Liddell powers to title defense

Times Staff Writer

Nobody in Ultimate Fighting Championship has the punching power of Chuck Liddell, a point the light-heavyweight champion pounded home Saturday when he defended his title with a third-round technical knockout of Huntington Beach's Tito Ortiz.

Liddell (20-3) continually evaded Ortiz's attempts to turn their rematch into a wrestling affair, and in the fight's defining moments, Liddell struck Ortiz in the head as Ortiz reassumed a wrestling pose.

Liddell had none of it, striking Ortiz with a hard right punch that allowed the champion from San Luis Obispo to ignite a decisive barrage of right-handed punches and stinging right forearms that rendered Ortiz finished and allowed referee Mario Yamasaki to end the bout 3:59 into the round in front of a capacity crowd of 14,607 at the MGM Grand Garden Arena. The live gate of nearly $5.4 million was a record for a martial arts event.

Liddell, 37, described the decisive triumph over his former training partner as the "most satisfying victory" of his career.

"I had him hurt, and I kept throwing punches," Liddell said in the ring afterward.

Ortiz (15-5) had won five consecutive fights since losing to Liddell in 2004. He projected a "five-round war" against his older rival, and said his youth and devotion to training, along with his recovery from a back injury, would probably result in a more favorable outcome.

Ortiz initiated more action as the fight began, landing a pair of right-handed punches that backed up Liddell.

Yet, with 1:40 left in the first, Liddell landed his own hard right that cut Ortiz's left eyebrow.

A more impressive overhand left to the top of Ortiz's blond head knocked the former champion down, and Liddell pounced, pummeling his adversary with a flurry that had Yamasaki poised to stop the fight.

Ortiz survived by calling upon the wrestling moves he first culled at Huntington Beach High and Golden West College, where he was a state champion.

The reprieve allowed Ortiz to rise, but his bloody eyebrow gash streamed, and Liddell slammed a left under Ortiz's chin in the round's last 30 seconds.

"Chuck's the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world," Ortiz said after the fight. "I couldn't get a takedown."

Ortiz did rally in the second. His bleeding subsided, and he stung Liddell with a right kick.

"Tito's a tough guy," Liddell acknowledged.

Ortiz performed better than he did in his second-round disposal by Liddell in April 2004, but the striking advantage that dictated that first fight was not diminished.

Liddell avoided an Ortiz takedown try with two punches to open the third, and a desperation attempt by Ortiz to grab Liddell's ankle failed when Liddell unleased another flurry.

"I kind of disgusted myself for letting my fans down," Ortiz said.

Keith Jardine (12-3-1) won a surprising TKO in a light-heavyweight undercard fight against Forest Griffin (13-4) of Las Vegas. A right uppercut by Jardine jarred Griffin late in the first round, and Jardine kept charging with a flurry that forced Griffin to the mat. Referee John McCarthy stopped the fight with 19 seconds left in the round.

UFC announced Saturday its UFC 67 card will be fought Feb. 3 at Mandalay Bay Hotel in Las Vegas and mark the debuts of high-profile mixed martial arts stars Mirko Cro Cop and Quinton Jackson.

Cro Cop, 32, a heavyweight from Croatia, is expected to challenge UFC heavyweight champion Tim Sylvia in 2007. Light-heavyweight standout Jackson comes to UFC after the organization's recent purchase of the World Fighting Alliance. Jackson beat Liddell in 2003.

The UFC 67 main event will be welterweight champion Georges St. Pierre's first title defense, against Matt Serra (13-4).

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