On the UFC 129 conference call today, Randy Couture reiterated that his upcoming bout against Lyoto Machida would be his last venture into the cage. Granted, this would be far from the first time the revered and respected Hall of Famer has called it quits. But if an accumulation of years has any bearing on such things – and “The Natural” has accumulated 47 of them, which in “fighter years” would make him about 106 years old – the chances are good that this one might stick. So what can be said of Couture that hasn’t already been examined in countless interviews and articles, a biography, and nearly two dozen UFC fights? Not much. But a brief retrospective of his greatest hits sure wouldn’t hurt!
- The UFC 13 Tournament: With a ton of wrestling skill but not much else, Couture made his initial foray into the Octagon a memorable one by sweeping a four-man heavyweight tournament despite being much smaller than his opponents. Of course, he choked out a pro wrestler and TKO’d a fighter that ended up going nowhere, but at the time, the feat was huge.
- Couture vs. Vitor Belfort, UFC 15: Take it from someone who was there, in 1997 Belfort was one of the most promising, most feared dudes in the sport. That why, when UFC 15 rolled around, it seemed like Couture was a Christian being fed to the lions of the Coliseum in Ancient Rome. Boy was that not the case! Employing heretofore unseen boxing skills, Couture out-struck the unstoppable striker, and pounded out what was an epically surprising TKO win.
- Couture vs. Maurice Smith, UFC Ultimate Japan: Regrettably, this fight ended up being a disappointment, as Couture chose not to stand with the dangerous kickboxer and instead chose to invent “lay and pray”. But what is notable is that, as Smith was the champ going into the bout, the Natural was the UFC’s new heavyweight king by the end of the night.
- Couture vs. Kevin Randleman, UFC 28: Contract issues may have resulted in Couture leaving the UFC and his belt behind, but he reclaimed it in dramatic fashion when he squared off against Randleman. At the time, Randleman was about 10% human and 95% wrestling monster. Couture got him down and smashed him anyway.
- Couture vs. Pedro Rizzo, UFC 31 and UFC 34: In his first title defense, Couture came very close to losing to the ultra-tough, ultra-deadly Rizzo at UFC 31. He didn’t though, and eked out a very close decision. The rematch came a few months later, and Couture left no doubt this time, dominating from early on and crushing the Brazilian in the third.
- Couture vs. Chuck Liddell, UFC 43: After two losing performances in the heavyweight division, Couture reinvented himself at a light-heavyweight, and in his first time at bat took on – and took out – the best 205-pound fighter on the UFC’s roster. Few gave Couture a chance against Liddell going in, but afterwards all were believers.
- Couture vs. Tito Ortiz, UFC 44: Defeating “The Iceman” earned Couture an interim light-heavyweight belt. But as champ Ortiz was far less dangerous than Liddell, it was almost as if Couture had already overcome the tougher obstacle. And in their UFC 44 bout, Couture proved that to be true by toying with Ortiz for five straight rounds. When time expired, the belts were unified, and the Natural was again at the top of the heap.
- Couture vs. Tim Sylvia, UFC 68: Another retirement and another comeback fight, this one against the towering Sylvia. The then-43-year old Couture controlled the action for all five rounds, humiliating the champ and snatching the coveted gold strap from him in clear and convincing fashion. Age? What’s that?
- Couture vs. James Toney, UFC 118: World champion pro boxer Toney talked a big game to get into the UFC, and unfortunately for him, his wish was granted. Just as he had done at UFC 13, Couture took his foe down, molested him and choked him out. Couture has long been considered the elder statesman of the sport. It was only fitting that he be given this “easy” match-up. After all his years of hard work, he’d certainly earned it.