First published April 18, 2005
With his recognizable Mohawk and cool-as-ice demeanor, Chuck "The Iceman" Liddell was already a pretty popular guy before his light heavyweight title bout with Randy Couture.
But after knocking out the defending champion in the first round Saturday night at MGM Grand's Garden Arena, it's come to the point where the new face of the Ultimate Fighting Championship might need to change his cellphone number.
"This weekend's been a great ride, man," said Liddell, 35, who trains and lives in San Luis Obispo. "All my friends were out here supporting me. We have a bunch of people back home supporting me and calling me. It's been awesome."
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That's what happens when you've been billed the "Ultimate Fighting Championship's new light heavyweight champion of the world," according to the ring announcer after UFC 52.
The fight was witnessed by 14,562 crazed fans in Las Vegas -- the largest crowd to see an American mixed martial arts event -- along with hordes of local fight fans and bar patrons, and pay-per-view subscribers across the country.
It seemed like everyone Liddell's ever met around town wanted to take this one in, and wanted to congratulate him afterward.
"You've reached Chuck Liddell," the voicemail on his cell -phone stated on fight night. "I don't have any more tickets, so quit calling me."
The 205-pound champion's phone was hit harder than he was Saturday as his voicemail box maxed out with congratulatory messages a half hour after the fight.
"Chuck loves San Luis Obispo," Liddell's trainer John Hackleman said. "He knows the people of San Luis Obispo are with him when he's out there and he fights for them."
After being dominated by Couture (13-7) in their first meeting two years ago, Liddell came out swinging in the rematch and never allowed "The Natural" to work his extraordinary takedown game.
Liddell (15-3), a free swinger known for his one-punch power and extensive kickboxing background, sent the former heavyweight and light heavyweight champion to the canvas at the 2:06 mark. It started with a stunning left and a finished with a ruthless right.
"I knew I was going to knock him out," Liddell said Sunday, "but I was surprised it happened so quickly."
Once Couture had fallen, Liddell added two unneeded shots before referee John McCarthy could stop the fight.
That's when Liddell started sprinting around the octagon like a kid on a sugar high, screaming and jumping around the ring uncontrollably before hopping on the cage and pointing to his friends and family in attendance.
While Liddell fans roared, the rest of the fans didn't exactly know how to react. Many were stunned that the contender could flatten the veteran so quickly, drop jawed as Couture remained motionless with a circle of medical staff around him following the first knockout of his illustrious career.
It was a bittersweet ending for Liddell, who worked with Couture all year on the SpikeTV reality show "The Next Ultimate Fighter."
"Randy's such a great guy," Liddell said. "That was the first time in my career that I haven't wanted to hit somebody when they went down. Usually I want to kill them.
"I haven't talked to him, but I talked with some of his people and they said he's doing fine. He had an MRI and everything went OK."
Liddell was uncertain whether there would be a rematch and said he would next like to fight Pride Fighting Championships middleweight champion Wanderlei "The Axe Murderer" Silva. Pride is a competing mixed martial arts organization that Liddell has already fought in three times in his career, going 2-1.
In the meantime, he's going to continue ignoring his cellphone and enjoy being the UFC's new light heavyweight champion.
"We've been doing a lot of celebrating here," Liddell said. "Last night was the best feeling in the world and I'd like to enjoy this for a little while."