UFC 129: Why Randy Couture Is the Most Important Fighter in UFC History

Matt Saccaro@@mattsaccaroContributor IIIApril 25, 2011

PORTLAND, OR - AUGUST 28: UFC heavyweight fighter Randy Couture weighs in at the UFC 102: Couture vs. Nogueira Weigh-In at the Rose Garden Arena on August 28, 2009 in Portland, Oregon. (Photo by Jon Kopaloff/Getty Images)
Jon Kopaloff/Getty Images

Saturday's UFC 129 will likely mark the last time Randy "The Natural" Couture fights in the Octagon.

Couture has had a storied career and his retirement will truly mean the end of an era in the UFC and in the sport of mixed martial arts itself.

It is the hype and fanfare regarding Couture's retirement that indicated one important thing that has not yet been mentioned: That Randy Couture may be the most important fighter in UFC history.

Randy Couture was with the UFC since the pre-Zuffa days; his first fight was at UFC 13 in 1997. He quickly established himself as one of the prime competitors, winning the UFC heavyweight tile in his fourth fight.

Because of Couture's swift ascent to the top, he would be present throughout all of the defining moments in the UFC's history.

Couture helped establish the credibility of the UFC heavyweight title throughout his early career and his two epic fights with Pedro Rizzo.

In perhaps one of the most important aspects of Couture's career, he took part in making the UFC light heavyweight division the company's premier weight class via his feuds with Chuck Liddell and Tito Ortiz.

It can be said that Couture's series with Liddell helped to make "The Iceman" into the MMA super star that he became, since Liddell won is light heavyweight title from Couture.

In addition to this, Couture was Liddell's opposite on the first season of the Ultimate Fighter, the show often credited with catapulting the UFC into household's across America.

After his second loss to Liddell, Couture entered what turned out to be a false retirement.

The second leg of his career would be just as important as the first.

At UFC 68, Couture revitalized the heavyweight division by dominating the reigning champion Tim Sylvia—a feat which many pundits thought Couture was incapable of. The fight remains one of Couture's greatest until this day.

After a successful title defense against Gabriel Gonzaga, Couture entered another false retirement, although this one was a bit more controversial since there was dispute over how much Couture was being paid.

Nevertheless, Couture and UFC president Dana White managed to work it out and Couture returned.

In his first fight in over a year, Couture faced the mammoth Brock Lesnar. Couture, always surprising the fans, held his own against Lesnar in the first round and even managed to briefly take Lesnar down before being knocked out in the second round.

In defeat, Couture helped the UFC more than he would have in victory; the loss helped to build up Brock Lesnar as a fighter who was a worthy UFC champion and not just a freak show fighter à la Kimbo Slice.

This was one of the last hallmark moments in Couture's career. He had an epic fight with former Pride heavyweight champion Antonio Rodrigo Noguiera in which he displayed tremendous resilience, but ultimately came up short.

Despite the loss, Couture proved that he could still "throw down" with the younger fighters by defeating Brandon Vera at UFC 105.

Couture, in one of the most crucial fights in his career, put one of the final nails in boxing's coffin by humiliating James "Lights Out" Toney at UFC 118.

This illustrious career will end at UFC 129 on April 30.

Couture will face Brazilian karate expert Lyoto Machida in a fight that may shape the future of the light heavyweight division; if Machida loses, he will likely be fired from the organization.

Couture, unlike other fighters who could be considered as the most important in the organization's history such as Chuck Liddell or Tito Ortiz, has managed to stay relevant even in his advanced age relative to the other competitors.

Aside from this, neither Liddell nor Ortiz can boast of accomplishing what Couture did. While Liddell and Ortiz did help to make the light heavyweight division and were crucial to the growth of the UFC, this could not have been true without Randy Couture.

Other fighters can only dream of the accomplishments that Couture has achieved.

He has the most championship reigns in the UFC at six. He is the first fighter in the UFC to have titles at two different weight classes He has the most title fights in UFC history at 15 and he is the oldest fighter to win a UFC championship at 43 years old and 255 days.

To put it succinctly, when one traces the most important fights and events in UFC history, Randy Couture is in some way connected.

This is what no other fighter can claim and what makes Couture the most important fighter the history of the UFC and perhaps in the history of modern MMA.