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Ortiz- Liddell is a big draw

Light-heavyweight title bout could be the most lucrative event in Ultimate Fighting Championship history.

December 30, 2006|Lance Pugmire | Times Staff Writer

Every great fight needs some drama, and the rich subject of a scorned friendship is what makes tonight's Ultimate Fighting Championship light-heavyweight title showdown between Tito Ortiz and Chuck Liddell so compelling.

Ortiz said he is so angry at the friend who rejected him that he will use it as fuel to motivate an underdog victory.

"The fight was never supposed to happen," Ortiz said of a 2004 clash that former training partner Liddell won in a second-round technical knockout. "I'd shown him things when we trained. We agreed that we were not going to fight each other. I wanted to wait. But he was jealous. He wanted the fame and the limelight like me.

"Now, Chuck Liddell's going to get the best of me."

Liddell-Ortiz II, to be fought at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, is poised to stand as the most lucrative event in UFC history, with a live gate expected to exceed $4 million.

"This fight is in the same category of Oscar [De La Hoya]-[Fernando] Vargas," said Marc Ratner, UFC's vice president for regulatory affairs and the former executive director of the Nevada state athletic commission. "It's a real rivalry. Chuck's been so dominant, but Tito's been on a winning streak. Former sparring partners ... this is a natural. The live gate will be an all-time mixed martial arts record in America."

Ortiz, from Huntington Beach, and Liddell, from San Luis Obispo, trained together this decade, when Ortiz was providing the UFC a string of popular pay-per-view cards.

"Chuck says we were never friends, but acquaintances," Ortiz said. "He slept on my couch."

Liddell laughs at Ortiz's recollection of their close bond.

"I would be hard-pressed to find anything he cared about me other than for business," Liddell said. "He never invited me over for a barbecue. At clubs, he'd go off and do his thing.

"We'd train, go home and watch TV. He'd go upstairs to his room, and I stayed downstairs. That was it. That was our 'hanging out.' When he talks about how close we were, he's delusional. I'd tell him, 'You're talking to me, now. I know the truth.' "

Liddell said it was Ortiz who first suggested the two should fight, jumping into the Octagon after Liddell defeated Renato Sobral and pronouncing he'd fight Liddell after his late 2002 fight against Ken Shamrock.

"Then, all of a sudden, he didn't want to fight me," Liddell said. "It was real now. He always liked to run his mouth, but when it was real, he was like, 'Oh, we're too good of friends,' or, 'The money's not good.'

"Fighting training partners is part of the game, the nature of the business."

Ortiz, 31, is counting on superb conditioning and his recovery from 2004 back pain to prove influential in the rematch.

The first fight went sharply downhill for Ortiz after Liddell struck him in the eye with a second-round hook. Ortiz said he encountered "blackness," then lost by TKO 38 seconds into the round.

"I'm six years younger, and I'll come at him with ferocity and strength," Ortiz said. "He has power in his punches, but he's only fought once this year, and I think there's slowness in his punches. I believe this is going to be a long fight, and at the end of five five-minute rounds, you'll see how gassed Liddell is."

He said the betrayal he felt during his first fight has been replaced by the desire to regain the title.

"I'll be the world champion," Ortiz said.

Yet, Liddell, 37, stands as the 2 1/2 -1 favorite.

"Styles make fights," Liddell said. "His style of wrestling is the style I like to wrestle against. He can't strike with me. I'm getting better. I'm hitting harder. He's not knocking me out, and he'll be surprised at how good of shape I'm in."

lance.pugmire@latimes.com

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