At UFC 102 in Portland on August 29, former UFC champ Randy Couture takes on Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira in a battle between two of the sport’s most venerable veterans. It’s a fight to see who still has the chops to compete in the UFC’s heavyweight class, though Couture insists he isn’t looking at it that way. In this interview “The Natural” talks about his preparation for Big Nog, how Brock Lesnar may have set MMA back a few years, and where he sees himself after this fight is in the books.
Thanks for talking with me, Randy. How has your training been going for this fight, and what are you focusing on to help you beat a guy like Nogueira?
It’s going really well. Training’s been great. I’ve been working a lot on my jiu-jitsu. I think that’s going to be a critical tool to have sharp for Nogueira. I’ve been working on my boxing and kickboxing, and I think that’s going to play a key role in this fight because of my wrestling background. As always I’m working a lot on strength and conditioning as well with Jake, our strength coach, and I’m feeling great. I feel a peak coming.
The last time we saw Nogueira he looked like he just wasn’t himself. Are you expecting to face the old Nogueira that we saw in Pride, or do you think that was a sign that he may be on the downward slope of his career?
You know, I can’t calculate any of that into my preparation for Nogueira. I have to get ready for the best Nogueira we’ve ever seen. I can’t make any assumptions. Everybody wants to ask those questions, but I can’t factor that in. I have to be ready for anything. He’s a very durable opponent, especially on the ground, and I’ll be ready to go wherever I need to go.
Lately you’ve adopted Las Vegas as your home, but what’s it like for a guy who used to be sponsored by Rich’s Tire Barn in Gresham, Oregon to get to go back and fight in front of the fans in Portland?
(Laughs) Oh man, I’m real excited to be back in Portland for the first UFC in the Pacific Northwest. Fighting in front of all my family, and additionally, every friend that I’ve made in the Northwest over the last thirty years is coming out for this fight. It’s going to be a lot of fun, like old home week for me.
With you and Nogueira both former champs coming off losses, is this a fight to see who gets to go on and who is headed for retirement?
I don’t look at it that way. Obviously we’re both coming off losses and that always makes for a pretty exciting fight, both guys are really motivated to let it hang out and get back on a winning track. But I think putting it in those kinds of terms and framing it that way only results in putting more pressure on yourself. I’m doing this because I love to do it. I have nothing else to prove. My body is holding up well in training, and even in competition, I felt good in the Brock [Lesnar] fight, it just didn’t go my way. I got caught with one. That happens. You just have to take one fight at a time and now I’m focused on Nogueira.
You’ve wanted a fight with Fedor for a long time now. What do you think of Fedor’s decision to sign with Strikeforce?
Well, I understand it. I don’t know ultimately that it was his decision. I think M-1 Global has him tied up in a contract for multiple fights, and they’re interested in promoting their show and their name, and that’s not possible in an exclusive contract with the UFC. So I wasn’t surprised to see him go with Strikeforce, who is willing to do the co-promotion and put M-1’s name out there.
The end result is we get to see Fedor fight more in the United States, which is good. He’s definitely somebody who I like to watch fight, but I wouldn’t hold my breath that I’ll get to fight him. It is what it is.
I read some of the comments you made about Lesnar after his antics at UFC 100. Was that shot at him intended to try and help you get a rematch with him, or do you really think that’s bad for the sport?
I wasn’t trying to take a shot at Brock. I was calling it like I saw it. I think we’ve worked hard to be considered a real sport and for people to take us seriously. I think we’ve developed a reputation for sportsmanship and camaraderie even in a combative sport, so we’re not used to seeing that type of behavior from a guy after he wins.
For Brock to step up and act that way, in my opinion, set us back. For any first time viewers, and that was a huge pay-per-view event that probably had a lot of them, for them to see Brock act like they might have been thinking, ‘What’s this all about? These guys are knuckleheads.’ We all get associated with that kind of behavior, and I’m not too keen on that.
I hear that after this fight you have something planned with the Sports Legends Challenge. What is that all about?
The Sports Legends Challenge is a poker tournament here in September. We’re going down to Atlantis in the Bahamas. Mike Ditka and whole slew of sports stars are going to go down and play some poker. I’m real excited first of all about rubbing elbows with the list of guys who are going to be down there, and second, I’ve never been to the Bahamas. After the fight it should be a nice place to get away for a while.
How do you think you match up against Mike Ditka on the poker table?
(Laughs) I have no idea if Ditka even plays poker, though I’m sure he probably does. I’m no poker pro. This will be my third time playing Texas Hold ‘Em. We’ve got a GI foundation that we do events for down here in Vegas. I’m new to the game. I got a crash course from Jamie Gold at one of our events and I was overwhelmed at how much is involved in Texas Hold ‘Em and all the things you have to consider in each hand. It’s intriguing to me because it’s not just luck. There’s a lot of skill involved and I’m looking forward to it.
Recently Dana White said that you came back to the UFC as a heavyweight because you recognized that the division was weak and you said you knew you could beat these guys. Did you really say that and is that why you chose to come back when you did?
Well, I think in the UFC at that time it had been the Andrei Arlovski-Tim Sylvia show for quite a while. After that there weren’t a whole lot of other heavyweights in the division who were showing much promise or stepping up to be contenders and vie for the title. I think that’s why we ended up with three Arlovski-Sylvia fights. Having known Tim real well and felt like I could compete against him, yeah, that was certainly a fight that I wanted and a chance to come back and make a run.
I think the situation’s changed now. We’ve got five or six top heavyweights in the UFC right now with Carwin and Velasquez and Kongo. Obviously Mir’s still in the mix, Nogueira and myself, so there’s a bunch of big strong guys and it makes for an interesting division.
After this fight, where do you think you’ll stand with the UFC? Would you ever consider going over to Strikeforce for a fight with Fedor?
I could never speculate on something like that. I’ve got this fight and one more fight with the UFC. Hopefully the fight after this will be a title fight. Any time you’re fighting for the title with a promotion they’re going to want to keep you around and sign you to a new deal, but I guess I’ll take it one fight at a time and cross those bridges as I need to.