File photo: Sherdog.com
Randy Couture has a glowing recommendation for UFC heavyweight champion Brock Lesnar, following a five-day training camp with the college wrestler-turned-fighter at his Death Clutch gym in Alexandria, Minn.
Lesnar, who meets UFC interim champion Shane Carwin at UFC 116 on July 3 in Las Vegas, was sidelined from the sport for a year after contracting a life-threatening intestinal infection that left him hospitalized for 11 days and required surgery. A major X-factor surrounding the 32-year-old South Dakotan’s return to the cage is how he’s buoyed back from the ordeal.
According to Couture, Lesnar hasn’t skipped a beat since his hiatus, and will likely be an even more polished fighter than the one who ran through former champion Frank Mir last year at UFC 100 in Las Vegas.
“I don’t think the year off has hurt him. He’s made the adjustments physically and dietarily,” said Couture, who is preparing for his own co-headlining bout against pro boxer James Toney at UFC 118 on Aug. 28 in Boston. “He’s back to 100 percent full strength and I think that having the downtime wasn’t a huge issue for him. He was back pretty quickly to being able to train. Technically, he’s probably learned more and is a better fighter than he was a year ago.”
Fans who watched a vignette of the mini-camp released jointly by Couture and Lesnar’s teams last week, probably noticed a leaner Lesnar than remembered. Lesnar’s battle with diverticulosis, where abnormally, inflamed pouches rupture and can create holes in the intestinal walls, forced the 2000 NCAA Div. I wrestling champion to abandon a meat-and-potatoes-heavy diet. Couture said the more lithe Lesnar is no less potent than his predecessor.
“He moves very well for a big guy and has tremendous horse power,” said Couture. “He’s had to make some dietary changes because of getting sick that has him leaner than he’s been, but he’s still in that 280-pound range. He probably won’t have to cut as much weight come fight time.”
Couture, who’s captured six UFC titles in his 13-year tenure in the sport, exchanged gym invitations with the reclusive fighter following Lesnar’s second-round TKO victory over the UFC hall of famer to capture the promotion’s heavyweight title at UFC 91 in November 2008. Noted for his strategic savvy in seemingly insurmountable matchups, Couture, who turns 47 on Tuesday, made the trip to the rural Minnesota town for one reason -- to learn.
“I think the whole reason I went out there was to see what they’re doing in their camp, what their strength and conditioning is like, what kind of partners and situations is he putting himself in to face another wrestler in Carwin,” said Couture, who looked for new methods to implement into his own regimen.
Couture said he kept an open mind and gave no criticisms to Lesnar or his campmates.
“It wasn’t about me going out there and training him or feeling like I’m going to contribute to helping him beat Carwin or any of that,” said Couture. “None of that went on…Obviously, there was some technical adjustments that could be made, but I wasn’t there to be a coach. I was there to be a workout partner.”
What the perennial fan favorite saw was a well-oiled camp tailored to fit Lesnar’s needs, though, that’s not to say there weren’t variances in the pair’s training habits. Couture said Lesnar runs his two-a-day sessions in the exact opposite order that he does back at his Xtreme Couture MMA gym in Las Vegas.
“He’s doing more of sparring and that type of training in the morning and doing more of his strength and conditioning and individual technical training in the afternoons and evenings,” said Couture. “I’m exactly the opposite.”
The four-time Olympic wrestling alternate said Lesnar’s training order is a personal preference that he doesn’t see hindering him at all.
“He’s obviously a guy with a different physique so the camp is set up differently,” said Couture. “For a guy with more muscle mass and (that is) larger, he has to train differently than I do. I can go longer and grind more and do some things that he doesn’t, which I found interesting…He’s tapering a little earlier than I would, but again, I think that’s our difference in body types. “
Lesnar’s learning curve continues to propel him past where a fighter with only five pro bouts and three years in the sport should be, said Couture.
“He continues to learn very quickly. For this camp, he’s refining his striking tactics and technique, as that could be a component of this fight with Carwin,” said Couture. “There’s no secret there that Carwin’s going to try and come out and knock your head off.”
Marty Morgan, who wrestled Couture on the college and international circuits, continues to oversee Lesnar’s camp.
“I think he’s still continuing to find ways to implement his wrestling into his fight game because that’s his area of strength,” said Couture.
During their downtime, Lesnar and his wife, Rena, who is expecting the couple’s second child this summer, treated Couture and his girlfriend to a tour of the quiet town and had them over to their home for dinner. The former WWE pro wresting champion and Couture also went fishing on the lake near Lesnar’s home and traded hunting stories on the placid water.
“We certainly weren’t talking about fighting,” said the soft-spoken Couture.
Couture said Lesnar’s tendency to keep his private life out of the spotlight is a straightforward choice.
“I think he’s just a big old country boy at heart,” said Couture. “He spent most of his life on a farm and he doesn’t like being in the public eye that much. He’s more interested in being on a tractor than being anywhere else.”
Couture said he won't be in Lesnar’s corner on July 3 and that their latest tÃªte-Ã -tÃªte doesn’t preclude that the two won’t meet again in a rematch down the line.
And as for Couture’s famous fight predictions, he believes Lesnar has a good shot at glory come Fourth of July weekend granted he sticks to his strong suit.
“I think the more Brock can make this a wrestling match, the less likely that Carwin is going to be able to have it his way and win the fight,” said Couture. “I think Brock’s wrestling credentials are stronger and he’s a bigger, generally stronger, more athletic fighter than Carwin. If he can make it a wrestling match and keep it in those terms, he has a very good chance of winning the fight. If he gets sucked in the firefight, throwing four-ounce gloves at one another, anything can happen.”
Editor's Note: This article was corrected at 10:00 p.m. ET to reflect that James Toney has not officially retired from boxing.