If you read the previous installment to this series (B.J. Penn and How MMA Records, Thankfully, Don’t Define a Career) you may have an idea where this is going. If not, get comfy in whatever seat you may be resting in, and grab a cold one, while we explore why the legend that is Randy Couture is greater than the sum of his unspectacular record.
In the last few years many sports pundits have written articles and recorded podcasts on what would be a given sports “Mount Rushmore of Top Athletes.” Mixed Martial-Arts (MMA) is no exception to these in-depth, and fun, discussions. And in many cases, Randy “The Natural” Couture has been included in numerous lists for this fictional honor.
The Lynnwood, Washington native’s 19-11 record is not what would be considered overly impressive,at first glance. This is not to say it isn’t a good record. To have a career record of 19-11, when all but six of those fights took place in Ultimate Fighting Championship, is evidence of a successful run in the sport. It is all the more impressive that he even had 30 pro-fights when you consider he didn’t start his career until the age of 34. But what makes this 19-11 record go from being good, to being great, is all in the details.
“The Naturals” bout history reads as a who’s-who list of several key eras in MMA history. There are UFC Hall of Famers and former world champions. However, there are many names—while not familiar to casual fans or recent inductees to the sport—that were elite at the time the Couture mixed it up with them.
The reason why this is significant is because it indicates, that in his storied run in the industry, Couture rarely had a “gimme opponent.” To emphasize the diversity of his distinguished index of foes, I’ve separated them into a hierarchy of difficulty.
Chuck Liddell – The pair fought on three occasions with the “Iceman” winning the series. Though he did not win the trilogy, having fought one of the scariest men of his era and a UFC hall of famer three times is notable.
Tito Ortiz – Along with Liddell, Ortiz is the second of three UFC hall of famers Couture faced in his career. “Captain America” was victorious and left a lasting impression on many fans minds by literally and figuratively spanking “The Huntington Beach Bad” in the bout.
Vitor Belfort – Belfort is similar to Couture in that he has had great success later in his career (however “enhanced” it may be). They fought three times with Randy winning the series. Vitor’s lone win came via doctor stoppage over a cut Couture received 49 seconds into the fight.
Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira – “Big Nog” is often viewed as the second best heavyweight ever behind Fedor Emelianenko, and in front of Couture. The two matched up in a 2009 classic that showcased the last bits left of what made them legends. “Nog” won a unanimous decision.
Stars of an Era
Pedro Rizzo – In his time Rizzo was a man that gave other heavyweights cold sweats. He was a devastating striker with both his hands and feet in a period when that was unheard for a heavyweight. Couture beat him both times they fought and finished him with strikes in the rematch.
Josh Barnett – Barnett—one of the most respected and durable heavyweights of the last 10 years—won their title clash in 2002. Unfortunately, what was supposed to be a passing of the torch moment got wiped away when Barnett tested positive for three different steroids after the bout.
Kevin Randleman – During the late 90’s, the recently deceased, Randleman was the rare freak athlete in the sport. His mix of high-level wrestling and ferocious speed made him a nightmare opponent, and a star. Couture won by TKO in the third.
Lyoto Machida – “The Dragon” is a former 205 pound champion and one of the most talented strikers of the last decade. Machida sent Couture into retirement by knocking out one of his teeth and finishing him in the second. But the match-up showed, even at the end, Couture wanted to challenge himself by fighting the best.
Brock Lesnar – Lesnar was cut from a similar cloth as Kevin Randleman: high-level wrestling and ferocious speed in a freakishly athletic package. Lesnar got the win an became one of the biggest names in the sport. It’s what happens when you can beat a living-legend in your fourth fight.
No Easy Night
Mark Coleman – At the time of their fight, Coleman was far removed from his prime. But the third UFC hall of famer in this story was still not a man to take lightly. And this battle of two all-time greats of the industry ended with a “Natural” submission win.
Jeremy Horn – Fast fact: Jeremey Horn is 91-23. That is not a misprint, he has 91 professional wins! In a nearly 20-year career Horn is the thesis of a durable and successful fighter. While holding a clear size advantage, Couture defeated Horn in just his seventh fight. It was Horn’s 58th.
Names like Ricco Rodriguez, Maurice Smith, Tim Sylvia, Enson Inoue, and Gabriel Gonzaga will be over shadowed in the annals of MMA history by more famous names. But all of these men were some of the very best, and most dangerous, heavyweight fighters in the world when they met Randy Couture in the cage. For the entirety of Couture’s career his bouts were marquee slots on a fight card. He was one of the best and only fought the best.
Not only did Couture battle the best the sport had to offer, he was innovative while doing it. His Greco-Roman wrestling background helped to usher in a unseen style of takedowns and grappling in the UFC. Instead of only shooting in for takedowns, he showed the sport that there were other wrestling techniques to get a man on his back.
His use of “dirty-boxing” was a strategic master stroke paired up with his wrestling skills. It was a style that made him impossible to deal with at times in the clinch, and a marvel for his advanced aged.
During his illustrious career Randy Couture took part in 15 title bouts. Further proof, that the phrase “warm-up fight” was never used in reference to the man. 19-11 isn’t an eye-opening mark to have for a final record. But when you have faced nothing but the elite a sport has to offer, you win some, and you will most assuredly lose some. But, thankfully, MMA records don’t define a career.
Main Photo: LAS VEGAS, NV – AUGUST 21: Randy Couture defeats Vitor Belfort to win the UFC Light Heavyweight Championship at UFC 49 at the MGM Grand Garden Arena on August 21, 2004 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)