The Iceman under pressure to win at UFC 97

MONTREAL (AP) " Chuck Liddell peered into his phone as reporters rushed other fighters on the dais after the prefight news conference for UFC 97.

A second wave eventually turned its attention to Liddell, but the delay was noticeable " and perhaps understandable. Three losses in four fights will do that.

The former light-heavyweight champion will shed no tears at missing out on reporters' questions but he does wonder about the length of some people's memories.

"You can go from a fight where you're the best in the world to where you lose and you're a nobody, you're done," he noted in an earlier interview.

At 39, Liddell still loves to fight. When he retires, he wants to go out as a champion and so he's making a run at the belt he lost to Quinton Jackson at UFC 71 in May 2007.

He has a way to go and the campaign could be over Saturday night if Liddell (21-6) does not get past Mauricio Rua in the co-main event of UFC 97 at the Bell Centre.

Liddell was laid out by Rashad Evans last time out at UFC 88. He beat Wanderlei Silva before that in a slugfest at UFC 79, after losing a split decision to Keith Jardine at UFC 76.

UFC president Dana White, Liddell's close friend and former manager, said last month that Liddell will have to "dazzle" in Montreal if he is to continue fighting in the UFC.

"I love him, and I don't want to see what I saw in his last fight ever again," White said, referring to the sight of a twisted Liddell lying face down after being caught by a huge right hand from Evans.

White, who says Liddell will have a job for life outside the cage with the UFC, has since softened his language but still expects Liddell to deliver Saturday night.

"The bottom line is he's going to have to come out and put on a great performance," he said. "Because my point is what more does this guy have to prove?"

Before Jackson, Liddell had won seven straight fights by knockout and the winning recipe was pretty simple. A former collegiate wrestler, he used his exceptional takedown defense to keep his fights on the feet.

Then he counterattacked, circling and moving in and out on his opponent. Often they had to come to him and when they did they paid for it. With knockout power in his hands and feet, he could put people away " often from odd angles.

But in recent years, the movement has been reduced. And Liddell, his right arm predictably cocked, has gone after people rather than lure them in.

"Chuck got by a long time with his striking style and then people tried to figure it out a little bit. He wasn't really evolving as a fighter. He was kind of coasting along, just beating people with who he was," middleweight Jason MacDonald said.

Liddell dismisses the theory that opponents have figured him out.

"It's predictable I'm going to throw punches at you and I'm going to come try to knock you out," he said.

In Liddell's book, he simply made mistakes and got caught.

But White sees age " and lifestyle " as a factor.

"Chuck wasn't hard to figure out," White said. "He's going to defend the takedown and try to knock you out. What's happening is when you're 40, you slow down, you're not as fast as you were. You can't get off, your timing is not there. And partying doesn't help that.

"Chuck has refocused, changed some things in his training plan and I think we're going to see a different Chuck on Saturday night."

But Liddell-Rua is not the draw it once was.

Rua (17-3) is 1-1 in the UFC since coming over to Pride. After losing to Forrest Griffin at UFC 76, he was sidelined by two knee surgeries before posting an uninspiring win over 44-year-old Mark Coleman at UFC 93.

"Two years ago people were arguing over who is better. ... These guys are both at a point in their career where this is a massive huge fight for both of them," White said.

Whatever happens Saturday, Liddell will still have a legion of fans.

"Chuck's one of those kind of guys, he could lose 100 times in a row and I would still love watching him fight," lightweight Junie Browning said.

White, however, may force Liddell's hand.

"I care about the guy and I don't want to see him stick around too long," he said.


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