Muhammad Ali used to boast before fights that he was in the best
shape of his life. Evander Holyfield did the same, and most
recently Oscar De La Hoya has become synonymous with the "best
shape of my life" cliché.
It's rare when that sort of phrase is muttered in mixed martial
arts. There are too many aspects of the game to work on, and the
risk of injury while training for a fight is far greater than
boxers face with the old Sweet Science.
Chuck Liddell (Pictures), the Ultimate Fighting
Championship's light heavyweight king, is all too familiar with the
training camp injury bug, having pulled this, torqued that or
sprained whatever many times in the past.
In his last bout, "The Iceman" entered the Octagon against Tito Ortiz (Pictures) with a sprained knee suffered
while training for the rematch, which he won in three rounds. And
prior to facing Saturday's opponent, Quinton Jackson (Pictures), in 2003, Liddell endured yet
another leg injury, this time to a quad which limited his training
leading up to the fight.
But as Liddell, 37, prepares for a rematch against the last man to
put a blemish on his stellar record, reports are the champ's in
pristine condition -- or at least that's what a trio of insiders,
including his trainer John Hackleman, are saying. In fact,
Liddell's camp can't stop going gaga about how splendid their
fighter looks leading up to the May 26 fight.
Like Ali, Holyfield and De la Hoya … Liddell is in the best shape
of his life.
"This has been the best training camp we've ever had," gushed
Hackleman, Liddell's head trainer. "He didn't get one injury, one
strain or one pull. Everything went perfectly: perfect sparring;
perfect wrestling; perfect conditioning. He's hitting harder now
than he ever has and his timing and accuracy right now is
un-friggin-believable. I still can't believe it. He hits things at
every angle, moving away or moving in. He always finds the chin and
his weight is on target so everything's right on. It's
"That's exactly word-for-word what I was going to say," chuckled
Scott Lighty, Liddell's primary sparring partner for striking.
"It's funny: Every time we get in there to get ready for fights, he
gets better and better. I watch his sparring and his accuracy has
really improved. He really can punch from any angle. I was trying
different styles on him and moving differently, but he keeps
"He looks really good right now," concurred John Lewis (Pictures), a longtime Liddell coach and
friend. "His body's tight, his abs are tight and with those strong
abs he's in really good shape. He's trained really hard. He's
positive. He's relaxed as usual, so yes, he's definitely in top
The absence of the injury bug aside, part of the reason Liddell
might look so fantastic is that this is the first fight since his
rubber match with multiple-time UFC champion Randy Couture (Pictures) that "The Iceman" has truly
gotten up for an opponent. It could also be suggested that this
rematch with "Rampage" is the one fight he's coveted more than
anything else, a chance to wipe the slate clean. Or in other words,
good old fashioned revenge.
"When Chuck trains for revenge fights, he's extremely focused,"
said Lighty, a professional kickboxer known mostly for his tenure
with the K-1 organization. "He's always focused with other fights
but there's always just a little more with these types of fights
because he just can't stand to lose. He trains with just a little
bit more of an edge and you can see him working every possible move
that Quinton can do against him."
Lewis agreed to a point, but also suggested that in the time since
Liddell's first encounter with Jackson, almost four years, the San
Luis Obispo, Calif. fighter has grown tenfold.
"Chuck's a different guy than when he was in those days," Lewis
said. "His training regimen is very, very fine-tuned now compared
to how it was back then. He's beaten a lot of great champions since
then, which has built his confidence mentally to know how good he
really is. I think he's a whole different individual than he was
back then. His training wasn't the best in those days -- not that
he didn't train or have good training, it's just that his training
overall, from his dieting to his conditioning regiment to
everything as a whole, has improved greatly. Everything is
fine-tuned and everybody on the team does their part. And he's not
even the same guy today. You can't even compare that fight and that
"He's much different, as he's improved leaps and bounds more than
probably anybody out there right now just in his overall skills,
power and conditioning," added Hackleman. "I don't think that first
fight was an aberration, but I don't think it's going to happen
again. It's a whole different Chuck. Let me put it that way: I
can't say that first fight was an aberration because then are all
of Chuck's knockouts aberrations as well? It's just like how Chuck
got beaten by Randy that first time. Everybody knows that would
never happen again. Chuck's a different fighter now and it's mostly
because of how his training is different."
