Iceman: Still in the ring

JOSE RODRIGUEZ, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:50 AM ET

Two years ago, Chuck "The Iceman" Liddell was the face of the UFC.

He was a seemingly unbeatable light-heavyweight champ with a heavy right hand and a very marketable mohawk.

He was also riding a seven-fight win streak -- all by knockout -- and had defended his belt four times in convincing fashion.

These days, Liddell is busy defending his right to a spot as a co-headliner and trying to convince doubters his "best before" tag hasn't expired.

At 39 and having lost three of his last four fights, Liddell (21-6 overall) is clearly in the twilight of his career.

Even UFC president Dana White -- a close friend and Liddell's former manager -- has said "The Iceman" needs to impress at UFC 97 next Saturday against Mauricio "Shogun" Rua.

Liddell is upset with his last few outings, but has no intention of changing the game plan that's brought him this far.

"I'm planning on coming out and doing what I normally do," he says. "I plan on knocking him out, so hopefully that will be enough to keep (White) interested in me fighting."

Liddell shrugs off the increasing number of critics who question his ability to fight at his age and his motivation to keep fighting.

"I do this because I love to fight," says Liddell.

"I get paid a lot of money to do what I love for a living. I don't think it takes much motivation past that."

He may have a little extra motivation for this fight.

Liddell's good friend, TapouT co-founder Charles "Mask" Lewis Jr., was killed in a car crash last month.

DEVASTATING NEWS

Liddell met with Mask shortly before he died. Mask had just finished designing a shirt for the fighter.

Liddell stopped short of saying he'd dedicate his Montreal fight to his old friend, but admitted he was devastated.

"He was a close friend and I took it pretty hard," said Liddell. "It'll be my first time walking into the Octagon with that TapouT shirt."

The menacing Californian has seen his stock drop after the UFC brought in many Pride FC fighters, including Quinton "Rampage" Jackson, who took the belt from Liddell in May 2007.

Rua, a former Pride champion, had a tough baptism into the UFC, losing to Forrest Griffin before being sidelined for more than a year following knee surgery.

He is coming off a less-than-impressive win over Mark Coleman at UFC 93 and is hoping to better showcase his talents against Liddell.

UFC 97 will also feature plenty of Canadians, including Winnipeg's Krysztof Soszynski, Vancouver's Denis Kang, Alberta's Jason MacDonald, London's Sam Stout and Quebec's t Jonathan Goulet.

JOSE.RODRIGUEZ@SUNMEDIA.CA


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