These days, “The Natural” Randy Couture (18-10) is all about interesting fights.
If you disagree, feel free to check the resume. At 47, Couture is a former UFC light heavyweight and heavyweight champion. He’s been in the cage with the best. He’s beaten the best and he’s been beaten by the best. He’s a UFC hall of famer, joining the likes of Royce Gracie, Ken Shamrock and Dan Severn in mixed martial arts history. When you’ve accomplished as much as Couture has, it only makes sense to take fights that add to an already memorable career.
So when James Toney (72-6 boxing, 0-0 UFC) entered the UFC, naturally Couture was among the many fighters itching to give the boxer a fitting welcome to the sport of mixed martial arts.
“I heard [Toney’s] hit list and I was on that list,” Couture explained after a workout. “I said, ‘I’ll be happy to welcome him.’”
Toney’s hit list reads like a who’s who of current UFC stars. In fact, the former boxing champion wanted to go straight to the top of the heap in a debut bout against current heavyweight champion Brock Lesnar. With a championship bout out of the question with a 0-0 record, Toney may have gotten the next best thing in former champion and hall of famer Couture.
The tale of Toney and Couture is a battle of contrasts. The home page of the boxer’s Web site details the monumental task he’s set out to accomplish: “I look at this fight as a way to show everybody that boxing ranks supreme.”
Conversely, Couture sees this as just another day at the office and another interesting fight.
“I’m not going to get in there and try to prove anything with James,” Couture said when asked about being lured into a standup battle with the much superior striker. “I think with my background, I’ve got a pretty good chance to take him down and put him on his back to make the point that needs to be made.”
Though UFC president Dana White labels the match a “freak show,” this is anything but a spectacle to the Division One wrestler. “I don’t think it’s a freak show,” Couture says flatly
It’d be easy to dismiss Couture’s assertion. After all, who wants to be involved in a “freak show” fight? As if on cue, Couture launches into a sound argument, dismissing those who are quick to write off Toney’s background and experience.
“I think that people have to give James credit for the things he’s accomplished in boxing. I certainly accomplished a lot in wrestling and people didn’t give me credit for it when I made my way into MMA. Those combative sports count for something.”
Yes, a background in combat sports counts for “something.” But Couture also knows that he’ll have a nearly insurmountable edge in training and experience—which he plans to exploit on fight night.
“Realistically, how much is he going to learn in three months? I’ve been doing this for a long time so he’s got a lot of catching up. He’s a great athlete and a great boxer, but that doesn’t always translate into MMA. If he’s just dragging boxing in there, I should be able to control him and control the bout.”
By all accounts, Toney is making every effort to transition from “Sweet Science” practitioner to novice mixed martial artist. He’s enlisted the help of Muhammad “King Mo” Lawal for tips on wrestling. Despite the effort, all the learning may not matter in an actual fight.
“There’s always a big difference,” Couture says of the difference between learning maneuvers and applying the techniques. “I felt like I was learning something new every day [when I started], but it was a long time before any of that stuff got implemented in a real fight against a real resisting opponent. It’s one thing to learn the technique and catalog it. Until you execute it in a real situation, it’s not really yours.”
It’s unclear whether Toney will attempt to implement any of the new moves added to his repertoire, but Couture isn’t counting on it.
“[Toney trying to wrestle with me] would be unexpected when the pressure is on. If you listen to him talk, he’s going to come out and try to tear my head off and land that punch to try to end the fight. It’ll be interesting to see if he tries to wrestle or do anything else. I don’t expect him to do that.”
With all the talk about boxing being the superior sport, watching Toney go for a takedown, or any other offense that didn’t involve a punch would be nothing short of a miracle. The fact that Toney will face Couture in a traditional mixed martial arts bout seems like a given to everyone but the 41-year-old pugilist. Toney’s selling of the fight is eerily reminiscent of the 1993 debut of the UFC, which saw single skilled fighters test their mettle against other single skilled fighters.
As history has it, boxers haven’t had the best luck inside the Octagon. At UFC 1, Art Jimmerson foolishly stepped into the cage against Royce Gracie sporting one boxing glove and one taped hand. The results were disastrous and Jimmerson tapped as soon as the bout hit the mat.
Like Jimmerson, Toney has foisted the pride of the “Sweet Science” on his back and hopes for a better outing. Couture on the other hand, is respectful of the prize fighting sport that paved the way for the UFC’s recent surge in pay-per-view popularity.
“I’m not running my mouth about boxing,” the five time champion stated. “I’m not running around saying ‘Boxing sucks and I’ll knock those bastards out!’ I’m not coming from that disrespectful, disdainful place that a lot of boxers are coming from.
“I’ve never had any illusions that I’m a world class boxer; I’m a mixed martial artist that incorporates boxing into my fighting style. That’s it.”