Randy Couture and His 10 Career-Defining Highlights
"To be the man, you've got to beat the man."
Few fighters know more about being "the man" more than UFC Hall Of Famer Randy "The Natural" Couture.
While BJ Penn is the first Hawaiian to hold two belts in two different weight classes, Randy Couture is the first UFC fighter to do it at all.
(Fun fact; Couture is the first man to be "The Man" at Heavyweight and Light Heavyweight, whereas Penn is the first man to be "The Man" at Welterweight and Lightweight)
Of course, his combined reigns are among the longest in UFC history, and he's the only man with five championship title reigns to his credit (the UFC 118 commercials agree with the people who feel that an Interim Belt doesn't count as being the champ, and I'd know that because I'm one of them).
The accomplishments of The Natural read like a What's What just as his track record reads like a Who's Who.
From Liddell to Randleman, From Vera to Ortiz, and even from The Babyfaced Assassin to The Death-Clutch Master, Couture has faced them all, with victories over some of these top names.
What makes The Natural who he is boils down beyond the victories and how they were gained.
It's what Couture gained out of the wins besides the contention and titles and such that have made the moments that have defined his career.
So now, I'd like to light up your pathway as we take a look at the ten moments that have made Randy Couture into the warrior he is today.
10. The Debut: The Natural faces The Viking
Unless you watched the WWE back in the days when Shawn Michaels was beginning to be "The Heartbreak Kid" and guys like Bret Hart and his late (should-be Hall-Of-Famer) brother Owen were prominent, the name Tony Halme won't ring a bell unless you know the name Ludvig Borga.
Either way, you can still call yourself an MMA fan even by not recognizing the name of Halme, because his only MMA fight was his UFC 13 encounter with Randy Couture.
The fight went down back in the days when the UFC was still doing the tournament-style events, and Halme was trying to transition from Pro Wrestling to the world of MMA, which was then referred to as "Ultimate Fighting" by the general public.
The transition attempt lasted about a minute, while the transition from a sprawl-headlock to the back of Halme that led to a Serial Killer Choke of sorts only took a little less than six seconds.
While the opponent was less than a top name in the sport, there was no denying that, while nobody had realized it, a star had been born in the world of Mixed Martial Arts.
9. The First Battle with The Rock
In one of the greatest Heavyweight fights in UFC history, Couture would defend his belt against a man best known as "The Rock".
At the time of UFC 31, Rizzo had only a loss to Kevin Randleman under his belt, but he had been dominant in his past fights, whereas Couture had just won the belt for the second time from Randleman and needed a man to defend the belt against.
As the first fight proved, Rizzo was a match and a half for Couture, and the end result immediately influenced the decision for a second fight to take place at UFC 34.
UFC 31 proved that even though Couture won fights, he could also pull out a win in a fight that people felt he lost.
UFC 34 shows what happens when you believe that the champ lost the last time he faced the guy across the cage from him.
It doesn't happen often in MMA, but sometimes it does and it did happen with Couture and Rizzo.
8. Couture's Revenge on The Phenom
The first time Vitor fought Randy, his gas tank got ran dry by The Natural.
The second time, Vitor cut Couture open before the fight even left the first minute.
This brings us to the number 8 defining moment of Couture's career.
What did Couture do here?
Well, besides winning his second UFC Light Heavyweight title, he evened things up with Vitor, and it proved something about Couture as a fighter.
Even when he loses a fight for his belt by something like a cut, he finds a way to not only get the belt back, but he also finds a way to even the score.
He did just that in this fight, causing the fight to end on a Doctor Stoppage at the end of Round Three.
Want to see how Randy got back at Vitor? Check out this fight.
7. Still not bad for an old man
In retrospect, Couture was an underdog in this fight to say the least, especially after he got rocked early on in the fight.
Most fights in which Couture's been in recently have had him up against someone younger than he, and most people would have Couture as an underdog just for the fact that Couture's an old man.
Okay, so how does an old man not have it anymore if he gets a unanimous decision win over the man who many thought would be the next champ at 265?
Keeping Brandon Vera pinned against the cage and preventing him from trying to finish the fight helped a bit.
For those who thought Couture could no longer evolve with the sport, they got their "other thing coming"in this fight between a UFC Hall Of famer and an exciting, struggling young prospect in MMA.
Couture's proved a few times before that as the sport evolved, he could evolve as a fighter, and Vera proved to be no exception to that statement.
6. Shattering the Iceman
What started Couture's run towards the Light Heavyweight title?
Well, a win over Chuck Liddell was a good way to start the quest for a shot at Ortiz.
At the time, The Huntington Beach Bad Boy had himself a contract dispute and basically refused to fight Chuck, so there was a need for an Interim Belt at 205.
Of course, who better to test Chuck's claims to a shot at Tito than The Natural?
It took almost three rounds for Randy to beat Chuck, but then again Chuck wasn't the same Chuck that Rich Franklin knocked out.
As I recall, Chuck Liddell was the most dominant champion in UFC history after Ortiz lost the belt, and he was a dominant competitor around this time to say the least.
Of course, that's not to say he was able to finish Couture, as the shots that finished off a normal opponent were neutralized by Couture to where Couture was able to take Liddell down and finish him from full mount.
For a bout that lasts almost three rounds, this one ended up being something of a classic in both men's careers, and it was the step Couture would need to take in order to get Tito Ortiz.
As for Liddell, he would take this fight as a learning experience and analyze his mistakes, preparing himself for the next time he faced Couture in the cage.
5. Disciplining Tito and taking his belt... So much for a sixth defense!
It took twenty five minutes for Couture to dismember Ortiz (and administer a spanking) before he walked away from UFC 44 as the Undisputed UFC Light Heavyweight Champion in the fight that officially earned him the title of "Captain America", though most would argue that he earned that nickname against Liddell.
