Sunday, March 25, 2007

'Rampage' Jackson to get chance at Liddell's title

By Lance Pugmire

The way Chuck Liddell has dominated recent opponents Tito Ortiz and Randy Couture, it appears the Ultimate Fighting Championship's light-heavyweight champion is unbeatable.

Irvine's Quinton "Rampage" Jackson knows that's not true.

In a PRIDE Fighting Championships tournament in 2003, Jackson pounded the fatigued Liddell with a flurry of second-round punches that prompted Liddell's corner to stop the fight.

Now, less than four months after Jackson joined UFC, he's getting his shot to take Liddell's belt. UFC will officially announce today that the fighters have signed contracts to headline a May 26 pay-per-view card, UFC 71, at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas.

"I'm ready, for sure," Liddell said. "I'm at the top of my game, and I've been looking forward to this fight for a long time. I should've never lost the first time. It won't happen again."

Jackson hadn't planned on fighting Liddell so quickly in his UFC career, but his manager said UFC President Dana White tore up their prior contract and offered a new four-fight deal that will begin with this title fight.

"Our plan was to get more exposure in the UFC so the American public would become more familiar with Rampage, but don't get me wrong ... with Rampage's ability, he knows how to handle this," Juanito Ibarra, Jackson's manager/trainer said. "Chuck Liddell is a fight we're ready for.

"Chuck's the champion of the world, but Rampage has a style to beat Chuck and take his title."

Liddell, 37, is unbeaten in seven fights since his November 2003 loss to Jackson, 28, at PRIDE Final Conflict in Tokyo. The light-heavyweight champion calls that defeat "a learning experience," contending that an injured quadriceps muscle during training kept him from sprinting and building up the endurance the fight required.

"I didn't get in top shape," Liddell said. "Fighting over there [in Japan] didn't work out. I know I hurt him good in that fight. I could've finished him off earlier. But the truth comes down to the fact that he was the better man that day."

Liddell, from San Luis Obispo, is coming off a decisive third-round technical knockout of Ortiz at UFC 66 in December, but he acknowledged afterward that he fought with a torn medial collateral ligament in a knee. He declined to reveal this week which knee was injured, but he said he rejected proposed surgery.

"It's healed, it's something that's bothered me for a while, but it's something I've learned how to fight with," Liddell said. "The knee's completely stable, and there's no permanent damage. A sports injury specialist told me there was no need to undergo surgery. Surgery means I'm out six months. So I ice [the knee] a lot. I ice it every day. I'm fine with that. It's a real common wrestling injury."

Liddell also addressed the health concerns that followed his early March appearance on the Dallas television show, "Good Morning Texas," when he fell asleep while discussing the film "300."

"I had pneumonia and a fever," Liddell said.

The fighter said he was out late, then took the prescription sleeping pill Lunesta and an over-the-counter dose of Nyquil before waking early to make the television appearance, which can be viewed on YouTube.

"I needed six to eight hours of sleep and only got three," Liddell said. "They should've never got me out of bed."

Following the rambling, often incoherent discussion, Liddell said he was ordered off the promotional road by UFC President Dana White, and was subsequently subjected to a random drug test by the Nevada State Athletic Commission. Keith Kizer, executive officer of the Nevada State Athletic Commission, said Liddell passed the drug test.

"He's been tested several times and has never ran afoul of our tests," Kizer said. "Chuck was in a weird state on that show. I don't blame people for being concerned about him, but he silenced his critics."

Ibarra, however, criticized Liddell for appearing on television in that state.

"It was unfortunate that someone so important in the world of mixed-martial arts makes a decision to be out there in the spotlight in a condition like that," Ibarra said. "Hopefully, he learns for the sport and himself to be more reputable."

In addition to preparing for the Jackson fight, the 205-pound Liddell said he eventually wants to fight UFC heavyweight Mirko "Cro Cop" Filipovic. Liddell has already twice defeated current heavyweight champion Couture, and said the 225-pound Filipovic "is a lighter heavyweight. I can fight him. I'd like that shot."


1 comment:

Scott White said...

Good to see the UFC locked Jackson into a four-fight deal.