- Brett Okamoto, ESPN Staff Writer
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It’s been more than 11 years since UFC 29 -- the last time the promotion held an event in Japan. As one might imagine, quite a bit has changed since then.
One of the most vivid memories Chuck Liddell has of that trip is a broken scale on which the fighters weighed in. At the time, it wasn’t uncommon for these professional athletes to make weight on a standard bathroom scale.
At that particular weigh-in, Liddell recalls his opponent, Jeff Monson, tipping him off to a slight malfunction.
“Somebody broke the scale that morning,” Liddell told ESPN.com. “My opponent came over and said, ‘Hey man, the scale isn’t really working. You can lose 10 pounds by leaning on it a different way.’
“So, we didn’t have to finish cutting weight that day. I just went over there, stood on the scale and kind of leaned.”
It’s safe to say that the American fighters set to compete on this weekend’s UFC 144 card won’t get away that easily at the weigh-in, but certain aspects of fighting in Japan haven’t changed over time.
Liddell and fellow former UFC champion Tito Ortiz both downplayed the challenges associated with competing overseas but added that it’s certainly a different atmosphere.
For Ortiz, the biggest difference was competing in front of the Japanese crowd, which is known for remaining silent -- as in completely silent -- during a match, except in key moments.
“You can literally hear a pin drop in between rounds,” Ortiz said. “Some fighters fight off that adrenaline. I myself feed off fans. There, everything was so quiet. I could hear my elbows bust off Wanderlei Silva’s face [at UFC 25].”
Liddell, who fought in Japan four times in his career, remembers a simple suggestion before his first fight there at UFC 29 going a long way.
Plenty of fighters who have fought overseas have commented on the need to adapt to the host country’s time zone immediately. Even if that means forcing your body to stay awake when you’re exhausted, the sooner you acclimate, the better.
It was especially important for Liddell, who said he didn’t arrive in Japan a week to 10 days out from the fight, as most UFC athletes do these days.
“The best advice I got was to get on the schedule over there right when you land,” Liddell said. “I sleep well on planes, so I didn’t have a problem with it. But if it’s bedtime when you land, go to bed. If it’s morning, try to stay up. Get on a normal schedule.”
Of course, replenishing your body after cutting weight is a big aspect of fighting in the UFC. It’s a potential challenge for U.S. fighters on the UFC 144 card -- particularly those who either don’t like Asian cuisine or have never tried it.
Ortiz, who first fought in Japan at UFC 25 against Silva for the title, at first he resisted the idea of eating sushi after the weigh-in. Eventually that became the meal for that fight and, surprisingly, every one after.
“I wasn’t a huge sushi fan, but I decided to try it out because it has the carbs in the white rice and protein from the fish,” Ortiz said. “My weight got back up to where I wanted it to be, and my energy was through the roof -- I think because the food was so clean.
“A lot of fighters may think they don’t want to eat sushi or Japanese food after they weigh in. I’d remind them that’s an option. A lot of that stuff is good for your body.”
The minimal challenges the fighters will adapt to at UFC 144 should pale in comparison to the experience each of them is about to have. Both Liddell and Ortiz said all things considered, competing in Japan was a huge positive in their careers.
And perhaps the main reason for that is the Japanese fan base. Ortiz said the experience was the closest he’ll ever get to feeling like a true Samurai because of the respect he received.
Liddell laughed when recalling that the fans who approach for autographs often have something to offer in exchange.
“They’re fanatics. They are great fans,” Liddell said. “I get a lot more gifts over there. They’ll bring me something, like a CD or framed pictures. I get that here in the U.S., but not as much. It’s just a different thing.”
22dAndrew R. Davis