(“Let’s see here: High kick, low kick, body kick, side check kick … yep, I think I’ve got them all scouted.” Pic: LasVegasSun)
Some three days later, I’m still not sure if it makes it better or worse that Randy Couture’s MMA career ended via insane, never-before-seen crane kick knockout. On one hand, it was certainly sad to see the legend’s body slump lifelessly to the canvas after the UFC’s resident Karate Kid blasted him in the face just a minute into the second round of their bout in Toronto. On the other hand, maybe the kick really just saved us nine more minutes of watching Couture take potshots to the face at the hands of notorious counterpuncher Lyoto Machida. It had taken just a few moments after all to realize this bout wasn’t going to go Couture’s way. All 47 of his hard-earned years were apparent as we watched “The Natural” hopelessly chase Machida around the Octagon like a dog trying to hunt down its own tail for the full extent of the first round. Granted, he didn’t look Chuck Liddell-bad or anything, but the performance was enough to confirm that it’s high time for Couture to walk away – and this time to stay gone.
It got us thinking. When you’re in the game for 14 years, compile a 19-11 career record, essentially shepherd a sport from its dark ages into the white hot light of mainstream acceptance – when you are arguably the most important athlete ever to compete in your chosen field – there are going to be a few ups and downs. In light of that and by way of career retrospective for a guy who absolutely deserves one, after the jump we give you our picks for the five greatest and five worst moments in the MMA career of Randy Couture, presented here in chronological order …
Couture kills The Phenom at UFC 15 (10/17/97)
It’s still pretty hilarious to think that among the attributes the UFC flashed on the screen to describe a 20-year-old (and in retrospect obviously roided-to-the-gills) Vitor Belfort leading up to this fight was the phrase “No Known Weaknesses.” The kid’s previous four fights in the Octagon had lasted a combined 3:04 and it was clear the company was grooming him for whatever limited stardom the sport could muster at the time. Unfortunately, for the first of many occasions, Randy Couture screwed all that up.
Couture took Belfort into what 1997 considered to be very deep water, exposing his pathetically deficient cardio and a crippling personality flaw that essentially went on to define the rest of “The Phenom’s” career – if Belfort can’t beat you during the first five minutes, he can’t beat you. In reality, this fight lasted just 8:16 (less than two full rounds in 2011 time) but it launched Couture on his first step to superstardom while putting Belfort on the fast track to mediocrity. Since Couture (rightly) felt the UFC brought him in to lose to its golden boy, it also sowed the seeds for his future distrust of the bosses.
In his next fight Couture won the UFC heavyweight title from Maurice Smith and then promptly signed with Vale Tudo Japan. He didn’t fight in the Octagon again until 2000.
Couture vs. Liddell I at UFC 43 (6/6/03)
Once again, it was easy to get the impression the UFC brought Couture in to lose to the guy it really wanted as champ. You have to wonder what Randy was thinking after his no frills entrance to the cage gave way to “The Iceman’s” minutes-long video introduction where the UFC blasted the metal version of “Ice Ice Baby” and flashed a number of adjectives up on the big screen it apparently felt described Liddell … one of which was the word “intolerant.” Yeah, pretty sure that word doesn’t mean what they thought it meant.
Once again, Couture screwed up the UFC’s plans, pretty much beating Liddell from pillar to post both on the feet and on the ground. At one point he jacked Liddell’s hips up higher than the top of the cage (in what stands as one of the best takedowns in UFC history) and ultimately made Chuck look like he didn’t want any more en route to a third-round TKO. In doing so, Couture won the interim light heavyweight championship, became the first UFC fighter to win a title in two different weight classes and served notice that he should probably not be underestimated again.
Couture snaps Tito Ortiz’s streak of five consecutive light heavyweight title defenses at UFC 44 (9/26/03)
After a bout between frienemies Liddell and Ortiz failed to materialize in early 2003, Ortiz spent nearly a year away from the cage while still officially holding onto his status as UFC 205-pound champion (not to mention all-around badass). When the UFC finally coaxed him back into the Octagon it was for a “champion vs. champion” unification bout with Couture. Who knows why he thought that was a better idea. At UFC 44, Couture thoroughly dominated him over five rounds, which ended with Couture standing over Ortiz, literally spanking his ass to become undisputed champion.
The loss broke Ortiz’s three-and-a-half year undefeated streak, for all intents and purposes signaled the end of his career as a relevant fighter and caused Joe Rogan to provide the UFC with one of its most overused sound bites when he shrieked, “That guy is my hero!” as Couture emerged victorious.
Couture participates in “The Ultimate Fighter,” season 1 (2005)
While Couture was busy losing, then reclaiming the 205-pound title from Belfort in 2004, Liddell went 1-1 in the Pride middleweight grand prix and then came back stateside to defeat Ortiz and Vernon “Tiger” White. This, the UFC assured everyone, obviously made him the No. 1 contender. As quickly as it could, it booked Couture and Liddell as coaches on the inaugural season of “TUF,” which at the time was just a crazy scheme that every exec in TV Land passed on at least once.
As you know, the show was a breakout hit, spawning season after season of tiresome do-overs and launching both Couture and Liddell into the full thrust of their mainstream stardom. It also paved the way for the final two bouts of their trilogy. Even though Couture went on to lose both future bouts to Liddell, it is still perhaps MMA’s defining feud.
Couture whips Tim Sylvia’s ass at UFC 68 (3/3/07)
Depending on which side you were on, this was either the most badass thing your ever saw or the most humiliating. Couture returned from his first retirement in the spring of ’07 and requested that the UFC move him back to heavyweight, assumedly because he thought Sylvia was such a sorry excuse for a champion. After 13 months away from the cage and fighting a man who outweighed him by 40.5 pounds at the official weigh-in, Couture began this fight with an inside leg kick-overhand right combo that floored Sylvia and pretty much kept his boot on the giant’s throat for the full 25 minutes. Just as he’d done with Liddell, Couture discombobulated the striker with takedowns and awkward stand-up combinations, sprouting a huge mouse over Sylvia’s left eye and – when you think about it – kind of ending the guy’s life. Big fella was never the same after.
“Not bad for an old man,” Couture quipped during his post fight interview. After that, UFC video editors’ jobs were done for the next four years.
Best honorable mention: That one time when he totally beat up James Toney? That was pretty good, too.
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