Whoever said "the best defense is a good offense" probably was someone very much like Chuck "The Iceman" Liddell. In fact, it was Liddell himself.

"My best defense is good offense," Liddell, the former UFC light-heavyweight (205-pound limit), said of his fighting style, which can be summed up as a desire to beat his opponent as quickly and emphatically as possible. The approach made him one of the first superstars of mixed martial arts' Ultimate Fighting Championship, and an unequaled box-office draw.

At 40 and absent from the Octagon for almost 14 months, Liddell - a UFC Hall of Famer - still has the enduring marquee appeal of Mick Jagger whenever the Rolling Stones go on tour. His UFC 115 matchup tonight with one-time middleweight titlist Rich Franklin at General Motors Place in Vancouver, British Columbia, became the fastest sellout in UFC history, all 21,000-plus tickets being snapped up 30 minutes.

But "The Iceman" who will be on display tonight might not be as easy to chill as in the past, when Liddell (21-7) was knocked out in slugfests with Quinton "Rampage" Jackson (twice), Rashad Evans and Mauricio Rua, who did it to him before he could do it to them.

John Hackleman, Liddell's longtime trainer, brought in Sammie Henson, the 1998 freestyle wrestling world champion, and, most notably, 1976 Olympic boxing gold medalist Howard Davis Jr.

Davis, 54, wasn't much of a puncher - he was 36-6-1 as a pro - but he was a superb defensive fighter. He won the Val Barker Trophy as the outstanding boxer at the '76 Montreal Olympics, beating out, among others, fellow U.S. champions Sugar Ray Leonard, Michael Spinks and Leon Spinks. Davis wasn't hired to teach Liddell how to hit harder.

"To be honest, I had to look him up when John brought him in," Liddell said of Davis. "He's good at defense, at getting in and getting out. We're known for power, so it's a kind of yin and yang thing. He's a gold medalist, most outstanding at the Olympics. I respect John's opinion and he's the one who brought Howard in, so it was easy to work with him."

Franklin (26-5) is a fill-in for Tito Ortiz, another legendary figure who was starched in two previous meetings with Liddell. Ortiz withdrew, citing a neck injury, but Liddell isn't buying it.

"I respect Rich and I think he's a bigger challenge than Tito, for sure," Liddell said. "I better be ready to go or I'm going to pay for it. He's a great opponent."

Liddell said he wants to win the light-heavyweight title again, but it was only last year that UFC president Dana White suggested he retire. A loss to Franklin could bring about that final exit.

"I'll cross that bridge when I get to it," Liddell said.

The son also rises

It might seem strange to say that super middleweight Aaron Pryor Jr. is trying to make a name for himself in boxing. After all, his father, Aaron "The Hawk" Pryor, is a member of the International Boxing Hall of Fame and recognized as one of the greatest junior welterweights of all-time.

But the younger Pryor (13-2, 10 KOs), at 6-4, towers over his 5-6 1/2 dad. His style also is different; the father was a brawler who could box when he had to; the son is more of a stylist with decent power.

"My dad says, 'Don't try to be me, be Aaron Pryor Jr.' That's who I have to be because nobody can be 'The Hawk.' There's only one Hawk," said Pryor Jr., a Cincinnati resident who takes on Willis Lockett (12-9, 5 KOs), of Takoma Park, Md., in the eight-round main event of a six-fight card tomorrow afternoon at the Hyatt Regency on South Columbus Boulevard. *