Reflections of a Legend: Couture’s Top 10

By Mike Sloan Oct 12, 2007
If Randy Couture (Pictures) never fights in the UFC again, I'm fairly certain that the fight world would forgive him.

Couture is without question one of the greatest fighters to ever step foot into a cage or a ring, a man revered for his unfathomable victories when everything was stacked against him.

He has toppled -- handily, I might add -- a who's who of mixed martial artists, and he's done it repeatedly on the greatest stages in the sport. He's claimed and reclaimed world titles multiple times at both heavyweight and light heavyweight, and his accomplishments will never be questioned.

In the wake of Thursday's shocking news that Couture notified the UFC he no longer had an interest in holding their belt and also stepped down from commentating and ambassador roles in the company, let's take a look back at what I consider to be the 10 greatest fights of his career in the UFC, all of which helped create the legend that is Randy Couture (Pictures).

10) Couture vs. Vitor Belfort (Pictures) III, UFC 49
When Randy Couture (Pictures) climbed into the Octagon on the smoldering night of Aug. 21, 2004, "The Natural" was again trying to reclaim his lost title. In his previous outing, Couture had lost his light heavyweight belt to Belfort after a glancing punch and the threading of Belfort's glove lacerated his eye.

In the rubber match and main event of UFC 49, a large number of MMA "experts" figured that Couture had finally reached his peak and was about to become a steppingstone. Wow, were these experts just a little off target.

Couture dominated his younger, quicker and more athletic opponent and wound up pummeling Belfort so badly, so savagely that "The Phenom" had to be rescued by his corner after the third round. A battered, bloody and beleaguered Belfort had never before been so brutally punished.

The loss was so devastating that the Brazilian never regained the nightmarish fighting prowess that had made him such a dangerous fighter. In the end, Couture recaptured his 205-pound title and in essence ended Belfort's career as a legitimate threat.

9) Couture vs. Chuck Liddell (Pictures) II, UFC 52
This fight was a devastating loss on Couture's résumé and the first time he was knocked out. Of all the murderous strikers that he locked horns with, nobody had come close to snatching away his consciousness. For the first time in his career, Couture was a heavy favorite, not an underdog. After handling Liddell easily in their first encounter, most assumed he'd replicate that feat.

Unfortunately for Couture, that didn't occur. He was stopped in the first round, giving Liddell the light heavyweight title. The fight is memorable because it showed that after a remarkable string of inhuman accomplishments inside the Octagon, Couture was, after all, a human being.

The loss also allowed Couture the luxury of becoming "too old" and "too worn out" as a fighter. As everybody knows, this defeat let Couture prove us "experts" wrong again and again in the years to come. The bout was supposed to end Couture's reign as the king, but that never came close to reality.

8) Couture vs. Gabriel Gonzaga (Pictures), UFC 74
This was the last time the world saw the living legend inside the Octagon. As always Couture was picked by many to lose to the cliché. You know: younger, stronger, more powerful, quicker, blah, blah, blah.

Gonzaga was the sexy pick for media and fans everywhere solely because he had nearly decapitated the vaunted Mirko "Cro Cop" Filipovic with a crippling head kick. He was also known primarily as a Couture-type fighter in that nobody expected this sort of striking ability, especially against one of the greatest pure strikers in MMA.

Couture willingly accepted the challenge and whipped Gonzaga from start to finish. He badly hurt the larger heavyweight, scored numerous takedowns and bombarded him with the trademark Couture ground-and-pound en route to a third-round stoppage.

At 44, Couture held onto his heavyweight title and walked out as arguably the greatest fighter to ever step foot into the Octagon. What makes this fight so special is that Gonzaga will probably become a heavyweight champion. On this night, however, he was owned by a man almost old enough to qualify for a senior discount.

7) Couture vs. Vitor Belfort (Pictures) I, UFC 15
Couture had only fought twice professionally and was basically a pure wrestler. Sure he could land some strikes on the ground, and he seemed like a competent contender, but Vitor Belfort (Pictures) was regarded as the future. He was a young kid without a ceiling, and he had destroyed every man thrown in front of him. Tank Abbott, Scott Ferrozzo, Jon Hess and Tra Telligman (Pictures) were all obliterated, with the longest fight lasting a mere 77 seconds. Belfort seemed absolutely invincible.

