On the afternoon of his 2004 mega-fight with Tito Ortiz, Chuck Liddell decided to take a shower … with two groupies. A couple hours later he knocked Ortiz out in one the biggest victories in UFC history.
"Now matter how hard I train or how seriously I take a fight, when you get an opportunity to have a good time, you've got to take it," Liddell said. "So if I relaxed with a couple of girls before the Tito fight, no harm."
This behavior isn't much of a secret. Liddell wrote all of the above in his best-selling autobiography, "Iceman."
The guy is famous for his power, not his Puritanism. The former UFC light heavyweight champion is known to party pre- and post-fight, pound down beers with fans and juggle women by the half dozen.
"What can I say, it's good to be a winner," he wrote.
Then all of a sudden Liddell got knocked out by Quinton "Rampage" Jackson at UFC 71 in 2007. He got scolded for being out on the Las Vegas Strip during the days leading up to the defeat, supposedly a sign he wasn't focused. Since we know what happens in his hotel room, visiting a club may have been a good sign.
That's not how a lot of people took it. Liddell still hasn't figured out why.
When he lost his next fight – a split decision to Keith Jardine – it wasn't just fans and media who wondered if Liddell still cared about his career. He had gone from magazine covers and an appearance on "Entourage" to the brink of fading out of contention.
“There’s a hunger thing that you have to have to be an elite fighter,"Dana White told Yahoo! Sports' Kevin Iole last year. "And I just didn’t see a Chuck Liddell who was as hungry as he used to be."
White isn't just the president of the UFC, he's Liddell's former manager and longtime friend. You'd think he knows him best. White went on to say Liddell was contemplating retirement. It was that bad.
"Dana is just one of those guys who says what's on his mind," Liddell said Wednesday.
"I was never thinking about quitting. It was a misread on Dana's part."
Perhaps Liddell, 38, is correct. Or perhaps White was. Perhaps Liddell was never missing that drive and didn't get caught up in his newfound celebrity. Perhaps he was the same old Chuck and it was just Jardine that flustered him.
Or perhaps the loss focused him.
It doesn't matter now. Chuck is anything but retired. He returned to decisively beat Wanderlei Silva last December, and now, after healing from injury, fights Rashad Evans on Saturday at UFC 88 in Atlanta.
If he wins, he's back on top of the sport, about to join the upcoming slate of UFC super fights. He'll either get a shot at regaining his light heavyweight title against Forrest Griffin, or he'll go against pound-for-pound king Anderson Silva.
It'll be choose your blockbuster.
Liddell said he would like to regain his title and fight Wanderlei Silva again, since despite a lopsided decision he's still upset he didn't finish off his longtime rival.
"Then I'd have five rounds to knock him out," Liddell said.
Knocking out Evans won't be easy. The former Michigan State wrestler and Ultimate Fighter Season 2 champion remains unbeaten (11-0-1) in his mixed martial arts career. He hasn't, however, met anyone of Liddell's caliber.
A focused Liddell, he promises.
"I still love to fight," Liddell said. "People mistook my disappointment with a lot of things. I was really down. I was just really disappointed with my performance."
He swears he wasn't giving up. He wasn't losing focus. He wasn't doing anything different. Nor is he now, which means he may continue to, shall we say, embrace life.
He was that way when he was at his peak, too. He's going to be that way trying to get back to it.
He wouldn't be Chuck Liddell without it.
- Chuck Liddell