By Ant Evans

Although he has ‘iced’ 13 of the 18 men he has fought thus far in his 20-3 mixed martial arts career, Chuck Liddell was originally dubbed ‘the Iceman’ not because of his chilling striking power but because of his unchanging ice-cool demeanour.

Long-time trainer and friend John Hackleman explained: “I named him the Iceman because the guy is so cool all the time, nothing affects or bothers him. Even years ago, before the title and the UFC and the rest of it, he was exactly the same. He’s just got that kind of personality. Chuck is just that type of guy.”

Usually, the only time UFC fans see Liddell’s glacial temperament thaw is after his last KO win in the Octagon, when the Iceman’s emotions explode in the now iconic, arms-wide, celebration pose.

Pre-fight nerves? Not Liddell. In his mind, he has trained hard and come fight time he will put his gloves on someone and they will fall over.

But this frosted veneer has melted, at least a little, ahead of this Saturday’s career crucial clash with Quinton ‘Rampage’ Jackson at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas. Rampage is, readers will know, the last man to have defeated the dominant 205lbs champion as well as the only man to have a win over Liddell go unavenged.

Former PRIDE FC superstar Jackson is also the one man who seemed to be able to walk through Liddell‘s power. As Rampage pointed out: “That’s gotta play on a dude’s mind, that he hit me with his best stuff and I kept on coming.”

Whether or not that is actually playing on Liddell’s mind, only he really knows. Word out of his training camp at the Pit is that Liddell has barely mentioned the first Jackson bout, but, of course, that could be read either way.

But what the Iceman does admit is the prospect of being able to say he has defeated every single man he’s ever faced in his MMA career has him animated.

“I’m just excited about this fight,” Liddell said. “I’ve waited a long time for this, I wanted to fight him right after our last fight but I had to wait a long while instead. Now it’s here, after a long training camp, and I just want to put my hands on him. I am ready to go.”

Fans will remember that Team Liddell made much of the fact that they were “inside the head” of Tito Ortiz before the Iceman’s last UFC 205lbs title defence last December. Liddell and Hackleman believed – and probably rightly so – that Ortiz went into the UFC 66 bout with the memory of his previous loss to Liddell looming large in his mind’s eye.

However, Team Liddell rejects any notion that the Iceman is suffering similar confidence sapping flashbacks about of his UFC 71 rematch with Rampage.

Liddell said: “As far as the mental side of it goes, everyone says it might be (worrying for me) or something. I don’t think so at all. I never had that confidence problem when someone’s beaten me. Both the other guys who beat me (Randy Couture and Jeremy Horn) I went back and avenged the loss. I just think ‘I should have beat them the first time’, so afterwards all I think is ‘I messed up in the first fight and so I should go out there and beat them this time.’”

Rampage seems to have rediscovered his smack-talking voice just in time for his first UFC title shot. Cocky, brash and funny in equal measure, Jackson may or may not have been playing mind games when he said that Liddlell’s legendary punch power is over-stated and over-hyped.
“Out of 25, I’d give him a 5 as a puncher,” Jackson said. “He didn’t hurt me at all. Not once.”

And the challenger seemed keen to make the point that, for all Liddell’s achievements in the last four years, for all the appearances on TV, radio and magazine covers and the like, the fact is that it was Rampage, not the Iceman, who did the butt-kicking last time out. No matter that Liddell has gone undefeated since that night while Jackson hasn’t, Rampage is the better fighter over the Iceman until Liddell proves otherwise on the battlefield.

Jackson barked: “What’s going on TV or being in magazines got to do with his fighting skills? What he do, I mean the photo shoots, the interviews that he have, that don’t bother me, they don’t got nothing to do with how good he can throw a punch. It don’t bother me at all. I don’t give a damn. It means nothin’ to me. I beat him. That‘s all.”

The Iceman shrugs the jibes off and notes that far from taking offense to Rampage’s taunts, he actually finds them kinda funny.

“He’s a funny guy, one of my favourites,” Liddell smiled. “I like him and respect him a lot. He’s very entertaining, man. One of my favourite things he did was when we were watching a fight (at a previous UFC) and everyone else was yelling the ref to stand the
fighters up, Quinton was yelling at the ref “Put them on the ground! Put them on the ground!” It made me laugh pretty good.”

Joking aside, though, surely Liddell - perhaps during a hard run or before he shuts his eyes at night – must have considered Jackson’s claims that the Iceman’s punches never hurt him in their infamous PRIDE FC fight.

“He can say that,” Liddell said. “But I know I hurt him in the last fight. He’s a better striker than Tito or Randy, sure, and I think he can stand with me and he hits hard. I’ve got to hit him and not get hit a little. I’m going to try and make him adjust to what I want him to do. When I go out there I’m going to try to make them fight my fight. And, you know, I’m not afraid to stand there and exchange with anybody.

“So, if he really (believes I can’t punch hard) and wants to exchange with me it will be at least fast, exciting and short night for him. I am just ready for this.”

Real ready, by the sound of it. Hackleman, a no-nonsense ex-boxer who doesn’t go in for hyperbole, insists: “This is the best camp we’ve ever had, Chuck and I. We’ve not done anything any different and we always work very, very hard in camp, but something has just clicked perfectly for this fight.”

OK, like what?

“Some of it was luck,” the Pit master said. “Chuck hasn’t picked up a single injury, not one pull or strain, which is pretty unique for us. Chuck especially seems to pick up injuries here and there but he’s 100% healthy for this one.

“But Chuck's hitting harder now than he ever has and his timing and accuracy right now better than ever. Really. He is punching harder from every angle, moving away or moving in towards the target. This could be the best Chuck you’ll ever see. This could be the performance and fight of his life.”

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