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Randy Couture’s Greatest Hits: A history of defying the odds

Lead-up to UFC 129 bout against Lyoto Machida follows similiar script

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UFC

Randy Couture throws a punch towards Tim Sylvia during their heavyweight championship bout on March 3, 2007. Couture won the fight by unanimous decision, marking the third world title of his career.

Randy Couture Timeline

  • 1997: Captures UFC heavyweight tournament title by winning two fights in one night at UFC 13 and takes heavyweight belt later in the year with a win over Maurice Smith.
  • 1998-1999: Leaves the UFC to compete in Japanese promotions, where he goes 0-2. This is followed by a slight break to focus on wrestling and a shot at the 2000 Olympics.
  • 2000: Wins back UFC heavyweight title with third round TKO over Kevin Randleman.
  • 2001: Goes 3-1 in mixed martial arts for the year. Successfully defends title twice against Pedro Rizzo, but suffers a submission loss in less than a minute to Valentijn Overeem in Tokyo show.
  • 2002: Loses championship to Josh Barnett, who later tests positive for banned substances. Gets a shot to win his belt back but can't beat Ricco Rodriguez and endures second 0-2 year.
  • 2003: Goes down as arguably Couture's greatest year in mixed martial arts. Not only does he score a TKO over Chuck Liddell, but he follows it with a unanimous decision win over favored Tito Ortiz to win light heavyweight title.
  • 2004: Suffers a fluke injury to Vitor Belfort in title defense, forcing him to lose via TKO in the first round. Once healthy, he turns around and beats Belfort by TKO to regain 205-pound division belt.
  • 2005: Loses to Chuck Liddell in the rematch with a first round knockout. Turns around to submit Mike Van Arsdale by submission at UFC 54.
  • 2006: Brief retirement follows second Chuck Liddell defeat.
  • 2007: Rivals 2003 for the best of his career. He scores decisive victories over Tim Sylvia and Gabriel Gonzaga, the current names at the top of the heavyweight class and wins fifth title.
  • 2008: Appears in the final of his record 15 title fights against Brock Lesnar at UFC 91. Lesnar scores a TKO in the second round and Couture takes the rest of the year off to recover from injury and film "The Expendables".
  • 2009: Drops heavyweight contest to Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira at UFC 102, but rebounds with light heavyweight win against Brandon Vera at UFC 105.
  • 2010: Scores two submission victories in two fights. He beats Mark Coleman in the second round of their UFC 109 bout and finishes James Toney three minutes into the UFC 118 co-Main Event.

Randy Couture's Greatest Hits

Randy Couture talks about some of his greatest fights.

Randy Couture Workout

Randy Couture catches his breath after a workout Thursday, April 21, 2011 in preparation for what he says will be his final fight April 30 at UFC 129. Launch slideshow »

Randy Couture Fights

Randy Couture works out in preparation for his upcoming fight against James Toney Friday,  August 20, 2010. Launch slideshow »

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TORONTO — Randy Couture could conceivably never open his mouth during a press conference and still address what everyone wanted to hear at this point. All he’d have to do is press "play" on a recorder with the audio from one of his many pre-fight media appearances in the past.

The theme from most of Couture’s fights during his 14-year career has been exactly the same. He’s the old legend challenging a younger hotshot who’s billed as quicker, stronger, faster or all of the above.

It’s so common that the 47-year old Couture can’t remember when he wasn’t fielding questions about his age and how it might play into a bout.

“It was almost from the beginning,” said Couture, who was 34 when he made his mixed martial arts debut at the UFC 13 heavyweight tournament in 1997.

It started that way, and it’s going to end that way. Couture, who has announced he will fight for the last time on Saturday’s UFC 129 card at Rogers Centre, spent Wednesday afternoon at Direct Energy Centre speaking about his legacy, while praising everything about the style of his final opponent, Lyoto Machida.

Like so many of Couture’s octagon foes over the years, Machida is a heavy favorite at nearly 4-to-1 in Las Vegas sports books. The 32-year-old Brazilian was 16-0, the UFC light heavyweight champion and the talk of the MMA world less than two years ago. Although Machida has lost two in a row since, he’s still seen as one of the top fighters in the 205-pound weight division.

“I think this plays an important part not only in history to be the last guy to fight Randy Couture,” Machida said through a translator, “but I think this plays a big part in my career to have a legend like Randy on my résumé.”

Machida means nothing but respect to Couture, but his comments mirror what all competitors have said about facing “The Natural.” That it’s an honor, a dream or a résumé-booster.

