Without Randy Couture and Antonio Nogueira, Where Would MMA Be?

Todd JacksonSenior Analyst IAugust 28, 2009

LOS ANGELES - APRIL 7:  Wrestler Randy Couture arrives at a special screening of Sony Pictures Classics' 'Redbelt' at the Egyptian Theatre on April 7, 2008 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)

Today mixed martial arts is very much the talk of the town. With the emergence of megastar-caliber fighters like Brock Lesnar or Georges St-Pierre, it is safe to say the sky is the limit. These high-profile fighters and the events they compete in are gaining more and more steam as the sport grows.  

People are starting to understand and accept mixed martial arts for what it truly is: a highly competitive, extremely difficult, athletically demanding, legitimate combat sport. That acceptance did not come easily, nor did it come quickly. It was earned along the way, earned by great representatives of the sport—pioneers. 

With a strong future ahead of it, mixed martial arts will move farther away from its past—a past littered with the peaks and valleys of triumph and defeat for both the sport and its fighters.

When they look back and start to really acknowledge the true pioneers of this sport, two names will permeate the discussion: Randy “The Natural” Couture and “Minotauro” Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira. These men are champions amongst champions. 

Their records precede them. Consider for a moment, if you will, the combined greatness of these two warriors. Couture, 16-9, has fought for a title an astonishing 15 times. Nogueira, 31-5, has had five championship fights. That’s a combined record of 47-14 with 20 championships contested between them. 

To really drive home the point of what true living legends these men are, here are a few more facts that some may find interesting. Of the 20 championship fights, Randy won nine and Antonio won three. 

These numbers don’t even take into consideration the tournaments these men have won. 

Their opponents haven’t even been mentioned yet. Names like Mir, Sylvia, Barnett, Coleman, Liddell, Ortiz, Henderson, Lesnar, and Emelianenko litter these two résumés—all champions at one time or another. While they didn’t win every fight, they held their own without a doubt. 

These men were the headliners for over a decade of mixed martial arts. They have perennially been the litmus test for the greatest fighters of this generation. In many ways, they also raised the bar for the fighters of the future. 

To ever be considered great, you will first have to compete with what these men have done. That is a tall order for any fighter to even aspire to, much less achieve. It should be interesting to see who answers that call. For now we still have these two titans, but for how long?

These two storied careers seem closer to their twilight than their sunrise. This sad fact is undeniable even if it is averted for yet another year. When the time comes for these two fighters to hang up their gloves, it will be a sad day for the sport indeed. This topic has been the discussion of many forums amongst fans and journalists. 

While that horizon may be in sight, it is important to remember that here today we still can enjoy the fights of these two men for a while longer. They will fight each other at UFC 102. 

A long anticipated matchup of former UFC and Pride champions is upon the world of mixed martial arts.

This time there is no belt or five-round fight. There is only the need to prove one thing: that they are still relevant and capable of making waves in this sport. No matter the buzz, they surely believe they can, and no one should bet against them. 

Still though, both fighters are coming off a loss, so a victory is crucial to forward movement and avoiding further skepticism as to their potential for tomorrow. 

Both men have had the future of their careers called into question leading up to this, even more so pending the outcome of this fight. While the fight may impact their futures, it is important to also honor them and respect them for their contributions and sacrifices for this sport. 

Without gladiators like these to forge and hone this sport, where would it be? How could these crucial representatives of the strength of this sport be replaced? Mixed martial arts would suffer without the greatness they represent, that much is certain. 

Their skill is undeniable, their will without waver, their fighting minds without equal, and class reflected always. These men are mixed martial arts. They are the heart of the sport. No matter how the fight or their careers end, their legacy will be carried on in the examples they set—examples that fighters of today and tomorrow will always follow.

Their efforts and accomplishments have raised this sport up beyond anyone’s expectations. Their hard work opened the doors for fighters like Lesnar and GSP. While the focus may be on the stars today, it is important to not overlook the sun that made those stars shine so bright.

Support Randy and Nog. They have earned it.