Wednesday, March 24, 2010 | 2:05 a.m.
Sean Bollinger gets his blackbelt
Many Tuff-N-Uff events have been titled "The Future Stars of MMA," but Friday's fights at The Orleans promise to live up to that hype more than any other.
The event, which starts at 7 p.m., features Ryan Couture's (5-1) last amateur bout, when he takes on Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu prodigy Sean Bollinger (1-0) for the vacant 155-pound Tuff-N-Uff championship.
"My goal was to make it as a pro, so I've been trying to gauge where I am with each passing fight," said Couture, who has won his last four fights by submission. "After the last couple, I've felt like I was at that level."
Despite Couture's pedigree as the son of UFC Hall of Fame fighter Randy Couture, the 27-year-old didn't initially think he would become a professional fighter.
"If you had asked me two-and-a-half to three years ago if I'd ever fight for a living, I would have laughed and said no way," he said.
Ryan Couture earned a degree in mathematics from Western Washington University in 2004 and moved to Las Vegas in 2008 to work at his father’s business, Xtreme Couture.
Working at one of the premier MMA gyms in the world ignited his passion for the sport soon, which soon surpassed his interest in the business.
"I realized that I really had a love for the competition aspect of fighting and that was something I wanted to pursue more so than the business side of general operations," he said.
Couture quickly developed into a dangerous fighter, thanks in part to the resources at his disposal.
"I've been fortunate to train at a comparable level to the professionals, thanks to my job situation," he said.
“If I can make it through a round and have something even so small against guys like Gray Maynard, Tyson Griffin, Martin Kampmann, Mike Pyle, if I can feel like I belong on the same training surface as those guys, then I’m a step ahead of the game compared to most people starting out in amateur fighting,” Couture added.
Bollinger, however, is one of those few amateurs with an equally as impressive background.
Despite having only one amateur MMA fight to his name, Bollinger is a seasoned grappler with a highly unorthodox style.
The 22-year-old became the second person ever to earn a black belt from California's 10th Planet Jiu Jitsu when famed Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu instructor Eddie Bravo awarded him the honor in January.
"I've been training with Eddie for about six years now," Bollinger said. "I guess he liked my creativity and the stuff that I added on to his method of competing."
To earn the black belt, the Moreno Valley, Calif., native not only had to master Bravo's technical style of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, he had to expand it.
Bollinger created advanced new techniques from Bravo's rubber guard position that are now being used by high-level practitioners around the world.
"It's a series of techniques I developed because of my abnormal flexibility," he said. "It's the evolution of the rubber guard."
But Bollinger wants to establish a different legacy.
"I don't want to make that my trademark. I don’t want to be known for just making up a move in the rubber guard," Bollinger said. "I want to be known for being the 155-pound champ."
The 15-fight card also features a match for the 145-pound championship when Vince Norcia takes on Andrew Alirez in the final of the Tuff-N-Uff 145-pound tournament.
But the four-woman 115-pound tournament featuring Gabriella Lakoczky (0-1) versus Rachel Nelson (1-0) and Ashley Cummins (3-0) versus Sarah Goodlaxson (2-0) may steal the show.
"They add a very unique aspect to the sport, and I think they will really pump the crowd up," said Tuff-N-Uff President Barry Meyer. "There's actually a lot of people we've talked to and surveyed that might not be as much MMA fans as they are female MMA fans."