Two guys on the rebound

Times Staff Writer

Dogged by questions about the effects of his age, physical fitness and tendency to go night-clubbing as fight night has neared, Chuck Liddell says his Saturday night Ultimate Fighting Championship bout with Keith Jardine will dismiss the doubters.

“I made a mistake, got caught trading a body shot for a right hand, and that’s where it ends,” Liddell, 37, said as he concluded training in Anaheim for his fight at the Honda Center. “It wasn’t because I’m older, not because I’m losing a step, not because I’m out late. I’m not making any excuses.”

Liddell was at the pinnacle of his UFC popularity in May when he defended his light-heavyweight belt for the fifth time, against Quinton “Rampage” Jackson. A UFC weigh-in was televised by ESPNews for the first time, mixed martial arts received Sports Illustrated cover treatment, and Liddell, from San Luis Obispo, appeared as a guest on the popular HBO series “Entourage.”

Then, instead of avenging his 2003 loss to Jackson or producing his eighth consecutive victory by knockout or technical knockout, Liddell was floored in the first round by a Jackson punch and subsequently pummeled on the canvas until the referee gave Irvine’s Jackson an upset TKO victory.


Afterward, Liddell’s flabbiness and the pre-fight, late-night sightings of him partying in Las Vegas left him defending charges of complacency.

“You start worrying about all the things people say and you lose focus on the task at hand,” Liddell said.

Yet, Liddell (20-4) appears far leaner now than he did Memorial Day weekend. He hired a personal chef, and implemented a carbohydrate-protein-fat diet that has left him better sculpted and two pounds lighter than he usually is three days before a fight.

He wasn’t supposed to be fighting the 31-year-old Jardine on Saturday. UFC President Dana White first tried and failed to sign former PRIDE Fighting Championships middleweight champion Wanderlei “The Axe Murderer” Silva before the Anaheim card had to be finalized.


So, White selected Jardine (12-4-1), a tough striker who upset respected light-heavyweight Forrest Griffin earlier this year. Jardine, however, was then stunned in May by a first-round knockout loss to UFC newcomer Houston Alexander -- in 48 seconds.

“I win that [Alexander] fight 99 times out of 100, and I think UFC guys know that,” Jardine said. “The way I fight is fun to watch. I’m an aggressive, stand-up fighter. I’m not a point fighter. I try to put the guy away as fast as I can.”

White is selling the compelling aspect of Liddell-Jardine because of their road back from defeat.

“Guys get caught, but the downside of these losses is that Keith is not getting the respect he deserves,” White said Thursday. “I know Chuck, and I’m sure he’s thinking, ‘I have to finish this [Jardine] kid quicker than Alexander did,’ but that could be dangerous thinking.”


Jardine said that “scouting Chuck was like watching a highlight film, he’s the greatest champ in UFC history, and part of the reason why I can make a living doing this.”

The fact that Liddell is coming off a fight when he was knocked down from a stand-up position, however, “makes this pretty interesting,” Jardine said.

From Jardine’s perspective, the Liddell fight is bound to be a slug-it-out, toe-to-toe, may-the-best-man-win nightcap to a nine-fight card that marks UFC’s only Southern California date this year.

“I fight like he does, so we’ll go at it, and maybe go get a beer afterward,” Jardine said.


That could be quite a party. Liddell said he’s expecting 200 guests inside the arena.

Jardine’s “a power puncher, he kicks hard and is a tough guy,” Liddell said. “I know what I’m supposed to do. If I perform and fight the way I should, I’ll entertain my fans, and I’ll win fights. I go out there to finish someone in an exciting way every time. . . .

“It’s going to be a fun fight. We’ll hit each other in the head until one of us falls down.”

Liddell’s major incentive to win is a late-December date in Las Vegas against Silva, who is now signed by the UFC. White confirmed Thursday that the long-anticipated Liddell-Silva showdown would be sealed with a Liddell victory Saturday night.