- Jake Rossen, MMA
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Though nearly four years have passed since Chuck Liddell occupied the same blood-splattered real estate with Quinton Jackson, they remain substantially the same fighters.
Liddell still looks to dislocate jaws by winging that looping left or mean overhand right; Jackson continues to perpetuate his specialized brand of wrestling, including takedowns marinated in enough menace to give Dan Gable nightmares.
It makes sense, then, to look to their 2003 match -- part of the semifinals of PRIDE's Middleweight Grand Prix in front of 67,000 people in the Tokyo Dome -- for a rough idea of what may transpire at UFC 71 on May 26.
For those who missed it, a few notes (in bizarre present tense) follow.
11:30 p.m. ET It's late evening on Nov. 9, 2003 in the States. Calculating for the time difference: that would make it a Thursday in January in Tokyo.
11:31 p.m. PRIDE's elaborate video packaging introduces the Liddell-Jackson bout, a result of the UFC-branded Liddell being imported from the U.S. to spoil PRIDE's all-star tournament.
It seems likely the generous "loan" from UFC President Dana White will result in a synergistic and prosperous relationship between the two promotions. What could go wrong?
11:32 p.m. "My biggest strength is my strength because I'm strong. That's my biggest strength." I worry Jackson's complex analysis might be too "inside" for laymen.
11:33 p.m. "I need that money!" Jackson's humble motivations epitomize the classic martial artist. (Little known fact: Sun Tzu advocated that all true warriors should have 24-inch rims.)
11:34 p.m. Commentators Bas Rutten and Damon Perry offer brief comments on the bout. For no apparent reason, Rutten is dressed head-to-toe in camouflage. He looks like an escaped mental patient who raided an Army surplus store. Regardless, he's still more lucid than Larry Merchant.
11:35 p.m. Liddell's video package begins. Observing his contentious status as an "assassin" from the rival UFC, it's in black and white with monaural sound. On the Japanese broadcast, subtitles indicate that he's against cancer research and likes kicking puppies.
11:36 p.m. "Hi. I like to fight. Yes." Liddell's charisma is blinding.
11:37 p.m. Despite the long odds on winning two tough fights in a foreign country under a hostile promotional umbrella, White makes it known that he's wagered $250,000 of his own money that Liddell will beat Wanderlei Silva in the finals. Stateside, the First National Bank of Nevada wonders if White's front door will need to come off to move the furniture.
11:38 p.m. "We've trained hard for this," says White, who begins confusing holding a heavy bag in place and writing checks for communal suffering.
11:40 p.m. Rutten predicts Jackson will win the fight. Rutten also accepted the starring role in The Eliminator, a film with a budget of approximately $20, so his judgment? L'il iffy.
11:41 p.m. For the fight between his prized horse and PRIDE's spoiler, White sits in the commentator's booth. Much discussion is made about "sweaty palms" and "feel it" and "it's sweaty." I begin wondering if my cable provider accidentally patched me in to LOGO.
11:42 p.m. All smiles, Liddell begins his long walk to the ring. A PRIDE official offers him a quick pre-fight protein boost, "the super happy taste" part of a blowfish. Liddell politely declines.
11:44 p.m. Jackson enters the arena to his own theme song, a bad omen for anyone. Perry likens the tune to Motown, which is accurate only if by "Motown" he meant "sucks."
11:45 p.m. Jackson is still walking to the ring.
11:46 p.m. Still walking.
11:47 p.m. Quinton stops at a 7-11 for a hoagie.
11:48 p.m. Still walking.
11:50 p.m. Quinton is in the ring.
11:51 p.m. Jackson is introduced. Japanese regulations being infamously lenient, the trademark chain is still around his neck. Knowing Liddell, he probably won't care.
11:52 p.m. The fight begins. Both Jackson and Liddell take the center of the ring, exchanging jabs. Quinton defends well and displays good lateral movement. As usual, Liddell's unorthodox stance makes him look like he has rickets.
11:52 p.m. Jackson thinks about a tackle, but Liddell backs up and leaves him hanging.
11:52 p.m. Liddell tries a Thai clinch, searching for a place to land a knee, but Jackson does a good job staying out of range.
11:53 p.m. Jackson lands consecutive jabs that snap Liddell's head back like a Pez dispenser.
11:53 p.m. Liddell launches a low kick that Jackson uses to close the distance. Not comfortable with the clinch, he backs off.
11:54 p.m. "It looks like Quinton wants to stand up," observes White, who may as well have said, "He wants to stand up? What the f---?"
