glad fans like what I've done. But I think it's a great sport that people are going to like, whether it's me or other fighters. When I'm done we'll have other guys coming up who the people will want to watch.

Is there one particular fight you're most proud of winning?
Probably the second fight with Randy Couture. He had beaten me before, and then I knocked him out to win the title for the first time. If I had to pick one, I think that's the one that meant the most.

That was four years ago. Did you realize at that point that the sport was getting huge?
Yeah, for sure. That was right after the first season of The Ultimate Fighter. Before then, if I walked through a crowd, a couple people might know who I was. Once the show started playing it got to the point where old ladies would come up to me and say, "hey, great fight the other night" or "I saw you on the show, I love that show." The crowds got a lot more diverse.

The sport has grown a lot since then, and a big part of that growth has been the fighters doing more to develop their skills. For you, I know you're working on your boxing with Howard Davis, an Olympic boxing gold medalist. What has he taught you?
We've been working on a lot of footwork and defense. His expertise is helping me use footwork to get me into position to land my big punches. I'm in great shape, I've been going hard, working with Howard Davis and (former Olympic wrestler) Sam Henson. It's been a good camp.

Did your knockout loss to Rashad Evans make you think you needed to change your training?
No. Looking at the fight with Rashad, it might have shown I needed to work on my defense a little bit, but I don't think there was anything wrong with my training. I was in great shape for that fight. I was winning the fight up until I got caught. People who talk about that fight act like I went in there and took a beating. That's not how it happened -- I was winning that fight until I got caught. I mean, the way people talk about it, you'd think I went out there and took a hammering for a round and a half before I got knocked out.

But in MMA, all it takes is one punch, one kick, a quick submission --
That's what makes this sport exciting.

How do you see the upcoming title fight between Rashad and Lyoto Machida going?
I think it's an interesting fight to watch. It'll be a good fight, but one thing you won't get from me is predictions on fights. I don't critique other guys -- especially guys I'm planning on fighting down the line.

How many fights do you think you'd need to win before you'd get a shot at the title?
I think if I win one more after this one, I'm going to be asking for it and I think I'd deserve it.

Are you confident that you're going to be the light heavyweight champion again at some point?
Yeah. I'm very confident. Yes.

(Like MMA? Follow MDS on Twitter.)

Liddells Most Memorable Fights

    Chuck Liddell has had an amazing UFC career. Click through the gallery to see his most memorable moments with commentary from FanHouse's Michael David Smith.

    Jae C. Hong, AP

    Event: UFC 17 Date: March 15, 1998
    Opponent: Noe Hernandez Winner: Liddell (unanimous decision)
    MDS' take: Beats Noe Hernandez by unanimous decision in his first pro MMA fight.

    UFC

    Event: UFC 17 Date: March 15, 1998
    MDS' take: Beats Noe Hernandez by unanimous decision in his first pro MMA fight.

    UFC

    Event: UFC 19 Date: March 5, 1999
    MDS' take: Suffers his first loss when Jeremy Horn chokes him unconscious.

    UFC

    Event: UFC 19 Date: March 5, 1999
    MDS' take: Suffers his first loss when Jeremy Horn chokes him unconscious.

    UFC

    Event: UFC 19 Date: March 5, 1999
    MDS' take: Suffers his first loss when Jeremy Horn chokes him unconscious.

    UFC

    Event: UFC 19 Date: March 5, 1999
    MDS' take: Suffers his first loss when Jeremy Horn chokes him unconscious.

    UFC

    Event: UFC 31 Date: May 4, 2001
    Opponent: Kevin Randleman Winner: Liddell (first-round TKO)
    MDS' take: It establishes Liddell as one of the sport's top knockout artists.

    UFC

    Event: UFC 31 Date: May 4, 2001
    Opponent: Kevin Randleman Winner: Liddell (first-round TKO)
    MDS' take: It establishes Liddell as one of the sport's top knockout artists.

    UFC

    Event: UFC 31 Date: May 4, 2001
    Opponent: Kevin Randleman Winner: Liddell (first-round TKO)
    MDS' take: It establishes Liddell as one of the sport's top knockout artists.

    UFC