As best as he can tell, his prized fighter is just fine. Because if Liddell wasn't, Hackleman swore, he wouldn't be fighting for the first time in 14 months Saturday.
"I've had umpteen fights myself," Hackleman said. "I've seen thousands of fighters. I know when there's an acute injury and a chronic injury. You talk to Chuck. He might mumble a little, like he always has since he was a kid like I do. But he doesn't slur his speech. He's sharp as a tack."
That's noteworthy considering the former UFC light heavyweight champion's recent results, which prompted many, especially his close friend and promoter
"I never said 'OK, you gotta quit, you're getting hurt, and this isn't good for you anymore,' " Hackleman said. "It's always been on him. If you want to fight, fight. It's a pain in the ass training and traveling.
"It's not about whether I'm OK with it or not. I'll do whatever Chuck needs. Chuck needs me in his corner, I'm there. Chuck needs me teaching classes, retired from fighting, I'm there. I can't go inside his heart and manipulate it. His heart says he wants to fight right now, so he'll fight. Unless I see him continually getting hurt."
Hackleman is capable of telling fighters to get out of the game, once suggesting to a struggling combatant that it was time to try something else. Whether he can pull the same thing with Liddell, "The Pitmaster" -- so named for the hillside training area Hackleman built on his parcel of land near the Central California coast, where Liddell first sparred him 19 years ago -- hopes he never has to find out.
"You can't say 'glass jaw' to a lot of guys, because anyone gets hit on the chin they're going down," he said. "Some people are more susceptible for whatever reason. [It's concerning] when it happens more frequently and easier with punches that didn't seem that hard, even though you can't really tell. If it's a pattern, I'll say something."
Yet that's exactly what those on the other side of the debate believe they've seen from Liddell: slowed reflexes and an elevated propensity for getting stunned by shots that would not have slowed him in the past. First
He did just that, two-stepping away from MMA onto
Liddell persuaded Hackleman to serve as a coach during the show's taping by suggesting they treat the seven-week shoot as a pre-camp camp. On set, Hackleman found a "revitalized, renewed, reinvigorated, reborn," well-conditioned Liddell, and for that he thanked the fighter's new flame,
"Chuck grabs a piece of cake or something, she takes it out of his hand and gives him a strawberry," Hackleman said, laughing. "On his days off she wants to go for hikes and beach runs. I could take credit for a lot of things but this is a huge part on her. She turned him around.
"I didn't have to worry where's he going at night. What's he doing? What am I going to read on TMZ? When he's with Heidi I know that he's at home, eating granola and going to bed early."
Being in shape paid off, unless you were a Liddell sparring partner. Hackleman said Liddell was "good to the point that it was bad" because he hurt two people in a camp that featured coaches like 1998 freestyle wrestling world champion
"I've never seen him hit this hard, brutalizing sparring partners without even trying," the coach said. "It was scary to watch."
Power is often the last thing to desert a slugger and against a southpaw like Franklin, Liddell's right hand could win him the fight. No matter what Hackleman sees from his man in Vancouver at UFC 115, he'll attempt to talk Liddell into walking away, moving to Hawaii, running Kenpo Karate gyms. Mostly for Liddell's benefit, but not entirely.
"I don't want to be a fight trainer," Hackleman said. "I don't enjoy getting guys ready for fights. When Chuck retires, he'll take over the fight team and I'll oversee things. My life will be much more rewarding then just traveling around, working fights, working corners, getting all sick to my stomach. I can't wait till those days are over."