Randy Couture (left) defeated seven former UFC champions. | Photo: Dave Mandel/Sherdog.com
For 14 years, he embodied toughness, grit and smarts, a master strategist and ultimate warrior all wrapped up in one. He was brilliant and vicious, thoughtful and cruel. There could be no better ambassador for the sport of mixed martial arts. On April 30, the man they called “The Natural” walked off into the sunset in front of more than 55,000 fans at the Rogers Centre in Toronto.
Couture’s career spanned three decades and encompassed 30 professional bouts, more than half (16) of them UFC title fights. He leaves the sport with 16 wins inside the Octagon, trailing only fellow UFC hall of famer Matt Hughes (18). Couture defeated seven former UFC champions -- Vitor Belfort (twice), Maurice Smith, Kevin Randleman, Chuck Liddell, Tito Ortiz, Tim Sylvia and Mark Coleman -- and remains one of only two men, B.J. Penn being the other, to win UFC titles in two weight classes.
As the 47-year-old legend turns over a new leaf in retirement, Sherdog.com staff members and contributors weigh in on their most vivid memories, reflections and appraisals of Couture’s trials, triumphs and importance to MMA.
Cameron Conaway: In the history of combat sport, no athlete has defied age as consistently or on as large a scale as Randy Couture. There has been talk of how the UFC will replace him. It won’t. There will be talk of how his record will tarnish his impact. It can’t. Like any great artist, Randy leaves behind his body of work. We owe it to ourselves and to the future of MMA to remember it, share it and continue to use it for inspiration
Todd Martin: The fight that established Couture’s legacy to me was the first bout with Chuck Liddell. Liddell was riding the long winning streak, and Couture appeared to be a spent force. When Couture turned the tables on Liddell with a shockingly dominant win, it taught the MMA world that Couture could never be counted out. That theme defined the rest of his career.
Rob Fitzpatrick: I remember the raucous laughter as we watched him control “The Huntington Beach Bad Boy,” taking him down several pegs with their bout at UFC 44. Randy always had such class and pride, win or lose -- a man who, at his age, didn’t have to prove anything, but did it anyway. To this day, my mother, back home in the UK, only knows Randy in MMA. “Such a nice man,” she would say, “if it wasn’t for those ears!”
Chris Nelson: Even as countless others copped his dirty-boxing, wrestle-grinding style through the years, one thing became apparent: we’ll never see another fighter quite like Randy Couture. His pure talent and physical ability, his accomplishments and particularly his longevity in the sport combined to form a career which, while never flashy or ostentatious, was nonetheless magnificent. Of the 30 fights Couture leaves us with, it’s almost impossible to isolate a single great moment, but I’ll say this: my heart has never pounded while watching one person try to hold another down for 25 minutes as it did when “The Natural” came out of retirement to beat Tim Sylvia for his third UFC heavyweight title.
Freddie DeFreitas: When I first came aboard at Sherdog.com, I had the pleasurable task of creating many of the fighter highlight videos the site had become widely been known for hosting. When it finally came time for Randy’s turn to be immortalized on the Web, Joe Rogan was busy singing the praises of our beloved “Captain America,” so naturally, we ran with it. Couture’s film was the first to feature a hand-drawn comic in the vein of the Marvel superhero -- and last to ever grace the pages of Sherdog.com.
Jason Probst: There will never be another Randy Couture, which makes his departure from the sport all the more meaningful. Randy wasn’t just a longshot entry into the game; he was a 34-year-old wrestler when he faced the then-unbeaten Vitor Belfort in 1997. He was pretty much seen as fodder and dumped that premise on its head, along with Belfort, in a great fight. In addition to popularizing the effective techniques of dirty boxing, Couture also inspired in ways that made his fights can’t-miss propositions. Throw in his masterful showings against Tim Sylvia and Gabriel Gonzaga and a very credible performance in defeat against a much bigger Brock Lesnar, and that pretty much defines Couture. Like George Foreman did in boxing, he probably will inspire a lot of people to keep going well into their 40s, though it’s doubtful a fraction can accomplish what he did.
Ryan O’Leary: I thought Couture’s coming out of retirement to fight Tim Sylvia was a bad idea, a desperate and money-grabbing opportunity for the UFC and Randy. “The Natural” did look sharp in “Pros vs. Joes” versus former high-school jocks, but coming off a knockout loss to “The Iceman” at light heavyweight didn’t seem like the proper stepping stone to a heavyweight title shot a year later. Prepared for a Couture beatdown, I have never jumped off the couch so fast or high as when Randy dropped the giant with his big right hand. When the wrestler took Sylvia’s back shortly after, it just reminded me again that there are no scripts in MMA and anything is possible, especially when “Captain America” is fighting.
Lutfi Sariahmed: Couture’s legacy is twofold. One part of this is about what he did in the cage. It’s about his stepping up as an underdog time and again. It’s about his trilogy with Liddell and beyond. But it’s also about what Couture did outside of the cage. The impact he made outside the cage has yet to be truly felt. He’s the first fighter to really march to his own drum, going so far as to challenge the UFC to become more independent as a fighter. His rise outside of the cage has helped and will only continue to help the development of fighters as individual brands, as opposed to just pieces underneath the Zuffa banner. For all Couture has done in the cage, it may be what he ends up doing outside the cage for other fighters that could be his biggest accomplishment.
Chris Foster: A 40-year-old just taking on fighters such as Tito Ortiz, Chuck Liddell and Vitor Belfort is amazing. Beating them is what made him a legend. Many times I picked against him in a fight, only to be proven wrong once again. He’s a genuinely great guy with a huge heart and well-respected. Legends never die.
Jack Encarnacao: Randy Couture’s win over Tim Sylvia at UFC 68 was the most dramatic one-sided fight I’ve ever seen. I watched it in a bar-stroke-arcade. People truly came unglued when Couture slugged the heavyweight champ to the mat in the first exchange and were counting down aloud the final seconds of the fight. It’s easy to forget how badly people thought Sylvia was going to hurt Couture in that fight. But just as the film “Rocky Balboa” hit theatres, Couture was Sylvester Stallone-esque in coming out of retirement to replicate his most dominant performance against Chuck Liddell in 2003. He completely silenced those who declared him shopworn, and his first post-fight remark -- “Not bad for an old man” -- is impossible to forget.
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