Liddell's in the best shape of his career

JOSE RODRIGUEZ, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 10:38 AM ET

VANCOUVER — Chuck Liddell’s traded in the beer belly for a six-pack.

The former light-heavyweight champ — who had retired 16 months ago, been inducted into the UFC hall-of-fame and was set hang up the blue and white trunks for good — is back.

And even his opponent says Liddell looks like a changed man.

“He’s in the best shape I’ve ever seen him in his entire career,” says Rich ‘Ace’ Franklin, who will face Liddell in the main event at UFC 115 Saturday.

“I don’t think you’re going to see a typical Chuck Liddell. I think he has some new training staff and I think he has some tricks up his sleeve.”

Liddell, a perennial fan favourite, said he’s been on a strict diet and training regimen since November.

He credits his girlfriend for helping him stick to the diet and says he’s even gone back to some of his grappling roots in preparation for this fight.

Originally, UFC 115 was to feature a fight between Liddell and longtime rival Tito ‘Huntington Beach Bad Boy’ Ortiz. They were rival coaches in the latest season of The Ultimate Fighter reality show.

But Ortiz pulled out of the fight — what would have been their third with Liddell winning by knockout the two previous fights — to get surgery.

The trash-talking between the two started even before the show began filming with Ortiz saying Liddell was an ‘alcoholic’ and friends were forced to confront him in an intervention.

Liddell has said there was no truth to the accusations and wasn’t surprised when he heard his original opponent for UFC 115 had stepped aside.

“I think it was disappointing he did that whole thing,” says Liddell, who has a 21-7 record.

“I think he knew going into the show he’d need to have an exit strategy. He said something at about the same time he was calling me an alcoholic about how he wasn’t going to fight me if he wasn’t 100 percent.

“Then, a week after that, I heard from some of his guys that he may need to have neck surgery.

“The thing is I expected it. I expected him to find an excuse, to find a reason.”

But the former college wrestler who has an accounting degree and a looping right hand that has ended the majority of the fights he’s been involved in, says he has nothing left to prove when it comes to fighting Ortiz.

“As a fight and as a career as a fighter, I have nothing left to prove with him,” says Liddell.

“I’ve knocked him out twice, I’ve handled him twice. There’s nothing he can do to me.”

Liddell admits he’d like to force Ortiz to fight him if he ever wants to return to the UFC.

“If he comes back, after all the things in the show, he needs to fight me when he comes back.

“He shouldn't be allowed to duck out of that.”


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