As it turned out, the monumental underdog thwarted everything Belfort threw his way and systematically dismantled the Brazilian in just over eight minutes.

Couture smothered him. He battered him. He slammed him and rained down vicious elbows. It looked like a man versus a boy. Never before had a fighter so deadly as Belfort been handled so easily, and the win marked the first time in his career that Couture had proved the so-called pundits wrong. In reality, this was the dawn of Couture's legacy.

6) Couture vs. Pedro Rizzo (Pictures) II, UFC 34
After their torrid first encounter in which some insiders felt Rizzo deserved the victory, Couture slightly retooled his game plan and punished "The Rock" for just over two full rounds.

Rizzo couldn't land his legendary leg kicks for fear of being slammed onto his back. He also couldn't reel off his lethal punches, either, because Couture's defense and angles were giving the Brazilian knockout artist fits. Rizzo had never been beaten so soundly and so emphatically, and many wondered why their initial meeting was as close as it was.

Couture had figured out Rizzo and worn him down in his greatest masterpiece to date. He scored takedowns almost at will and delivered vicious elbows and punches from within Rizzo's guard, from side-control and from full-mount. Early in the third round, Rizzo was an exhausted and bludgeoned shell of the dangerous title challenger that had entered the cage.

In victory Couture erased any doubt as to who the best heavyweight in the sport was, at least in the UFC. Additionally, considering how poor Zuffa's previous card had been, he capped off an event that desperately needed his performance.

5) Couture vs. Kevin Randleman (Pictures), UFC 28
"The Monster" was supposed to be a fighter just like Couture -- except twice as explosive and twice as powerful. Couture seemed slow in comparison to Randleman, and though "The Natural" had earlier pummeled Belfort, he had also lost to opponents like Valentijn Overeem (Pictures), Enson Inoue and Mikhail Illoukhine (Pictures). Plus, those fights weren't even in the UFC, and many believed that Couture had already seen his best days.

Randleman was the prototypical killing machine, a disciple of Mark "The Hammer" Coleman, who was expected to be even better than his mentor. Of course Couture prevailed and left the taste of shoe soles in many a mouth.

Couture out-muscled and out-wrestled Randleman and when he needed to, he administered a Hammer-esque beating that The Monster, himself a former UFC champion, had little answer for. It seemed as though every time Randleman tried something, Couture had the perfect response. He scored takedowns, blocked strikes and smothered his muscular opponent from start to finish.

Along with his triumph over Belfort, Couture had squashed another young opponent expected to be a future star.

4) Couture vs. Tito Ortiz (Pictures), UFC 44
Ortiz was the defending light heavyweight champion. Even though Couture was fresh off a win over dangerous Chuck Liddell (Pictures), most predicted that the younger Ortiz, arguably the pound-for-pound king at the time, would outlast Couture and retain his title.

Couture had his own "interim" title, a belt that irked Ortiz. Tito promised to "punish" Couture and belittled him in his classic trash-talking pre-fight propaganda.

At first the fight was a chess match between two evenly matched men, and the bout appeared to be just a matter of who wanted the win more and whose stamina would prevail. Ortiz fought as hard as he ever had, but he was reduced to an ashamed and beaten former champion by night's end.

Couture figured out the game plan on how to topple the brash Ortiz and won going away, nabbing a unanimous decision. Near the end of the fifth round, a desperate Ortiz tried in vain to secure a leg lock, but the soon-to-be-champion Couture taunted him by tapping on his butt, making fun of the failed submission.

The win marked the first time in UFC history that a fighter had captured a world title in two separate weight classes. Couture, once thought to be a shot and old fighter, used his dominance of Ortiz to prove just the opposite.

Ortiz scored a few sizable wins down the road, though this was arguably the last time he entered the bout as one of the elite fighters of his generation. In a sense Couture ended that reign as well.

