With just over three weeks to go until UFC 91, I couldn’t resist previewing what will be one of the largest and most important fights in MMA history.
Tribute to a champion
Randy Couture has lived up to most of our expectations. He is one of only two men to have held a championship title in two different divisions. While his recent behavior has caused many to question his character, Couture will not let the critics determine his legacy.
With all of the business disputes settled, he is back in the octagon for one last stretch. He will look to cement his status as one of the greatest mixed martial artists of all time. If he falls short, he likely reveals himself as one of those athletes that should have quit while they were ahead.
But Couture doesn’t quit; he doesn’t seem capable of it. He is the Brett Favre of MMA.
If you’ll allow it, remind yourself of what made Couture so great.
Is it his undefeated record? Hardly; Randy has only won two out of every three fights in his career. Instead, Couture had an impeccable sense of timing. So many times, when he was the underdog, he surprised us with a game-plan tailor-made for his opponent.
He has made a career out of being the underdog; the underdog that wins.
Who can forget UFC 68 and that first punch? Eight seconds into his return fight, he sends Tim Sylvia reeling to the mat. Randy went on to control the 6’8" fighter with effective striking and numerous takedowns.
The win made Couture the first three-time champion in UFC history.
I could launch into more examples. Like the time he dropped to the LHW division, beating Tito Ortiz and Chuck Liddell back-to-back to claim his second title. But the preceding statement says it all...
All that matters is what’s in front of you
Now Couture will face his biggest challenge ever in Brock Lesnar. At 45 years old, Couture is 14 years older than Lesnar. When the two men step into the octagon he will likely be outweighed by 50 or 60 pounds. Couture will be slower, weaker, and less athletic. He will be facing arguably a better wrestler, something Couture is known for and utilizes to control his foes.
But lest we forget, Brock has had only three fights in the octagon. For some, that doesn’t matter. They only see his overwhelming size, freakish strength, unbridled talent, and unwavering desire to be the best.
And, have no doubt, one day he will be the best. He is a future heavyweight champion; it's not a matter of if, but when.
Even Couture is impressed with the Brock. In a recent statement Randy said: "He's very explosive. He's a good athlete. He's certainly unique. It's been hard to find training partners, but we've got some bigger guys and some very good wrestlers to work with at the gym."
So is Lesnar’s "timing" right now? He has the opportunity to catapult to the top of the heavyweight heap; 0-60 MPH in less then six seconds. Brock has the horsepower but does he know how to "dirty drive" if you will.
Brock’s lack of "drive time" will be his biggest obstacle on the fast track to becoming champion right now.
What the fight might look like
Brock’s strategy should be simple. If he can put Randy on his back, pin him down, and land with short punches and hammer-fists, Lesnar will come away with a decision win. Recall what he was doing to Frank Mir, minus the slick submission Mir put him in to win the fight.
Normally, Couture likes to clinch and ground-and-pound his opponents. He uses his wrestling skill to execute take downs, establish top position, and strike his opponent until the referee stops it.
But will Randy be able to clinch with a man so much stronger then him? And can he even think about attempting to take Lesnar to the ground and pound on him?
More than likely, Randy will want to outpoint Lesnar, and can, if he manages to keep the fight standing for the majority of it. Couture’s superior octagon experience can save him from precarious situations, which will be a huge factor if he is to pull out a win.
While Brock’s striking is much improved, Randy has far superior boxing skills. He knows how to bob and weave, which will make a great difference in their stand-up battle. And no one knows what will happen if and when Brock gets punched in the face.
Brock’s "punch" that sent Herring to the canvas was slow and telegraphed, and won’t be nearly as effective against Couture.
On the ground, Lesnar’s size and power will pose problems for Couture; however, Lesnar has shown flaws in his ground game. If Herring was able to escape Brock’s mount then what will Couture be capable of doing?
How much has Brock really improved since his last fight?
Brock also looks susceptible to submissions. While Randy probably won't look to use much jiu-jitsu, don’t put it past him to attempt to win by any means necessary. He has two early career submissions and he will have to pull out all the tricks in his bag if he wants to survive the storm.
He will need to put together his greatest game-plan ever, and a little BJJ would go a long way.
Brock’s game plan is to overpower Couture and control him on the ground. If he can keep him in defensive mode and wear Randy out, he should advance in the heavyweight mini-tournament. If Couture can get back to his feet and turn the fight into a kickboxing match, perhaps he can conquer the giant.
What other people think
So, what did Heath Herring have to say about the upcoming fight? "I’ve seen him (Couture) kind of have some trouble with bigger guys. And now he’s fighting a guy that’s a lot bigger than anybody he’s faced. But Randy’s the ultimate tactician, and he always comes in with a great game plan and he sticks to it."
"Brock still hasn’t been hurt; he still hasn’t really been pushed really hard. We saw him tap out really, really quickly with Frank (Mir). So I think Randy absolutely has a shot at it and can do it."
Mir, the only man to beat Lesnar, has also weighed in one the fight. He believes inexperience will prove to be Lesnar's greatest inhibitor at UFC 91.
"I think it's too early in his career," says Mir of Lesnar. "I think he's a great wrestler, powerful background, but Randy Couture is one of the most decorated Greco-Roman wrestlers we've ever had in our country. He has 12 years of MMA experience and he has the same background as Lesnar. Lesnar is basically the new Randy, a better athlete, bigger and more powerful and more dangerous, but he only has two years of [MMA] experience."
In regard to Brock, he said, "He was more like getting hit by a car that's moving very slowly and you can't get out of the way. It bumps and knocks you over and is just overwhelmingly powerful."
"I didn't know where he was half the time. It really felt like I was underwater and somebody was beating the s--- out of me. I was just drowning under him."
Guys like Werdum and Liddell also are picking Couture to win. But wins aren’t awarded via peer recognition.
So will Randy sink of swim? If he is able to get the victory, it might be his most impressive to date. While it may seem improbable, history has proven that you can’t count "The Natural" out.
Thanks to Sherdog for providing quotes from Frank Mir.