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SportsColumnistsMark La Monica

LaMonica: "The Iceman" cometh back

Somewhere in between the boss's emphatic declarations and the employee's non-committals and shrewd keyword avoidance, we knew we'd get to this point.

Yes, we would see Chuck Liddell fight again one day.

Fans who walked out of the Bell Center in Montreal on the night of April 18, 2009, thought they saw "The Iceman" - the most popular and mainstream mixed martial artist to that point - for the last time. The ovation he received after being knocked out by Mauricio "Shogun" Rua is typically saved for rock stars, popes and walk-off homers. It may have been the first (and last) time the losing fighter was the last one to walk out of the octagon.

That night at the news conference, UFC president Dana White said point-blank: "You're never going to see Chuck Liddell on the canvas again. It's never going to happen. It's done. Tonight was the end of an era."

That was soooo 14 months ago. Another era is about to begin. Liddell will walk into the octagon once again this Saturday in Vancouver for UFC 115. This time, he'll face UFC veteran Rich Franklin. Also on the card, Mirko Cro Cop faces rising heavyweight Pat Barry.

Might this be just a one-and-done return for Liddell, who was supposed to have fought his bitter nemesis Tito Ortiz at UFC 115? Both were coaches on the current season of "The Ultimate Fighter" until Ortiz pulled out of the fight with a neck injury and was relieved of his coaching duties.

"I'll cross that bridge when I get to it," Liddell said. "I said at the end of the fight, I'm going to decide what I want to do next. I plan on making another run for the title, and that's what I want to do."

Liddell held the light heavyweight title and ruled the 205-pound division from 2005-07. In that span, he made four title defenses (second longest reign in the division behind Ortiz) including wins over Randy Couture and Ortiz. He was the ultimate fighter.

He grew in popularity right alongside UFC and the sport of mixed martial arts. Liddell became the face of his sport, the way Brett Favre was for the NFL, the way Sidney Crosby is for the NHL. But four losses in his last five fights, including three knockouts, and Liddell must battle for relevancy in the increasingly younger sport.

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