Fighters have never spoke of Couture striking fear in them or anointed him a pound-for-pound king like Georges St. Pierre or Jose Aldo, the headliners of UFC 129.

That suits Couture just fine. Regardless of Saturday’s outcome, Couture will ultimately be remembered for time and time again shocking UFC fans by pulling out victories that were never supposed to be his.

UFC 31: May 4, 2001, Atlantic City, N.J.

The UFC was undergoing its first major transformation, as UFC 31 was only the second event under the ownership of Zuffa, the company created by Dana White and Lorenzo and Frank Fertitta.

Uncertainty reigned at the time, but it seemed the organization had an up-and-coming star ready to rise to the top of the heavyweight division. His name was Pedro Rizzo, a 26-year old kick-boxing specialist from Rio de Janeiro.

Rizzo was 11-1 with eight of his victories coming via first-round stoppage. A win over the 37-year-old Couture would make Rizzo the first heavyweight to win the belt in the Zuffa age of UFC.

“He was their golden boy, signed to an extended deal, and this old bastard, if you will, beat him in a decision,” Couture said. “They were kind of stuck with me.”

In a fight still considered one of the best of all time, Couture took everything Rizzo had and ground out a unanimous-decision victory. Since some considered the decision controversial, UFC granted Rizzo an immediate rematch at UFC 34.

Couture knew what to expect the second time and left no doubt. He finished Rizzo with a TKO win early in the third round.

“There’s no doubt the first Pedro fight was the toughest I’ve ever been in,” Couture said. “A back-and-forth, five-round battle.”

UFC 43: June 6, 2003, Las Vegas

This is not the way anyone wanted to enter a bout against UFC light heavyweight king Chuck Liddell.

Coming off of his two Rizzo wins, Couture had supposedly started to show his age. He lost two straight bouts by stoppage to Josh Barnett and Ricco Rodriguez, respectively, and not much evidence supported a matchup with Liddell going any differently.

“Everyone was sure I was on my way out, including a lot of family members” Couture said. “They were like, ‘Hey, it might be time to do something else.’”

It was under these circumstances that Couture pulled his biggest upset of all time. Not only did Couture beat Liddell, who had won 10 straight entering the bout, but he did it in a way no one expected.

Couture out-boxed and pummeled Liddell, one of the UFC’s top strikers. Couture scored a TKO victory in the third round, marking the first time Liddell had ever lost by knockout.

“Chuck was decimating guys, knocking guys out,” Couture said. “I just had to make friends with that. I realized that, look, everyone was so timid and scared to stand out at the range where he can just find them. I was like, to hell with that. That’s not my style. I’m a wrestler. I’m going to go out and try to hit him first.”

UFC 68: March 3, 2007, Columbus, Ohio

Couture briefly retired in 2006 after Liddell got revenge and beat him in two subsequent matchups. But his time away ultimately set up a triumph some still consider more improbable than the first Liddell win.

According to most people, the massive heavyweight champion Tim Sylvia was due to send Couture right back to retirement. Some fans even suggested that the 43-year-old Couture was risking his long-term health by stepping into the octagon with Sylvia, who at 31 was in his prime.

Couture weighed in at 222 pounds. Sylvia was 263 pounds.

“As big as he was, and he had been pretty dominant in the heavyweight division for a while,” Couture said, “it was one of those deals where I just knew I could beat him.”

Couture did more than beat Sylvia. He dominated and embarrassed him.

Standing up, Couture landed more strikes. When the fight went to the ground, the smaller Couture controlled Sylvia the whole way. All three judges scored all five rounds in favor of Couture, giving him a unanimous-decision victory and fifth UFC championship.

Couture turned around and defended the title as an underdog against 27-year-old Gabriel Gonzaga four months later.

“At that stage of my career, 42 or 43 years old, nobody expected me to be able to hang with those guys,” he said. “It worked out in my favor.”

UFC 129: April 30, 2011, Toronto

Couture arrives at the biggest card in UFC history on a three-fight win streak.

He says he feels as fresh as ever and considers himself a better fighter than the one who toppled giants like Liddell and Sylvia. But can Couture really beat Machida? Is this the time age catches up?

Machida is hyped as too elusive and too unorthodox for Couture. They sound like the same concerns that have followed Couture at every stop.

“The guy just never ends,” UFC President Dana White said.

“Couture is the master of going out there and figuring out a game plan to beat anybody with any style.”

Case Keefer can be reached at 948-2790 or [email protected]. Follow Case on Twitter at twitter.com/casekeefer.

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