Looking back at Randy Couture's career
At Tuesday’s press conference for the upcoming UFC 129, Randy Couture announced that, win, lose or draw, he expected to retire after facing fellow former light heavyweight champion Lyoto Machida in Toronto on April 30.
In doing so he seemingly called time on a career that has spanned 14 years, during which he has been a constant presence in the upper echelons of a sport his Hall of Fame career has helped define and popularize.
A former U.S. Army Captain, Couture wrestled and boxed throughout his six-year military career. He continued wrestling after leaving the military and would be an alternate for the U.S. Greco-Roman Team at the 1988, 1992 and 1996 Olympics.
With his wrestling career winding down and Couture having failed to truly fulfill his potential in the sport, he was inspired to try his hand at was then called No Holds Barred after seeing a video of an early UFC event. He would make his debut in 1997, impressing with two quick victories against much larger opponents to win a one-night tournament.
However, it would be in his Final Eliminator against Brazilian Vitor Belfort that he would begin to demonstrate the tactics and the skills that would make him a MMA legend.
From the start he looked surprisingly comfortable standing, not only assuming a sound boxing stance but also circling left to avoid the southpaw Belfort’s dangerous left hand. He used his boxing to setup his wrestling; by pushing the action he forced Belfort to abandon his boxing guard, creating the space Couture needed to grab hold of Belfort’s body. Whether he was controlling Belfort's upper torso or head, Couture was able to wear down his opponent by making Belfort carry his weight.
Couture would eventually perfect this tactic by often pushing his opponent up against the cage fence, literally pushing all of his weight onto the prone body of his opponent. When the fight returned to the feet after a period on the ground, Couture would again grab hold of his opponent, but this time the clinch would setup his "dirty boxing," as Couture finished Belfort with multiple short uppercuts and left-right combinations.
Couture would develop this style throughout his career with the combination of boxing and wrestling allowing him to disorientate and dominate opponents. The way he defeated Belfort in 1997 was a less-refined version of the gameplan with which he defeated Chuck Liddell in 2004 or the tactics he used to shock the giant Tim Sylvia in 2007. They brought Couture unprecedented success in the Octagon as he competed in a record 15 world title fights, became the first two-weight champion and is the only five-time world champion.
Ever since he won that one-night tournament in May 1997 Randy Couture has been fighting only the very best in the MMA world, a fact that makes his 19-10 record as misleading as that of a boxer who is 40-0 after a career fighting nobodies.
Throughout his 14-year career Couture has represented the sport of MMA, using his status as a clean-cut athlete with a genuine sports background to help the sport secure legitimacy during the moral panics of the late 1990s. Along with Liddell, as a coach on the first season of "The Ultimate Fighter," he helped explain the sport to a new, mainstream audience and paved the way for its current growth.
Couture has participated in some of the most exciting fights in UFC history, with his battles against Pedro Rizzo, Liddell and Antonio Nogueria all being fondly remembered by fans and commentators alike. He repeatedly overcame the odds, whether it be by defeating Belfort, ending Tito Ortiz’s three-year world-title reign, or defeating the giant Sylvia in his first fight back after a an earlier "retirement."
No fighter has been in as many big matches or performed as well over such a long period of time as The Natural. In a fast-changing, ever-evolving sport, the way he has been able to keep pace with younger fighters and adapt to new techniques is not only incredible, it's actually unique.
Despite being 47 years old, it seems incredible that somebody who has fought so long and so hard is about to walk away from the sport. Even at such an advanced age it seemed possible, perhaps even probable, that he would receive one final shot at championship glory. Perhaps if he defeats Lyoto Machida and is offered the winner of Jon Jones vs. Rashad Evans he will have a change of heart. Perhaps not. Maybe the UFC and Randy Couture have decided that some 22 years after he went to the 1988 Olympics as a Greco-Roman alternate, such a match would be one fight too many.
Either way, with a burgeoning movie career, various business including his Vegas gym and an almost guaranteed front-office position in Zuffa, whatever Couture chooses to do, it's unlikely that he will be fading into obscurity any time soon.