Daily News boxing writing Bernard Fernandez was able to catch up with UFC world light-heavyweight champion Chuck "the Iceman" Liddell and go a couple of rounds about the growth of his sport and other issues. Liddell, who worked as a bartender after college before he opened his first gym and got into the Ultimate Fighting Championship, is among its most recognizable stars.

Question: UFC has gotten so much more popular over the last year. Could you have seen this coming in the early years of UFC, when mixed martial arts was more of a cult sport?

Answer: I think it's a great sport. The more exposure it gets, the faster it's going to grow.

Q: Some people say comparing boxing and MMA is like comparing apples and oranges. Others believe the two sports are in direct competition. What are your thoughts about that?

A: People are turning to us more and away from boxing. Yeah, they're different sports, but they're both combat sports. I like to watch certain boxing matches. All in all, though, I prefer our sport - obviously.

Q: What inspired you to get into martial arts? Dana White called Bruce Lee the "grandfather of mixed martial arts." Anything to that?

A: I got into martial arts from seeing demonstrations on TV.

Q: You're 37. How long do you see yourself competing?

A: As long as I'm doing well and my body feels good. I'm hoping to fight for quite a while longer.

Q: With HBO and Showtime having announced plans to televise MMA, and the recent UFC show in Houston getting highlight clips on ESPN's "SportsCenter," you guys have gone mainstream.

A: I always thought we could [get that big]. We just needed to get wider exposure.

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Liddell's next bout is a May 26 rematch in Las Vegas against Quinton "Rampage" Jackson as part of UFC 71.