Chuck Liddell has emerged as arguably the Ultimate Fighting Championship's (UFC) most popular and recognizable fighter. Heading into his UFC 71 light heavyweight title fight against Quinton Jackson May 26, Liddell, 37, had held the championship belt for over two years, a period coinciding with UFC's major splash onto the national scene.
Jackson beat Liddell by technical knockout in the first round at UFC 71, ending Liddell's string of seven straight wins, a streak that started after "The Iceman's" first loss to "Rampage" in November 2003 in a Pride Middleweight Grand Prix semifinal match.
In New York last week for media appearances, including the Late Show with David Letterman, Liddell talked to me by phone about the Jackson fight, the changing face of UFC, his future in mixed martial arts (MMA) and more.
UFC 71How do you feel physically and psychologically, now that it's been about 10 days since your loss to Quinton Jackson?
I'm fine. I'm training again. I want to get back in there and fight as soon as possible.
You seem to have a very loyal and vocal fan following. How have your friends, family and fans reacted to your UFC 71 loss?
They just encourage me to get back in there and do it again.
MMA is such a competitive sport that often just one mistake -- whether it comes in training, game planning, or during the fight -- can mean defeat. Do you think you made a mistake that led to your defeat against Jackson?
Yeah. I threw a punch that my trainer [John Hackleman] has been trying to break me of for a long time. I [led] with that body shot by itself instead of following up with something, and that's what he said I would get caught with eventually, and I did. It happens.
Do you think there is something specifically about Jackson's style that gives you trouble?
No. Not really.
People want to speculate about whether you trained properly for the fight. You were involved [Liddell interrupts]
I was in great shape. I was healthy and ready to go.
In a recent interview with thaformula.com, Jackson's trainer Juanito Ibarra said that he could see in your eyes that you were intimidated coming into the fight. How would you respond to Ibarra's comments?
I've never been intimidated by anyone.
In a recent interview with the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, UFC President Dana White said "Chuck getting knocked out was the equivalent of Buster Douglas knocking out Mike Tyson." Given the fact that Jackson is one of the top light heavyweights in the world, do you agree with this comment?
I don't know. I think it was a shock to [White], that's all. I think he wasn't expecting it -- as big a shock as it was to him.
Is there anything positive you can take away from this loss?
Maybe I'll learn not to throw that punch.
You enjoyed a seven-match winning streak following your loss to Jackson in November 2003. You were, of course, the UFC light heavyweight champion for over two years. Do you think these sorts of streaks are still possible in this new era of MMA and UFC?
I'm planning on starting one right now.
Changes in MMA and UFC MMA in this country has really blown up since you first became the light heavyweight champion in April 2005. What are some of the negatives that come with the sport's newfound popularity and your own growing celebrity?
I don't think there are a lot of negatives to it. It's been all good for the sport. I haven't seen any bad things, yet.
The mainstream media are increasingly covering MMA. What sort of job do you think mainstream journalists are doing in covering the sport?
Well, they're doing a good job I don't read a lot of MMA news. I try to stay out of it.
Does your UFC 71 loss hurt more because it came on the biggest stage MMA has ever seen in this country, with the sport garnering cover pages [Liddell interrupts]
No, that doesn't bother me at all. Fighting is between me and another guy. My goals are in fighting.
The landscape of UFC is changing rapidly, especially with all the moves the promotion has made in the last year, including acquiring a number of the best fighters from around the world. How do you feel about the evolution of UFC in recent months and about all the new fighters joining the ranks, including in the light heavyweight division?
I think it's great. I think the more fighters there are, the better the matchups are for the fans.
Which fighters from PRIDE are you most excited to see fight in the UFC?
All of them. Any of the good ones. There's "Shogun" [Mauricio Rua], there's [Dan] Henderson. You've got Fedor [Emelianenko] coming over. [Antonio Rodrigo] Nogueira is coming over in the heavyweight [division].
As MMA grows, there are more and more exciting athletes joining the sport and bringing their own unique skills to the ring. If you could steal one skill from any other MMA fighter out there, what would it be and from whom?
I like my skill set pretty much. It would be some submission stuff from somebody.
After UFC 71, White introduced Henderson, PRIDE's current middleweight and light heavyweight champion, as Jackson's next opponent. Who do you like in a potential Jackson-Henderson fight and why?
I think it should be a good fight. It should be interesting. It will be a fun one for the fans to watch.
So, you're not picking a winner in that one?
Liddell's futureWhat is your plan for the coming days and months?
Training until they give me a fight date and [then] get ready for a fight.
Have you already resumed training?
Yes, I started training [June 4].
When would you like to fight next?
Who would you like to fight next?
It doesn't matter. Like always, [whomever] they think I should fight.
Do you feel you deserve an immediate title rematch?
Well, yeah. I think I earned it. After I win this next fight, I think I do deserve to get a title shot.
Has UFC already told you who your next opponent will be?
Are you planning on changing anything in your training, game planning or fighting style for future fights?
Not at all.
White mentioned a possible matchup against Wanderlei Silva in the UFC 71 post-fight news conference. How do you feel about taking this fight and how do you feel you match up against Silva?
I feel great. I've said that for a long time. It's a great fight for the fans. I think I match up well with Silva. It should be fun.
How many fights do you have left on your UFC contract?
Oh, quite a few.
There seems to be a common notion out there that even top-level MMA athletes don't make as much money as elite athletes in other sports, especially boxing. As a recent UFC champion and UFC's most marketable fighter, how would you respond to this?
I make decent money. I make a lot more than I was making a couple of years ago, so I'm not complaining.
You're 37 years old. How many more years do you want to keep fighting?
As long as my body lets me. I still love fighting.
It seems that you have so much going on outside the Octagon these days. Has the thought of retiring crossed your mind, before or after this recent loss?
No, probably less so after the loss, if anything. I want to fight more now.
I've read that you enjoy acting. Do you have any acting projects that are currently in the works?
It just depends. We're always working on something. The [hardest] part is [figuring out] what I can fit in between fights. It depends on my fight schedule.
You and Tito Ortiz have been feuding through the media in the last few months. Most recently, Ortiz was interviewed by NBCSports.com and called White the "puppet master" and you his "puppet" because of remarks you made about Ortiz backing out of a boxing exhibition against White. Do you want to respond to his latest comments or call a truce in this feud?
I don't think we'll ever call a truce to our feud. I don't like [Ortiz]. He's not a good guy. He's always going to run his mouth anyway. He can say what he wants.
Pramit Mohapatra covers mixed martial arts for baltimoresun.com. Visit his blog, MMA Insider, for more coverage.