Liddell has been on a strict diet and worked strenuously on his
conditioning, something that plagued him in the back-to-back losses
to Couture and Jackson in 2003.
While Team Liddell wouldn't specify what minor-yet-massive
adjustments were made, it's safe to assume that if one compared
film of Liddell's training from before anyone had heard of SpikeTV
to today, the difference would be akin to mixed martial arts pre-
and post-The Ultimate Fighter.
"I don't like to go into specifics about the training," said
Hackleman. "Let's just say that Chuck is a changed man and it'll
show against ‘Rampage.' He just gets better and better and that's
mainly because of how his training has improved."
And that is the reason why this fight is so intriguing.
Both fighters have changed since they first locked horns inside the
PRIDE ring in Japan. Liddell hasn't lost since and has laid out
opponents like kitchen tile. He bounced back from defeat by
dismantling Ortiz and Vernon
White, and then swiped the title from Couture by knocking him
out cold in the first round. To say Liddell has been on a tear
would be an understatement.
The same can't be said about Jackson. The boisterous fighter from
Memphis has tasted defeat thrice, bested by former PRIDE 205-pound
king Wanderlei Silva
(Pictures) on two occasions and once
by Mauricio Rua
Some argue that Jackson has seen his best days, but those close to
Liddell don't agree.
"I hear that a lot, but to be honest whenever I talk about
‘Rampage,' and this might sound weird or that I'm talking about one
of my own fighters, but I love ‘Rampage,'" admitted Hackleman. "I
think he's a great fighter, a great guy. If he wasn't fighting
Chuck I wish I was training him because I love him. I don't think
anything has happened to him. He just fought great fighters. I
don't think he's gotten bad. I think it's just that his level of
opposition has gone up. He's done well, but there are certain
people who have beaten him. I don't believe he is washed up or
anything like that at all."
Lewis agreed that Jackson is not a flash in the pan. Like
Hackleman, Lewis thinks Jackson is just as dangerous, just as
fierce as he's ever been, and to think this fight will be a walk in
the park for Liddell would be foolhardy.
"Quinton is a very tough guy," stated Lewis, a UFC veteran. "He
definitely is a worthy opponent for Chuck right now and he's
certainly not shot like some people believe. He's a very strong
individual. His hands and his striking have really come a long way
and I consider him a real striker now, and he's won his last few
fights. He's also hard to take down. He's very athletic and agile,
so I think he's definitely a tough match in general for anybody,
Toughness and ability aside, everybody who has worked tirelessly
with the defending light heavyweight champ is confident that their
guy will triumph Saturday inside the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las
Vegas. Liddell's firing on all cylinders and has battered his
sparring partners like slabs of meat.
"I think ‘Rampage' is going to put up a great fight and it's going
to be a war," started Hackleman, "but I just think Chuck has a
little too much firepower at this point. He's so focused and like I
said, Chuck has never looked this perfect."
"It's insane to see Chuck train and train alongside him," added
Lighty, who hopes to follow in his training partner's footsteps as
he plunges headfirst into MMA, possibly in the late summer. "It's
not like Quinton's all about the fame and trying to hype up the
media and when he gets into the ring he's a total pussy. He brings
it; he comes ready to fight. He always comes ready for a war. But
with how great Chuck looks, I just don't see ‘Rampage' beating him.
I just don't see it happening."
On Saturday night, the world will find out whether Liddell's
"perfect" training camp will equate to another highlight reel
knockout, or if he'll wind up being more like De La Hoya and fall
flat after being in the "best shape of his life."
And Jackson, the only man Liddell has not been able to beat, will
find out better than anybody else.
GRRRR!!!More on Sherdog.com Mobile