“Revenge“, so the 18th Century French writer Pierre Choderlos de Laclos believed, “is a dish best served cold.”
What the author of Les Liaisons Dangereuses meant was that revenge is something to be savoured in the plotting and only dealt out up when you’ve had plenty of time to think about the execution of said vengeance.
Which brings us to the ‘dangerous liaison” in question: UFC Light Heavyweight Champion Chuck Liddell has waited almost four years for the chance to avenge his second round TKO loss to Quinton ‘Rampage’ Jackson. Now, at UFC 71 in Las Vegas in May 26, the Iceman will try to overturn the only unavenged defeat on his 20-3 MMA record.
“Every fight is a big deal, but this one has a little more importance because it is against the last man I lost to,” Liddell said in a television interview recently. “I want to avenge all my losses, I’ve avenged the other two (to Jeremy Horn and Randy Couture) and I’ve been asking for this fight with Rampage for years now.”
It is also one of the biggest bouts which could be made in MMA, one which suddenly became possible when Jackson signed with the UFC six months ago.
“This is the last loss on my record I’ve never avenged,” Liddell added. “That’s the biggest motivation for me. I really want to show the world I can beat him. I definitely want to get rid of – erase - that loss. I had a bad day at the office last time. This time I can knock him out in the first round, depending on what he wants to do.”
The first fight between Liddell and the strike and slam expert took place in November 2003 at PRIDE’s Final Conflict show in Tokyo, Japan.
It was a rare UFC v PRIDE showdown, a genuine MMA super-fight, and Liddell was handed his most painful defeat. ‘Painful’ physically and, although Liddell is known for his sub-zero demeanour, probably ‘painful’ emotionally too as the UFC king has had to listen to years of “Yeah, but that guy in PRIDE beat him” type jibes despite his incredible accomplishments in the UFC over the last three years.
And it was a very bad loss for Liddell, no question. Hampered by a serious leg injury he kept secret from his training team, Liddell lacked mobility and the ability to really twist his full power into his trademark bombs. Jackson - an opponent who doesn’t need any extra advantages handed to him on a plate - got the better of the striking game and although Liddell fought back, Rampage rocked the Iceman several times before slamming him to the canvas and working his ground and pound.
Liddell’s trainer John Hackleman, who knew the Iceman in front of him was nowhere near as frosty as the one he usually sends into battle, threw in the towel in the second round.
Hackleman said: “Chuck hasn’t really talked much about his injury in that fight and I knew nothing about it going in. I found out after but I knew in the corner Chuck wasn’t right.”
The former pro boxer turned trainer of perhaps the greatest puncher in mixed martial arts history continued: “I know Chuck has said this fight is a little more important to him because he wants his win back but, honestly, he’s not said anything to me about that. It is my job to train him hard and his to train hard - and we do that for every single fight.
“There’s no special treatment or extra training for Rampage just because he beat Chuck once. At this level, with the UFC World Title on the line, every single fight is the most important of your life. Chuck and Rampage like each other, there‘s a lot of respect there, and we‘re working hard in training because of what Rampage brings to the fight as a fighter.”
There’s a train of thought out there which runs along the lines that Rampage is not the fighter he was at the time of his first encounter with the Iceman.
But while some are persuaded that Jackson’s post-Liddell losses to Wanderlei Silva (twice) and Mauricio ‘Shogun’ Rua mean Jackson’s 205-pound rampage is over, Hackleman insists he is not.
“Jackson is one of the very top guys in the division in the world,” he said. “Those losses you mention were against other guys in the world top five. Even though some people weren’t impressed, I thought Rampage looked good against Marvin Eastman (at UFC 67). Marvin is a tough, tough guy and that win showed me that unless you are also a top five fighter in the world, Jackson will beat you.”
And the Pit master also refuses to read anything into the fact that Jackson, upon signing with the UFC, asked for “two or three” fights before stepping onto the Octagon with Liddell.
Hackleman said: “I don’t think that means anything more than Quinton is a good businessman and he wanted a few (UFC) fights to help build the Chuck fight up to where it is on the level of the biggest fight of all time. That was just business he was doing. I don’t think Jackson is afraid of the rematch or anything like that. We’d be stupid to think that.
“I’m pretty straight. If I think a fighter (opponent) has a weakness, I will say so. If you remember, I said before the (second) Tito fight that we’d see the best Tito for years - which we did - with much improved stand-up - which is what happened - but that he would be forced to get close to try and take Chuck down and wouldn’t be able to take Chuck’s power for long. All of that happened.
“But, now, I think Chuck’s fighting a guy, Quinton, who doesn’t have any weaknesses, not that I can see, and I’ve watched nearly all his fights over and over. There’s no one area you can point to and say ‘That’s where Rampage is weakest’ because he’s an outstanding all-rounder.’
“What I do think, though, is that he won’t get the better of Chuck standing up because Chuck is the bigger puncher. And I don’t think Rampage will get his takedown this time with Chuck healthy and an improved fighter from 2004.”
Last December, during the build-up to Liddell’s rematch with Tito Ortiz at UFC 66, Hackleman insisted that the Iceman was “inside Tito’s head” because he went into the fight holding a previous KO win over Ortiz.
Does that mean that Rampage is inside of Liddell’s head?
Why, what’s the difference?
“Chuck is a completely different type of fighter, a totally different type of guy, to Tito,” Hackleman said. “No one gets inside his head. Did Horn get inside Chuck’s head? Did Randy? No. Chuck won all the (rematches) as if the first fights with those guys had never happened.”
And Liddell has the confidence of a fighter who knows that, now injury free, he will be firing on all cylinders this time.
The UFC’s longest current reigning world champion said: “I don’t think he has any chance of taking me down like that in this fight. I see him and me exchanging a lot, it will be exciting as long as it lasts but I don’t see it lasting long.”