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Cool as can be 

The Iceman balances strength and serenity in his quest for the UFC title

Movie fans might recognize him from the action flick "Cradle 2 the Grave," local drinkers would remember him from his days of bartending at The Library, and some San Luis Obispoans may look up to him as their coach and owner of the SLO Kickboxing studio on Foothill Boulevard. Now the entire sporting world knows him as the champion of Ultimate Fighting.

Saturday, April 16, before an audience of millions of pay-per-viewers and a 14,000-plus sold-out crowd at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, Chuck "The Iceman" Liddell crushed defending champ Randy Couture to earn the light heavyweight title.

In a battle that didn't even last three minutes, our local hero knocked Couture down with two solid hits, and then proceeded to beat his opponent unconscious until the referee stepped in to declare a victory.

Cruising back from Vegas in his new Hummer - a customized version he recently won on the "Ultimate Fighter" reality TV show - The Iceman spoke with levity and ease.

"I feel great. I've been trying for this for so long. Now it's like, 'What now?'" the world champion said, as he headed off to Disneyland in his all-terrain vehicle.

For those who aren't familiar with the increasingly popular sport, the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) is not for the squeamish. A combination of wrestling, kickboxing, and martial arts, ultimate fighting includes every fighting technique available, and as for rules and regulations: anything goes. The fighters spar without gloves - just a bit of tape to protect the knuckles - and the only illegal moves are shots to the groin, kicks to the head, and gouges to the eye.

The contest takes place in an octagonal ring, surrounded by a fence to give the appearance of a cage. And it's not over until one contender is knocked unconscious or taps out in defeat. As brutal as it looks, however, fans claim that it's actually safer than a lot of other combat sports.

'He's stayed the same. Even though he's gotten famous, he still returns phone calls.'

Aaron Steed, friend of Chuck Liddell

In boxing, for example, a fighter may take a long series of repeated blows to the head; but with the padding of the gloves, it could take 10 or more rounds to knock someone down. Without gloves, an ultimate fighter could be K.O.-ed with just two good hits, as The Iceman deftly demonstrated on Saturday night.

So how could such a nice guy like Liddell - whose friends describe him as "the most laid back guy you'll ever meet" - become the poster boy for such a violent sport?

"It's a combat sport, it's not for everybody," Liddell admits. "But we're some of the nicest guys, compared to boxers," he said of his UFC colleagues.

Aaron Steed, president of Meathead Movers and longtime friend of the Liddells, characterized The Iceman as hardworking, easygoing, and very generous.

"He's one of the few people I've ever met who doesn't have a breaking point," Steed said of the disciplined and dedicated athlete.

The name Iceman fits him well, Steed explained, because he's so stable and unaffected by the fame.

"He's stayed the same. Even though he's gotten famous, he still returns phone calls. He's the most famous person I know, but he remembers his friends."

And his friends love him back. The Iceman's coach and trainer, Tom-Tom Fries, was proud to tell of the hundreds of fans who came out to Las Vegas to watch Liddell vie for the world champion title.

"They're the most loyal people on the planet," Fries said.

Steed is one of The Iceman's biggest fans, and also a huge fan of the sport in general.

"I love the sport, it's incredibly entertaining. People who haven't seen it need to check it out. You have to be so trained and skilled to prevail in this sport."

In addition to maintaining his world-class skills and running a local kickboxing academy, Liddell also wields a degree in business and accounting from Cal Poly.

"I'm glad I have a degree, but I don't plan to use it anytime soon," Liddell commented. "I love what I'm doing, and I get paid good money."

A tattoo on the side of Liddell's head shows the Chinese symbol for peace and prosperity. The fighter explains this as the "original karate style," the quest for internal peace, and he insists that outside the cage he's actually quite calm and peaceful.

"If you ever hang out with me, you'll see," he said. "I'm the hardest guy to get in a fight with."

Just don't get into the ring with him.

"That's where I get the reward for all my training." As for the hand-to-hand combat, "I love it," he said glibly, "I'm at home." ³


Jeff "The Jackhammer" Hornaday never lets his guard down. Send your slugs to jhornaday


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