The Canadian Press
UFC light-heavyweight champion Chuck Liddell savours life in the Octagon

TORONTO (CP) – Chuck (The Iceman) Liddell is hard to miss in a hotel lobby. You don’t see many six-foot-two, 204-pound men with a shaved mohawk and tattoo on their scalp.

It’s no surprise that he is just off a movie set in Mexico, where he plays a prison gang leader in The Life and Death of Bobby Z (starring Paul Walker and Laurence Fishburne). Here’s guessing he doesn’t have to spend too much time in makeup on set.

But away from the eight-sided caged ring that doubles as his day job, the Ultimate Fighting Championship light-heavyweight title-holder has a ready smile and sly sense of humour.

Reminded of the bloody end to his UFC high-profile 2004 win over rival Tito Ortiz, Liddell smiles.

“Well thank you,” he replied.

Early in the second round, Liddell stunned Ortiz with a blow and had the bleach-blond fighter staggering, his hands up high in a desperate bid to block a flurry of hammer-like blows.

Liddell threw some 20 punches before Ortiz dropped, his forehead and eyes busted open like a ripe tomato.

Liddell’s trademark celebration ensued. After running around the ring, he stopped in the middle – legs apart, arms out to the side, veins in his neck standing out like steel cords as he screamed in victory.

It’s quite a sight. Put a sword in his hand and the Iceman could probably make Russell Crowe in his Gladiator mode squeal like a little girl.

More than a few passers-by might elect to cross the street in coming on a tough customer like the 35-year-old Liddell.

“If I’m not smiling, everyone thinks I’m mad,” he acknowledged in an interview. “But people that do talk to me or meet me are surprised at how laidback, mellow I am. Especially if they’ve seen me in the ring.”

Ultimate Fighting Championship bouts can be brutal, although there are rules – 31 in fact, including no spitting, biting, hair-pulling eye-gouging, “grabbing the clavicle,” “small joint manipulation,” or “groin attacks of any kind.”

Beating the crap out of someone is allowed, however, until the referee steps in.

And Liddell, as a former collegiate wrestler with martial arts expertise in karate (black belt), jui jitsu (purple belt), kempo and kickboxing, is well-equipped to deliver some pain.

Liddell is a feared striker, who can lay someone out with one punch. He can also turn out the lights with a well-placed kick to the head.

Plus he can defend. He is hard to take down, which given his ability to punch means he is one tough package.

Liddell says he is thinking the entire time in the ring.

“You should know everything I’m doing I’m trying to set you up,” he says.

Liddell was in Toronto on Friday to help promote the new digital station, The Fight Network.

He fights two or three times a year, taking three months before each to train.

“It’s a lot more difficult than a boxer’s regimen, because we do everything that a boxer does. And then some,” he explained.

By the end of training, Liddell admits to being a “bit grumpy.” But he hopes to fight another three to five years.

The Ortiz bout – with George Clooney, Juliette Lewis, Michael Clarke Duncan and Carson Daly in the crowd – was hyped as martial arts’ greatest grudge match with Ortiz saying Liddell had broken a pact as friends that they would never fight.

Liddell saw it differently. In his eyes, Ortiz needed to come up with an excuse on why he had been dodging him.

“I’d love to get him in the ring again and knock his head off,” Liddell said.

On Feb. 4, 2006, he is to meet former UFC champion Randy (The Natural) Couture for the third time. Couture beat Liddell by TKO in June 2003 the first time they met (in UFC 43, Meltdown) but Liddell knocked out the champion in the rematch in April (UFC 52, Couture versus Liddell 2).

“It should be a good show,” Liddell says simply of the second rematch.

Liddell considers Couture as the toughest man he has faced in the ring. Asked to name an up-comer, he rates Forrest Griffin as one to watch.

Liddell’s life changed radically in 2005. He won the title and starred in the UFC reality show The Ultimate Fighter (Spike TV). Liddell and Couture each coached teams of would-be ultimate fighters, with the survivors (including Griffin) earning a contract with UFC.

The show (now in a second season with UFC fighters Matt Hughes and Rich Franklin as coaches) served to widen the UFC audience, while earning Liddell a legion of new fans. A week after it ended, he beat Couture to claim the light-heavyweight (185-to 205-pound) title.

His life hasn’t been the same since.

“I was home four days last month. I won’t even be home this month,” he said, adding: “That’s with turning down some stuff, too.”

The TV show has played a big part in exposing Liddell to the public.

“Before I could almost tell you which guy would walk up and know who I was now. Now I have no clue.”

Liddell says life is a blur.

“Some stuff’s been real fun, And some times, even the fun stuff gets a little bit long. I’m away from my kids, I’m away from everybody from a long period of time.

“Then again I get to throw a baseball out (the first pitch at an Arizona Diamondbacks’ home game) and take my son out on the baseball field.”

Liddell is unmarried but has a son and daughter, seven and eight. When he has time off, he spends it with them.

Home is San Luis Obispo, Calif., an oasis of sanity for Liddell located halfway between Los Angeles and San Francisco on the California coast. He went to college there.

“It’s really nice. I’ve got a lot of friends there that I’ve known for a lot of years. They just know me as Chuck, not as the guy on TV that’s on TV and who fights.”

In the Octagon, Liddell really is an Iceman. Against Ortiz, he looked like he was going for a stroll in the park as he entered the ring. Ortiz, in contrast, was wound super-tight, bouncing around like a rubber ball.

“I was always a good test-taker in high school and college,” Liddell explained. “Because I could totally relax, because by that time I figure I’ve done everything I can do. Now I’ve just got to perform.

“Same thing as fighting. By the time I make weight, I’ve done everything I’ve got to do and I can do. There’s nothing left for me to do. All I’ve got to do is go out there and perform.”

His record is 17-3-0, with losses to Couture and Jeremy Horn already avenged. Liddell also wants a rematch with Quinton Jackson but says “he’s making it hard for me to get him.”

As for Couture, Liddell respects him but still has a score to settle. Liddell doesn’t appreciate some of Couture’s criticism of him in his rival’s occasional role as UFC commentator.

Couture said Liddell’s fitness was a problem at times and told viewers Liddell hadn’t hit him in the first fight.

“I know I did,” Liddell said. “I watched the fight. I hit him a couple of time pretty good. But whatever.”

“He’s a great fighter,” Liddell added. “It’s going to be a fun one.”

© The Canadian Press, 2005