11:54 p.m. During a brief lull in the action, Rutten recalls the time he accidentally hit Jackson with a full-power left hook during drunken horseplay. Jackson didn't even flinch. Remembering Rutten's open-hand slaps in Pancrase have knocked people out, a small bead of perspiration forms on White's nose.
11:54 p.m. Liddell flicks out a lazy airball left. Jackson dodges and counters with a hard right hook that sounds like Jennifer Lopez getting spanked with a spatula.
11:55 p.m. Liddell dials up a combo that hits Jackson's forearms.
11:56 p.m. White expresses disappointment that Liddell isn't "throwing more leg kicks." A Japanese attendant helpfully offers him a bucket to vomit in.
11:57 p.m. Jackson lands a nice body shot that has Liddell backpedaling and bracing the ropes for support. Jackson clinches, but gives it up. Liddell lets him out of the corner.
11:57 p.m. Jackson thinks about a takedown but Liddell shucks him off.
11:58 p.m. Jackson rips a page out of Liddell's own book and scores with a looping overhand right: White tears out his remaining hair.
11:58 p.m. The Iceman gets double-underhooks but chooses not to do anything with it. It's now obvious that Liddell's roughneck style of fighting, which makes most fighters uncomfortable, is welcomed by Jackson.
11:59 p.m. Clinched in a corner, Liddell sits down on a Jackson takedown attempt and breaks free.
11:59 p.m. Rampage slams a nice left into his jaw.
Midnight: After a little dirty boxing, Jackson creates distance and gets off a combo that has Liddell backpedaling. Capitalizing, Jackson gets a double-leg takedown.
Midnight: Incredibly, Liddell goes from being flat on his back to getting back on his feet in the span of about 20 seconds. The crowd applauds.
Midnight: With one minute to go in the round, Jackson knocks Liddell down and tries to finish him in the corner. The bell sounds. Both men are visibly tired. White is "shocked" at the unraveling of Liddell, but tries to keep his composure.
12:03 a.m. The two-minute rest period concludes with "highlights" of the first round, a subjective term if you're in Liddell's corner. White's self-assessment has been downgraded to "horrified."
12:04 a.m. The fight resumes. Jackson is more aggressive in pursuing the takedown. Liddell defends, but White is irritated that his athlete "let Jackson out of the corner." To be fair, nobody puts Baby Rampage in a corner.
12:04 a.m. Liddell cornerman John Lewis advises Liddell to "push off the fence" -- questionable advice for a fighter competing in a ring.
12:04 a.m. Liddell corners Jackson, who feeds Chuck a knee to the belly and then an uppercut that downs him. He gets up, only to have Jackson perform a trip-takedown. As in his loss to Randy Couture six months earlier, Liddell's anti-wrestling wanes once he tires.
12:05 a.m. Jackson works from half-guard as a nearby microphone catches Liddell wheezing like an asthmatic in a flower shop. A thoughtful Rampage attempts to help his breathing along by repeatedly slamming a fist into his ribcage.
12:05 a.m. Bored, Rampage begins using his elbow to damage Liddell's side. One strike causes Liddell to visibly wince. "He's hurt," mews White, who begins Googling "Yakuza debt what happens pinky finger" on his Blackberry.
12:06 a.m. Rampage continues to attack Liddell's midsection. With two minutes to go in the round, he obtains full mount. Sensing their night was done, Liddell's trainer John Hackleman throws in the towel before Jackson can begin tickling his fighter's brain.
12:07 a.m. "What happened?" asks White, before being enveloped in smoke and dragged into a waiting black limousine.
1:07 a.m. Weathered from the semifinal fight, a rattled Jackson is savagely beaten in the finals by a comparatively fresh Wanderlei Silva, who had spent 15 minutes playing grab-ass with pillow-fisted judoka Hidehiko Yoshida. Liddell nurses what is later known to be a badly injured leg, which he incurred prior to the bout.
Jackson should have all the confidence in the world going into Saturday's return engagement, but it's Liddell who has scored seven straight wins since the light heavyweight's first meeting in Japan. In the same window, Rampage has had mixed results against similarly hard-nosed strikers.
Who takes it? It's hard to say, but whatever the outcome, at least White -- who has Jackson under a tidy contract -- can leave the rubber underpants at home this time.
But assuming the UFC's bragging rights are on the line, I'd give Jackson a singular piece of advice: stay away from the blowfish.
Jake Rossen covers mixed martial arts for Sherdog.com
Although nearly four years have passed since Chuck Liddell and Quinton Jackson occupied the same blood-splattered octagon, they remain the same fighters to this day.