A step forward for Couture, but the doubts still remain

Randy Couture likes proving people wrong.

If anything defines him, it is that. His career has been a series of outstanding upset victories that both defied the odds and took people’s breath away. People said that he was too old and too slow to defeat Chuck Liddell in 2003, but somehow he managed to do it. People said that we was too old and too small to defeat Tim Sylvia in 2007, but somehow he managed to do it. So as he stood victorious for the first time on American soil since 2007 it seemed like ‘The Natural’ had once again confounded those who had written him off. But when you dig beneath the surface, Couture’s performance failed to silence the doubters.

In defeating fellow UFC Hall of Famer Mark Coleman, Randy Couture put in his most convincing performance since his 2007 return to the heavyweight division. As then, his boxing was a key to his game with his footwork allowing him to move in and out of the pocket at will and his head movement ensuring that Coleman couldn’t land one of his big hammer fists. Indeed, the contrast between the two fighters stand-up underlined how technical Couture’s boxing has become with Couture picking apart Coleman’s poor stance and head movement with excellent shot selection and superior combinations. Even his dirty boxing oozed class, with Couture landing some nice looking uppercuts while controlling Coleman in the clinch. When he wasn’t picking apart Coleman, he was wearing down the 46 year old with his signature technique of using his Greco-Roman game to push his opponent up against the cage. With Couture in control he was able to finish the fight in the second, taking Coleman down at the first attempt and quickly applying a rear naked choke for the win.

In defeating Coleman, Couture utilized many of the strengths that had seemingly deserted him in his defeat to Nogueria and his close, controversial victory over Brandon Vera. He was once again pushing the pace of the fight, testing ‘The Hammer’s’ suspect conditioning by wearing him down against the cage and pushing the action on the feet. His confidence to box with Coleman from the start was surely based on the belief that his speed advantage would allow him to avoid taking a big hit early on. And when he was able to get the takedown, he had the strength to control Coleman on the ground and the grappling to decisively finish the fight. There is no doubt that Couture’s performance against Coleman was impressive. This was the most convincing defeat of Coleman’s second UFC stint, with Couture overwhelming him on the ground and on the feet. Seeing the two old warriors battling in the Octagon underlined just how good Couture still is. While Coleman’s game has failed to evolve with the times, lacking the boxing or grappling to compliment his wrestling Couture is a modern, hybrid fighter with his Greco-Roman wrestling simply the foundation of an evolved style that also includes excellent boxing and grappling.

But no one should be under any illusions. Couture was impressive, but this was stylistically the best match he could have at 205 pounds. Couture walked into the Octagon with a significant advantage in speed, not giving much up in size and quite possibly having a slight strength advantage as well. There is no other credible match-up for him where that‘d be true. Most light heavyweights are faster, bigger and stronger, leaving Couture fighting at a significant physical disadvantage. For once Couture was fighting without these handicaps and it allowed him to fight with a faster, more open style. Coleman’s limitations meant that Couture got to fight his kind of fight with ‘The Natural’ controlling the pace, able to duck and move when standing and control Coleman in the clinch while taking little damage.

The contrast with his fights against Nogueria and Vera where bigger, faster fighters were able to outpace and overpower him is stark. At UFC 102 Couture was bested in the stand up exchanges, with Nogueria frequently being quicker to the punch and having the speed to be illusive in defense. At UFC 105 while Vera was trapped in Couture’s Greco-Roman game, he made sure to punish Couture in the clinch with hard body shots. Couture was unable to control either on the ground and both opponents landed hard shots on Couture’s chin securing big knockdowns in the process. Increasingly, due to age Couture does not have the physical ability to be an elite fighter. What he does have is his mind. Randy Couture is a genius at exploiting the weaknesses of his opponents and minimizing his own. Just as he avoided getting sucked into a stand-up battle earlier on against Vera due to a desire to maintain his energy for the closing minutes and a desire to avoid taking a big hit early on, against Coleman he avoided going to the ground before he had worn down the former champion freestyle wrestler.

At UFC 109, Couture was able to focus devising a strategy to exploit the physical disadvantages of his opponent instead of working to minimize his own. His dominant performance against Mark Coleman gives him the momentum that he failed to gain after his nervy, controversial win against Brandon Vera at UFC 105. Its likely that this momentum will earn him a title match with the winner of Lyoto Machida versus Mauricio “Shogun” Rua. But nobody should be in any doubt that the way he struggled to handle the speed and power of both Nogueria and Vera offers a better guide to the likely pattern of such a match than his convincing victory against Mark Coleman. For Randy Couture to win his sixth world title he will have to rewrite the form book and prove an awful lot of people wrong.

After all, why should his sixth world title be any different from the first five?

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