While Couture wasn't able to finish Ortiz, he was able to do enough in the five rounds to prevent Ortiz from mounting any offense on him, as Couture wrestling on this night prove to be stronger than Ortiz's.
In this Champion vs. Champion superclash, only one was to walk out as the undisputed champion, and that's exactly what happened.
An undisputed champion was crowned, and as it was in this instance, one era had ended while another had begun.
4. Stopping the "Cro Cop KIller" known as Napao
Like the first fight with Liddell and the third fight with Belfort, Couture's bout with Gabriel Gonzaga went down with title implications behind it, and it ended in the third round as a win for Couture.
The difference? Gonzaga isn't considered a legend nowadays, but he's still revered for the way he earned his shot at Randy Couture.
It wasn't the "Cemetery Left" that Mirko "Cro Cop" Filipovic is highly known for which left him out cold -- actually it was the "Hospital Right" that Napao used -- but nonetheless Cro Cop got a taste of his own medicine when he faced Gonzaga at UFC 70 and got knocked out with one of his own signature head kicks.
This gave Gonzaga an honor that many men at Heavyweight dream of: He was going to be in the main event of a UFC card, in a title match, FOR the Heavyweight title...
... against Captain America himself.
Give Gonzaga his due for the first two rounds, because at least he made an effort to bring it to Couture, but by the third round, Couture proved himself to be the better fighter by getting the win in round three by TKO.
Of course, with where Gonzaga is now -- facing Brendan Schaub at UFC 121 -- you wouldn't think that he once had the honor of being across the cage from Couture, but he was.
He was touted as "the new breed of MMA fighter" heading into the fight, and he really was a new breed of fighter: a menacing Heavyweight who could knock out opponents, but also could maintain a strong BJJ game and submit some even stronger fighters.
Plain and simple, Gonzaga was good, and that's why he got past Cro Cop.
On this night, though, Couture was better, and that's why he stopped Gonzaga in round three.
3. The Natural beats The Monster
While Couture's first title reign was actually in a fight against Maurice Smith, a contract dispute prevented Couture from defending the belt, so the belt was vacated.
When Couture came back, Randleman was the UFC Heavyweight Champion and a bout was made for UFC 28.
As some of his other wins have gone, this fight with Randleman ended in round three, though this win was only the second career fight of Couture's to end in Round Three.
The fight ended with a forceful takedown and some strong ground and pound from inside Randleman's open guard, which eventually Couture worked past in order to get a full mount and rain down with a barrage of strikes from the full mount, which then caused the ref to call the fight over.
Anyone who didn't believe that Couture was a force that everyone should reckon with got their wake-up call after the hurt he laid in to Randleman.
He beat a man widely known as "The Monster" and turned him back into a man, taking his Heavyweight crown with him in the process.
2. "Not bad for a old man."
"Not bad", Randy?
I'd say pretty damn good for an old man, good sir.
Let's keep in mind, our number 2 entrant -- the UFC 68 battle between Tim Sylvia and Randy Couture -- went down when Randy was 43.
Tim Sylvia couldn't have looked any better in his career than he did at this time, but it was to the contrary for Couture just because of his age.
The shots he landed on Sylvia, especially in Round one, and all the moments in hwhich he controlled Sylvia all would beg to differ with those who feel that Couture was tarnishing his legacy.
This was a tough fight for Sylvia, because in the pre-fight package before the fight he'd admitted that he thought Couture had lost a step, but nothing would be more further from the truth come fight time.
After nabbing his third UFC Heavyweight title and his final UFC Championship reign, he famously said in his interview with Joe Rogan, "Not bad for an old man."
Not bad at all, Randy... not bad at all.
1. The Phenom meets The Natural
It's only fitting that the most defining moment of Randy Couture's career would be the night that he first met Vitor Belfort in the fight that earned him the nickname of "The Natural".
Most know Vitor Belfort as the possessor of one of MMA's deadliest hands in the history of the sport, but at this time, he was inexperienced.
No big deal. So was Couture. Both guys had just started their streaks.
All was good for Vitor but he would find himself getting beaten at his own gamw so to speak.
Couture wasn't coming forward with hooks that were deadlier than Vitor's, but he was giving Vitor no opportunities to connect with the left hand that Vitor was known to put opponents away with.
Everything we know about Randy's game now, we owe to this fight becuse this fight showed all of us what Randy could do.
He didn't try to trade with Vitor on the feet, but he did wear him down with some sick dirty boxing, he clinched, he delivered knee strikes and some ground and pound from side control, and he got Vitor's back before he finished him off with a rainstorm of punches in what was one of the biggest upsets in the sport at the time.
Like I said earlier on, there's a reason why they call him "The Natural", and hopefully now you know why.
Can he put James Toney's "Lights Out" in Boston?
James Toney is the first guy in quite a long time to come into the UFC with no martial arts aside from Boxing.
Seriously, the man is a boxer, through and through. He even said kicking was for girls.
Well, Couture isn't Pedro Rizzo on the feet, so kicks may be the least of Toney's worries, but that doesn't mean he has nothing to worry about with Couture.
Even near his 50's, Couture is a natural problem for just about anyone in the sport because of what he can do in the cage.
The man has fought and beaten a Who's Who, and he's done some impressive things in his career.
Whether or not UFC 118 is the last time we see Randy Couture in the cage, there's no denying that he could cap off a defining career by successfully dismantling Toney in Boston.
Couture can beat Toney as easily as Toney could beat Couture, but as history will show, beating either one of these men isn't easy.
If you ask me, though, I think Randy will find a way to pull it off come Fight Night when he has to face Toney in the New Garden.
Mr. Toney, be careful.
Come Saturday, you're in The Natural's Octagon.