The Champion’s Catharsis

By Mike Sloan Jan 25, 2008
It's been a rollercoaster ride for Randy Couture (Pictures) since he voiced his intention to leave the UFC.

Despite the turmoil that has enveloped him, Couture has focused on doing something good recently with a new hobby that doesn't involve pummeling an opponent in a cage.

In his spare time since exiting the UFC, Couture took up poker and recently assembled a successful charity event to raise money for American GIs. "Operation: All In" had more than 130 participants signed up to play poker with professional card sharks, fighters and other celebrities. Couture hoped to raise more than $60,000 that would go toward his GI foundation.

Before the event he took lessons with Jamie Gold, a champion poker player, and joked that he fully expected to get his behind kicked. Couture was also amazed at how much skill is involved in high-level poker.

"On the outside, from a cursory look, you'd think that playing this game would be luck," said Couture, who is also planning a similar event in spring at the Hard Rock Hotel pool. "But I think definitely there's some strategy. As the cards were being dealt at our practice table, Jamie was giving me the lowdown on not only how many chips were in the pot but also the ratio it was going to cost him to play that particular hand and how many cards were still left in the deck that could potentially affect his hand or his opponent's hand to make his hand either playable or unplayable. There's definitely a strategy involved as there are certain things they look for, the look on their opponents' faces, the position they sit at the table, where the dealer sits, where the blinds are, etcetera. I was blown away."

The jovial Couture was easily read, though. He was in a festive mood preparing for his afternoon to help military men and women, but it was visible that he had been worn out with the UFC contract situation and the continual questions from various media outlets.

Couture shrugged his shoulders, let out a brief sigh and said that it has been a trying time in his career. He was wishing for a smooth transition out of his contract but acknowledged that before he officially stepped away from Zuffa, he knew his resignation "wouldn't be easy."

"I am just trying to wait out my contract since I cannot breach the contract I signed with them," Couture said. "It runs out in July for the fighting contract and then October for the employment contract, and from there I'll pursue a way to make that Fedor fight happen."

Clearly it's a fight that the vast majority of the MMA world would love to witness, but it certainly seems like a pipedream. Since the conclusion of the charity poker event, which raised more than $93,000, it appears less likely that the mega bout will take place this year. Whatever modicum of hope there was for a Couture-Emelianenko battle in 2008 further put into question when Zuffa sued Couture for allegedly breaching terms of a deal he had with the MMA promoter.

Asked about a potential scrap with former PRIDE heavyweight monarch Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira (Pictures), a man some believe is the second best heavyweight ever, Couture admitted it would be a true test of skill and determination, but it's not the showdown he covets.

"I have a lot of respect for Nogueira," he stated. "I've watched him fight a lot, and he fought Danny Henderson twice, who is one of my training partners and a longtime friend. But in my mind, at this stage in my career, the only fight that makes sense is the one with Fedor. I want to fight the best guy and I want to settle the debate as to who is the best heavyweight in the world right now: me or him."

It's Fedor or bust for Couture, who broke his left arm again in training before his charity event while checking a head kick. The injury will force him out of training for six weeks. Still, he said he'll be in perfect condition come autumn provided he will be able to meet Fedor in either a ring or a cage.

If the fight can't happen, Couture said he'd probably retire.

"I think that'll be my last fight," he said. "I'll fight Fedor and whatever happens, happens in that fight. I'll be done fighting for good after that fight. It's the only fight I want. If it can't be made for whatever reasons there may be, well, I don't know. It's the only fight that I want -- nobody else."

Tackling the Zuffa lawsuit might not be a walk in the park for the multiple world champion, but it's a battle he'll try to wage like all the others in his celebrated career.

Couture has defied the odds before. If his fighting career is indicative of things to come, somewhere down the line Couture might just be locking horns with a Russian recognized as the top heavyweight in the world.
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