3) Couture vs. Chuck Liddell (Pictures) I, UFC 43
Couture had lost two consecutive fights, both by stoppage. Most experts thought he was done (see the trend here?), and since Liddell was on such a roll at the time with 10 straight wins over solid foes, Couture was a walking corpse in the eyes of many. Liddell was eventually going to land one of his lethal strikes on Couture's chin and send the washed-up fighter into exile.

Yeah, we'd heard that all before.

Couture, not known as much of a striker, boxed beautifully and kept Liddell guessing all fight long. "The Iceman" could do nothing against the shorter Couture and ate strike after strike after strike. Eventually Couture started scoring takedowns, and Liddell was unable to get back up. Opening up a relentless ground-and-pound attack, Couture stopped the seemingly unbeatable Liddell midway through the third round.

Couture won the "interim" light heavyweight title with the triumph, to date the biggest of his career. At the time it was a monumental upset and, shockingly, it wasn't the last time that Couture would enter the cage as a prohibitive underdog.

He set the blueprint for how to dominate Liddell, which a few fighters have followed, even after Liddell became one of the two most dominant 205-pounders in UFC history.

2) Couture vs. Pedro Rizzo (Pictures) 1, UFC 31
Without question, this is one of the five greatest fights of all time, at least in the UFC. For five rounds the two heavyweights unloaded literally every attack in their arsenal. Neither budged. They wanted this fight as badly as any two contenders before them, but it was Couture who squeaked past Rizzo for the heavyweight title.

The fight was all but over in the first when Couture delivered one of the most brutal ground-and-pound attacks during a five-minute stretch. Yet Rizzo somehow survived to return a beating on Couture in the second. Both rounds could have easily been scored 10-8, and after three it was a wonder how either man was still breathing. There were two rounds left, mind you. Rizzo battered Couture's legs so badly that they were black and blue for a month and "The Natural" had a difficult time walking.

The fight brought out the best in both men, and many have debated that possibly Rizzo should have won. The UFC treated MMA fans with a rematch three events later, in which Couture simply overwhelmed Rizzo via stoppage. But on this night, May 4, 2001, fans witnessed one of the greatest, most memorable wars of all time.

It was easily the most exciting fight of Couture's career and the first time he had to dig deep after nearly being stopped in the second. It was magnificence personified on both fighters' ends, but Couture had his hand raised. That fight was also the last time Rizzo was at the top of his game, and many believe Couture is the reason why.

1) Couture vs. Tim Sylvia (Pictures), UFC 68
Sure, Sylvia is not the greatest heavyweight of all time. He is not Fedor. He is not Cro Cop, Nogueira, Barnett or a prime Coleman. He was, however, the defending champion who had scored some huge wins over some big names.

Sylvia is a massive fighter with some of the most powerful strikes in the sport and with Couture returning after a year's retirement most considered him far beyond his prime. On the heels of a pedestrian win over journeyman Mike Van Arsdale (Pictures) and two brutal knockout losses to Liddell, Couture looked old and slow.

The Miletich-trained fighter was also almost impossible to take down. Since Couture would stand no chance of getting inside the lurching Sylvia's reach, he was a massive underdog. Yours truly proclaimed that Couture stood "zero chance" of beating Sylvia.

Well, 10 seconds into the fight, when Sylvia was crumbling to the canvas thanks to a Couture right hand, everybody knew he was doomed. That right hand was a microcosm of what was to come, which was an embarrassing beating over five rounds in which Sylvia was reduced to an amateur. Couture had never looked this vicious, this relentless. He stood toe to toe, took his foe down and even had Sylvia caught in a few submissions.

In the end, Couture proved why he is the perfect underdog. He displayed one of the greatest performances in heavyweight history, never looking like a man pushing his mid-40s as he outclassed the "younger, stronger, more powerful" opponent for the umpteenth time.

With the victory Couture became heavyweight champion again and solidified his status as the fighter who has scored the most remarkable and unthinkable victories this sport has ever seen.

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