Thursday, June 10, 2010 | 8:56 p.m.
VANCOUVER, CANADA — Many words have been used to describe Chuck Liddell during his storied mixed martial arts career.
Until recently, "shredded" wasn't one of them.
During Thursday's press conference at GM Place, however, that is exactly the way UFC President Dana White chose to describe him.
And as unlikely as it sounds, it's truly possible that, at 40-years-old, Liddell will enter the octagon Saturday against Rich Franklin in the best shape of his life.
"You see the pictures of him?" asked White. "He didn't look like this when he was 22. He looks unbelievable."
Liddell will make his way to the UFC octagon for the first time in nearly 14 months, knowing if the fight doesn't go his way it will be the last time he does so.
The former light heavyweight champion who White referred to as, "literally, the most famous mixed martial artist in the world," suddenly has a lot to prove after dropping four of his last five fights.
In normal circumstances, a fighter coming off back-to-back knockout losses and a long layoff wouldn't be considered a huge threat. In Liddell's case, however, there's reason to believe this is the most dangerous he's been in a long time.
According to White, Liddell's focus had been more on his social life than his career during the rough stretch.
"In my opinion, he wasn't taking it serious anymore," White said. "The guy was so talented and so good that he could do what he was doing and still come in and knock people out.
"Chuck Liddell was a zombie. He was literally walking around like a zombie. You can't go out and party every night, roll into camp for four weeks and come into a fight."
It was a case White had made to Liddell repeatedly during his struggles during the last three years, but one his friend wasn't willing to listen to.
Only after a year away from the sport and hearing White say over and over again that his career was finished did Liddell finally make the necessary changes to his lifestyle and recommit himself to his training.
"When he saw the window closing, he wanted to take it serious and see if he can really do it one more time," White said. "I think the same thing happened that did to B.J. Penn when I told him how great he could have been but he never took it serious."
According to Liddell, it's not that his lifestyle was that of an alcoholic, despite what rival Tito Ortiz has to say about it — but it was a lazy approach to the game.
Instead of getting into the gym between fights and working to get better, Liddell would party in his time off before spending an entire camp to simply lose weight and get back in shape.
With the world of MMA developing and becoming more competitive on a daily basis, that game plan quickly put Liddell at a disadvantage.
"Yeah, I needed to change," Liddell said. "Was it bad? No. I went into training camp and trained hard. But I spent too much time in the off-season going out and having a little too much fun. I wasn't getting better or letting my body heal. I spent most of camp losing weight and getting into shape."
It's been a different story for Liddell's latest camp, however, as an appearance on "Dancing with the Stars" got him into shape and coaching on "The Ultimate Fighter" has kept him there.
Healthy and dedicated once again, Liddell will look to prove he can still be a force in the sport and says his goal remains nothing short of a UFC title.
However, if the night ends the same way it did the last two times Liddell fought, it appears as though no amount of life changes will keep his career afloat.
"I honestly believe if things go like a few of his past fights, he'd sit down and make the call (to retire)," White said.
If he didn't, would White make the call for him?
"Probably," he responded.
While Liddell (21-7) may have changed certain parts of his life, it's doubtful he's changed the basis of his style.
The "Iceman" has built a career off defending takedowns and knocking out opponents. Before his recent slide, Liddell had knocked out seven opponents in a row.
"I think it's going to be a standup fight," White said. "I don't think Chuck is going to come out and wrestle and look for submissions this late in his career. He's going to defend the takedown and look to land the straight right and big left hook."
Despite being knocked out by Vitor Belfort in his last fight, it's likely Franklin (27-5) will want to test his standup, as he should be the quicker fighter.
White says he isn't expecting Franklin to take it to the ground but might fake that way in order to open Liddell up.
"I think he'll change levels and act like he's going to shoot on Chuck," White said. "He'll see if he's faster than him."
Last Time Out:
Franklin: First round loss by knockout to Vitor Belfort at UFC 103.
Liddell: First round loss by TKO to Mauricio Rua at UFC 97.
The Lines: Franklin, minus-140; Liddell, plus-110
Franklin: On this main event being a lot more friendly than Liddell vs. Ortiz would have been: "I don't think it's going to stop (Liddell) from punching me in the head."
Liddell: "I'm ready. I'm fired up. I'm just excited to be out there again. After the fight, we'll see what's going on. Fans know I'm looking for the title again."
Brett Okamoto can be reached at 948-7817 or [email protected].