Gregory Payan / AP
Sunday, Aug. 29, 2010 | 1:59 a.m.
BOSTON — A heavyweight title fight at UFC 118 showed everyone that professional boxer James Toney still has a lot to learn in mixed martial arts.
It also demonstrated that, at 47, Randy Couture might know just about everything there is to know.
Moments after submitting Toney by arm triangle in the first round of their co-main event fight Saturday, Couture received a black belt under grappling coach Neil Melanson.
Although Couture said he was surprised when Melanson draped the black belt around his neck, it’s no secret his grappling has improved.
After posting just two submission wins in his first 17 wins, Couture has choked out the last two opponents he’s faced.
“That was a big surprise,” Couture said of receiving his belt. “I’ve been working with Neal for a couple years, and it’s really changed my mindset on the way I approach my ground game.”
The win Couture (19-10) posted over Toney (0-1) at the Boston TD Garden this weekend likely won’t go down as one of his greatest fights.
But it is an example as to why Couture has been so successful, especially this late in his career.
Staying true to his reputation of coming up with fool-proof game plans, Couture took away even the few weapons Toney brought with him to his MMA debut.
Although Toney was listed as a 5-to-1 underdog in the fight, there was always that slight chance that the hard-hitting boxer could clip Couture in the right spot and turn it into a fight.
So what did Couture do? He went through his bag of tricks and found an old takedown technique he calls the "low single leg," which kept his head far out of Toney’s reach.
“I had to pull out the low single leg and dust it off,” Couture said. “It’s pretty hard to counter punch. I knew that I would have to be within arm's reach to hit a double leg, but I thought I could get to his feet and put him on his butt with that single leg.”
The takedown technique is basically a heel-hook, as Couture described it, where the fighter shoots from a long distance and takes his opponent’s feet out from under him.
It’s a shot not usually tried in MMA, because even the most novice wrestlers can sprawl and defend it.
But, apparently, novice is two levels above what Couture considers Toney.
“That’s why you don’t see a lot of people shoot like that,” Couture said. “You have to get pretty low and a good wrestler is going to come out of that. But I didn’t think James would have an answer.”
With a record of 3-2 in his last five fights and two of those wins coming against a 45-year-old Mark Coleman and a 42-year-old Toney, it’s hard to know where to place Couture in the UFC landscape.
Even the MMA legend seems unsure of his goals at times.
Although there are cases in which Couture says he sees himself fighting light heavyweight champion Mauricio "Shogun" Rua in the near future, there are others where he admits he’s not concerned about wins and losses at all.
But even against an opponent like Toney with zero mixed martial arts fights, Couture found a way to turn a guaranteed win into a downright impressive performance this weekend.
And when he does things like that, it’s hard not to wonder what tricks the guy still has left up his sleeve.
“The 205-pound division is kind of in limbo right now,” said UFC President Dana White. “Getting Couture back in the division will be a good thing. One thing I keep on saying, he’s still one of the best light heavyweights in the world.”