Story by Anthony Springer Jr
Photo by Chris Cozzone
As legend would have it, a future king named David strode into battle, armed with little more than a sling shot and a bag of rocks. On the opposing side stood a great warrior in Goliath, heralded champion of the Philistines. Anyone with basic knowledge of Biblical literature knows how this one ends. The unlikely David slays the mighty Goliath and goes on to become King David.
This Saturday, November 15 inside the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, Randy “The Natural” Couture (16-8) will reprise his role as David in attempts to slay the Goliath that is Brock Lesnar (2-1).
Not a problem, according to the 44-year-old UFC heavyweight champion. Those who have followed Couture’s storied Octagon career know that the man fighting out of Las Vegas has the ability to silence naysayers in spectacular fashion. The list of people who have fallen by Couture’s hand include former UFC light heavyweight champions Tito Ortiz, Chuck Liddell, and a recently rejuvenated Vitor Belfort.
In the heavyweight division, Couture defied the odds, besting Tim Sylvia in a five-round bout to reclaim the title for the fourth time and successfully defended against a young and dangerous Gabriel Gonzaga months later. Couture’s success against his last two opponents is owed not only to a great work ethic and Octagon experience, but also to solid pre-fight preparation. Expect nothing different from “The Natural” come Saturday.
“He’s got a real strong wrestler’s base,” Couture says, when asked to size up Lesnar. “He’s explosive and a real straight ahead fighter. I’ve gotta be ready to get out of the way. You don’t want to stand in front of anybody that size. His striking isn’t terribly refined, but if you’re standing front of him and he hits it, you’re gonna feel it.”
Despite Lesnar’s massive frame, youth and speed, Couture sees several openings, but [obviously] declines to reveal what they are.
“I think there are areas that I can exploit. I feel real comfortable in the clinch; I don’t care how big they are. I was there with Tim and Gonzaga. I’ve been in with some of the biggest guys in the sport.”
With UFC president Dana White billing this matchup as one of the biggest fights in UFC history, you’d never know walking through the halls of the Xtreme Couture gym. Appearances are deceiving, and Randy, clad in a black sweat shirt and jeans is carefree, as though there is no title fight approaching. Couture’s laid back demeanor is almost certainly due to his experience—which he believes will be one of the deciding factors in the fight. And with the elder Bernard Hopkins dominating and dismantling a younger and greener Kelly Pavlik, you’d be hard pressed to bet against the champ this go round.
“This is a much bigger fight [than either of Lesnar’s previous three]. A lot more hype. It’s a title fight, five rounds. I think there’s an experience factor. I’ve walked out in front of those crowds before; I’ve had five round brawls and have come out on top and managed to survive.”
Couture pauses for a moment before calmly adding, “He hasn’t experienced that.”
In addition to Couture’s age, the issue of Randy’s time away from the Octagon hangs on the minds, mouths and keyboard strokes of MMA fans worldwide. Couture dismisses the speculation; saying emphatically that time away from the cage will not be a factor. While some fans may not be convinced that Couture’s got it, the fighters he works with are still believers in “The Natural.” “He’s just kinda got an air about him,” Amir Sadollah says. “He’s a strong person.”
Even with the long layoff, Couture echoes Sadollah’s sentiments and sounds like a man who hasn’t taken a day off in some time. “I train hard and I spar hard all year. Not just in training for this fight,” says Couture, noting the numerous training camps he conducts at his Xtreme Couture gym.
The King’s Empire
While David ruled Israel, Couture presides over an extensive empire. In addition to the two Xtreme Couture gym locations, other endeavors include movies, books, nutritional products, a clothing line and a non-profit foundation for injured GIs. While “The Natural” is well on his way to becoming “The Franchise,” Couture’s heart still lies with all things fighting. The list of Xtreme Couture team members or fighters who call Xtreme Couture home during training camps reads like a who’s who list of mixed martial artists. Tyson Griffin, Gray Maynard, Gina Carano and current UFC light heavyweight champion Forrest Griffin call Xtreme Couture home. At numerous UFC events, Couture can be found coaching his fighters on—often to victory.
In addition to an impressive Octagon history, Couture comes off as more than a coach. While the team is full of superstars, egos are not permitted, foolishness not tolerated. The proof rests with one of the newest faces at the Las Vegas Xtreme Couture location: current Ultimate Fighter house member Junie Browning. The Kentucky fighter gained an infamous reputation for drinking and outlandish behavior on the show, causing many to question his desire.
Couture says that isn’t the Junie Browning he knows. “He’s come in here and put his nose to the grind stone. He shows up every day and works out. We haven’t heard a peep out of him.’
Couture adds that the Ultimate Fighter house can be a place of overwhelming adversity and temptation, but Browning’s new found dedication may very well be owed to the house Couture built.
“Our motto here is ‘check your ego at the door,’” he says of the gym. “You’re here with three or four guys in your weight class that could kick your butt. It’s not the place to come in acting foolish or running your mouth. It’s a great place to come and learn and get better.”
And then there’s Randy’s other role as MMA analyst. The champion is typically spot on with his predictions and does not hesitate to give his opinion on another highly anticipated heavyweight matchup Antonio Nogueira vs. Frank Mir.
“It’s going to be a great fight,” he says of the December 27 showdown. “Both guys have similar backgrounds. I think it’ll come down to grit, determination and conditioning. All things being equal, I think Nogueira pulls it out. I like Mir and it’s good to see him on track and firing on all cylinders. But the track record that Nogueira has is amazing.”
The King’s Crown
When the Octagon door slams shut, neither the previous victories nor the business deals will matter. There will only be Randy Couture and Brock Lesnar. Five rounds for the UFC heavyweight championship. Couture dismisses talk of anything beyond this fight when asked about future plans.
The focus is apparent; Couture looks good and will undoubtedly be prepared for war.
“You gotta be prepared to go the distance in any fight. He’s a big strong guy, I don’t think he’s gonna go away easy.”
And how does Couture want to win this fight?
“We’ll take it any way we can get it,” he says with a smile.