“That man is my hero”
Joe Rogan on Randy Couture
“Man, what kind of [expletive] sport is this if y’all call a guy barely over .500 a legend?…If this guy is a legend, what am I?”
James Toney on Randy Couture
James Toney may be new to the world of Mixed Martial Arts, but he knew enough to ask the question that will be on the lips of every boxing fan when they see the man standing across from Toney on Saturday night – what is it that makes Randy Couture an all-time great when he’s only won 64% of his fights and has ten career defeats?
A former US 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 US 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.
Couture made his UFC 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 as by pushing the action he forced Belfort to abandon his boxing guard so 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. He 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 hand 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 Vitor 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 fifteen 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, which is why his 18-10 record is as misleading as that of a boxer who is 40-0 after a career fighting nobodies.
Throughout his thirteen year career Randy 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 nineties. Along with Chuck 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. He has participated in some of the most exciting fights in UFC history, with his battles against Pedro Rizzo, Chuck Liddell, and Antonio Nogueria all being fondly remembered by fans and commentators alike. He repeatedly overcame the odds, whether it be by defeating Vitor Belfort, ending Tito Ortiz’s three year world title reign or defeating the giant Tim Sylvia in his first fight back after a thirteen month ‘retirement’. At the age of 47, Randy Couture is back fighting at 205Ibs and nobody would rule out the possibility of him earning a sixteenth world title fight.
But above all Randy Couture is a legend of Mixed Martial Arts because he led the way in developing the sport of Mixed Martial Arts, showing the world that the UFC was no longer about ‘style vs. style’ but about individual competitors striving to develop new fighting styles that incorporated elements of several different martial arts. It is therefore apt that on Saturday he faces in James Toney a man who in 2010 still fails to understand this fundamental truth.
Learn more about his opponent:
Introducing James Toney
Tags: Mixed Martial Arts, Randy Couture, Randy Couture vs. James Toney, ufc 118