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Randy Couture – Rise & Fall & Rise Again

Posted on 02/15/2011

One of the more incredible competitors in the history of mixed martial arts has been Randy Couture, who could perhaps be considered one of the two or three best practitioners of MMA in the past decade.

A native of Lynwood, Washington, Couture spent five years in the Army, then starred as an amateur wrestler at Oklahoma State, where he was a three-time All-American, and twice a national runner-up. Couture’s wrestling career was even more extensive than that, however; he won the Pan Am Games in the Greco-Roman style in 1991, and won the FILA World Cup in both 1991 and 1992. He competed in the Olympic Trials and was an alternate on the U.S. Olympic team in three consecutive Games – 1988, 1992 and 1996.

Couture decided to turn pro as a UFC competitor in 1997 and met with success right off the bat. He won the first UFC event he was ever involved with (UFC 13), tearing through Tony Halme and Steven Graham to win the tournament, then turned around five months later to put himself immediately into the UFC heavyweight title picture by scoring a stoppage over Vitor Belfort in what was at the time considered quite an upset. Two months after that (December 1997), in just his fourth UFC fight, he won the heavyweight crown by decision over the veteran Maurice Smith.

Subsequent to that, because Couture could not come to terms on contractual arrangements with the UFC, he wound up being stripped of the title and left the organization entirely, moving on to Japan where he competed for the most part with the “RINGS” promotion. Compared with the UFC, however, that was Siberia, so Couture returned to where the action was – the Semiphore Entertainment Group-owned UFC, and in November of 2000, he won the heavyweight crown for the second time, defeating Kevin Randleman in UFC 28. Couture was 37 years old at the time.

Couture was probably not best suited to going into the octagon with the very big guys, and he went through a mini-slump, suffering defeats to Ricco Rodriguez and Josh Barnett before moving into the light heavyweight division, where he showed his resiliency by stopping Chuck Liddell on strikes in three rounds to win the UFC crown in June of 2003. When Couture registered that win, he became the first fighter to capture the belt in both the light heavyweight and heavyweight divisions. The follow-up was perhaps more impressive, as Couture, at age 40, chalked up a decision over “Huntington Beach Bad Boy” Tito Ortiz to solidify his hold on the 205-pound title.

Dark days for Couture then ensued. He lost his title in the rematch to Liddell in April of 2005, sustaining the first knockout loss of his career. The following February, Liddell stopped him again, and Couture decided at that point that it was time to hang up the gloves. A few months later he was inducted into the UFC’s Hall of Fame, only the fourth man so honored.

Couture would enjoy his retirement, but not for long.

Randy Couture may have announced his retirement from mixed martial arts in February of 2006, but he didn’t actually retire from competition altogether. The newly enshrined inductee to the UFC Hall of Fame joined up with Rico Chiaparelli’s Professional Submission League and wrestled to a draw with Ronaldo Souza in November of ’06. In a way, the matchup brought him back to his roots.

Meanwhile, Couture also found some employment on the small screen. He did some commentary work, and hosted a show on the Fight Network. He also appeared in a reality-type game show on Spike TV called “Pros & Joes” and appeared in the TV series “The Unit” in a small role. That gave him the opportunity to meet the show’s creator, legendary screenwriter-playwright-director David Mamet, who also cast Couture in the feature film he wrote and directed, “Redbelt,” which involves the mixed martial arts.

But the four-time champion was getting itchy for more action in the octagon. And as a result his UFC retirement lasted less than a year. In January of ’07, Couture signed a two-year contract with the UFC, and his first order of business was an attempt to get back his heavyweight title, this time from the 6’8″ Tim Sylvia, on a card held in Columbus, Ohio. The stage was set for what would indeed be a tremendous comeback story, considering Couture was already in the Army before many of his fellow UFC competitors had even been born.

Couture was understandably pumped up for his return to the UFC. He came out and knocked Sylvia down with a punch almost immediately. That gained him a huge psychological edge and pretty much set the tone for the rest of the fight. Couture controlled the action throughout, and at the end of five rounds the decision from the judges was a unanimous shutout in his favor. Randy Couture had not only made a comeback, he had done so at age 43. To put some icing on the cake, after his 44th birthday he defended successfully against Gabriel Gonzaga, who had just come off a win over Mirko Cro Cop.

In October of 2007 Couture shocked the mixed martial arts world by announcing that he was leaving the UFC due to a contract dispute, in the process giving up his heavyweight title. The UFC’s contention was that Couture had two more fights on an existing contract, and has initiated legal action, so as of the end of 2007 this matter has not been resolved and may not come to a final resolution in the near future. Part of Couture’s disappointment apparently was the the UFC had not been able to contract for the services of Fedor Emelianenko, who would truly constitute a “mega-fight” with the UFC legend. Couture, by all accounts, continues to pursue that dream matchup to cap off his career.

Whatever the result of the dispute with the UFC, when a reasonable person utilizes some perspective, the accomplishments of the former Oklahoma State star have been, to say the least, remarkable. If George Foreman’s feat of winning the heavyweight boxing championship of the world at 45 was amazing, Couture, competing in a more exacting and physically demanding sport, where one does not set the pace so easily, was arguably superhuman. He has established himself as one of the most versatile combatants of recent times, able to grapple with the best or execute the ground and pound. He won five different championships – twice in the light heavyweight division and three times in the heavyweight class, in addition to his tournament victory in UFC 13. He is the only fighter to hold light heavy and heavy titles, and the oldest multiple champion as well.

Since this article was written Randy Couture made peace with the UFC.

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