Friday, May 25, 2007 | 7:28 a.m.
Principals: Chuck Liddell (20-3 mixed martial arts) vs. Quinton "Rampage" Jackson (26-6), five scheduled rounds
At stake: Liddell's Ultimate Fighting Championship light heavyweight title
Time/site: Saturday at the MGM Grand Garden Arena; doors open 4:30 p.m., first bout 5:10 p.m.
Tickets: Near-sellout at $50 to $750
TV: Pay-Per-View, $39.95
Weigh-in: 3 to 5 p.m. today , MGM Grand Garden Arena, open to the public
Featured undercard bouts: Josh Burkman (19-3) vs. Karo Parisyan (24-4), welterweights; Terry Martin (17-2) vs. Ivan Salaverry (12-4-1), middleweights; Houston Alexander (6-1) vs. Keith Jardine (12-3-1), light heavyweights; Kalib Starnes (9-2-1) vs. Chris Leben (16-3), middleweights
Betting line: Liddell -210/Jackson +180
1. High times
UFC President Dana White sounded almost giddy this week about his organization's recent storm of national publicity and highly successful promotions in cities (Houston; Sacramento; Columbus, Ohio) not traditionally known as hot spots of fighting. The UFC's card in Columbus broke box-office records for that city, White said, outperforming shows by the Rolling Stones (Nos. 2 and 3), Billy Joel (No. 4) and Elton John (No. 5). Cover stories in Sports Illustrated and ESPN The Magazine this month show the UFC has arrived in the mainstream, he said. "We've been at the tipping point for a while now," White said. "We finally got to the point where we couldn't be denied anymore."
2. Up for grabs?
Chuck Liddell, the ESPN cover boy, ranks as the most dominant fighter in mixed martial arts but faces a legitimate challenge in Quinton "Rampage" Jackson, the last man to beat him. Although oddsmakers have Liddell favored in the 205-pound championship fight, White sees it as closer to a tossup. "Chuck has that Mike Tyson aura about him, like he's invincible," White said. "People want to show up to see how fast he knocks out . Rampage isn't afraid of him. He'll go toe-to-toe with Chuck. Stylistically, it's a dangerous fight for Chuck."
3. Revenge tour
Liddell, a striking expert with a vaunted takedown defense, has already avenged his other two losses by beating Jeremy Horn and Randy Couture in rematches. He hopes to make it 3-for-3 against Jackson, who stopped Liddell in a Pride fighting organization match in 2003. "Once it's done I'll move on to what's next," said Liddell, 37, of San Luis Obispo, Calif. "I'll find something else to get me motivated." Liddell was matter-of-fact, lacking in volume and bluster, in discussing his plans for Jackson. "I'll put him away," Liddell said. "I'll hurt him. I think I'll catch him in the first round, but I'm gonna knock him out sooner or later."
4. No fear
Jackson, known for his formidable strength and powerful body slams as well his outrageous antics - he howls like a werewolf and wears a giant, heavy chain around his neck as he makes his way to the octagon - has no qualms about fighting Liddell, or anyone else for that matter. "I'll fight King Kong if they put enough money down," he said. "I don't give a damn." Jackson, 28, a former street fighter from Memphis, Tenn., said his motivation lies in taking Liddell's belt - and the money that goes with holding a UFC title. "I'm gonna be a champ," he said. "If not, I'll be a chump again. I don't want to be a chump."
Par for the UFC course, Saturday's card goes deep with a number of attractive fights on the undercard , including a welterweight clash between Josh Burkman and Karo Parisyan and a middleweight match pitting Ivan Salaverry against Terry Martin. White compared Parisyan, a black belt in judo, to former welterweight boxer Oba Carr - a talented fighter who has yet to get "over the hump" and reach his sport's elite level. White called Parisyan's close loss by decision to Diego Sanchez the 2006 fight of the year.