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UFC:

Couture ready for return to Octagon

UFC legend laughs off trash talk in preparation for Lesnar fight

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Steve Marcus

Mixed martial arts fighter Randy Couture smiles after a workout at the Xtreme Couture gym on November 5, 2008. Couture is widely considered the most influential fighter in UFC history because of his accomplishments in the Octagon and mainstream popularity.

UFC: Randy Couture

Randy Couture is back in the gym after a year away from the Octagon to prepare for his upcoming bout with Brock Lesnar.

Couture prepares for Lesnar

Mixed martial arts fighter Randy Couture, bottom, wrestles with Brice Ritani of New Zealand during an open workout at the Xtreme Couture gym on Wednesday, November 5, 2008. Couture fights Brock Lesnar in an Ultimate Fighting Championship heavyweight championship fight November 15 at the MGM Grand Garden Arena. Launch slideshow »

Beyond the Sun

Randy Couture’s been labeled an old man for so long he can’t remember when he was considered a young fighter.

“That stuff just makes me smile,” said a smiling Couture, during an interview this week at his Xtreme Couture gym. “Come next Saturday night, all that talk doesn’t make any difference. The guy who goes out and implements his game plan and forces his will on the other guy is going to walk away with the victory that night.”

But Couture — who hasn’t fought for more than a year because of a legal issues with the UFC — said the storylines and challenges his opponent, former WWE sensation Brock Lesnar, provides are more unconventional than most of his matches.

“He’s an explosive guy and obviously a very big guy,” said Couture (16-8 overall MMA record) of his Nov. 15 showdown against Lesnar (2-1) at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas.

“He’s a good athlete and he’s got a similar background as me, which makes it intriguing as we are both wrestlers. But I don’t think he has one thing that other fights don’t possess.

“He’s certainly no bigger than Tim (Sylvia) or some of the other guys I’ve competed against and in some ways doesn’t have as many skill sets as they have.”

Not so fast says Lesnar, who won the 2000 NCAA heavyweight championship while wrestling at the University of Minnesota.

“Randy’s fought big guys, but they don’t know how to wrestle. Randy knows that, too,” Lesnar said. “The bigger guys that Randy has fought in Tim (Sylvia) and (Gabriel) Gonzaga aren’t half the athletes that I am as a wrestler, or as a fighter I think.”

And Lesnar — who's coming off his first UFC win, a unanimous decision over Heath Herring in August — said he’s been sharpening all his MMA skills in preparation for the veteran Couture.

“I just can’t rely on my wrestling skills,” he said. “In this day and age you have to be well-rounded in your fight game.

“We’ve covered every aspect of his game. We don’t avoid situations because anything can happen in a fight. We’ve learned how to control them.”

But controlling them against an experienced fighter like Couture could be a difficult situation. Lesnar certainly knows that first hand, having been submitted by a knee bar from Frank Mir in his first UFC fight.

Couture said his many years in the sport creates certain situations that you just can’t plan or train for, an advantage that could give him the victory.

“I’ve been exactly where Brock’s at. I’ve made that same transition that’s he been in for the last three fights. I know the pitfalls, the frustration with not having the striking, not knowing the submissions as well as you want to know them,” Couture said.

“I think it’s a big five-round fight, which is a little different than a three-round fight. I think those are all advantages that I bring to this conflict.”

UFC president Dana White said he’s most intrigued by the wrestling aspect of the bout because both fighters are such accomplished collegiate wrestlers.

“Anybody who knows this sport knows that the most important base you can have is wrestling. If you look at any of the guys that have done extremely well, their base is wrestling,” White said. “Brock has a great base and I was just blown away by his performance against Heath Herring. After seeing him with Heath, I think he is ready to take on anyone.”

So too is Lesnar, he said. While Lesnar offered compliments and respect Couture’s way, he said his sole goal is to become the UFC’s heavyweight champ.

“I have the utmost respect for Randy, as I have had for the guys I’ve previously fought. But Randy has something that I dearly want. From Day 1 of signing with this company, I’ve said I want to be the heavyweight champion,” Lesnar said.

But Couture’s wife, Kim, says the “old dog” or self-described “underdog” has at least a couple more tricks left in him.

“Yeah, he loves being the underdog,” she said. “He’s always been the old guy. They make fun of his age or talk about his age. He just thrives off that.”

Andy Samuelson is a sports writer/editor for the Las Vegas Sun. He can be reached at [email protected] or 702-948-7837.

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