Friday, November 14, 2008

Couture and Lesnar’s hits and misses

Despite huge differences in size, age and experience, Randy Couture and Brock Lesnar’s journeys aren’t as different as most would think. A breakdown of their hits and misses in wrestling, mixed martial arts, entertainment and even the court system.

Couture hit: A Hall of Fame career in mixed martial arts as the only man to capture five different major promotion world championships, including three title reigns past the age of 40 years old, a feat that might stand several lifetimes. Couture won his first championship in his fourth pro fight, winning the UFC heavyweight title from legendary kickboxer Maurice Smith on December 21, 1997 in Yokohama, Japan. His fifth reign came on March 3, 2007, when he won five straight rounds from 6-foot-8 giant, Tim Sylvia in Columbus, Ohio. He also captured the heavyweight title in 2000 when he defeated Kevin Randleman, and won light heavyweight titles in 2003 from Tito Ortiz and 2004 from Vitor Belfort.

Lesnar hit: Wrestling for the University of Minnesota, Lesnar captured the NCAA heavyweight championship on March 18, 2000, in St. Louis, winning a 3-2 tiebreaker over Iowa’s Wes Hand, the only man who had defeated him during the season. Lesnar scored three pinfalls in the tournament en route to a 31-1 senior year.

Couture miss: Wrestling for Oklahoma State University, failed to win an NCAA championship, placing second twice at 190 pounds. In 1991, he lost the finals to Paul Keysaw of Bakersfield State, 4-1. In 1992, he lost in the finals to future MMA star Mark Kerr of Syracuse, 12-4, when the tournament took place in front of his home fans in Oklahoma City.

Lesnar miss: Having destroyed everyone in the 1999 NCAA tournament, including a 22-second pinfall, he went into the finals with a 28-1 record against Bakersfield State’s Stephen Neal. With dual pressure, as the University of Minnesota needed a win in the final match of the tournament to take the national team championship, Lesnar missed on a late shot with seconds left, leaving Neal with a 3-2 win, and the University of Iowa with the national title.

Couture hit: Four-time U.S. national champion in Greco-Roman wrestling, winning in 1990 and 1993 at 198 pounds and 1997 and 1999 at 214. The last win, at the age of 36, came when he had already been a UFC champion, making him the only man to win a national wrestling championship after winning a major MMA championship.

Lesnar hit: Lesnar is expected to be the biggest pay-per-view draw from any sports or entertainment company in 2008. His first two pay-per-view matches, one against Frank Mir and the other against Heath Herring, did 1.2 million total buys. With this match with Couture, his year total could top 2 million. The only MMA fighter to top that mark was Tito Ortiz, headlining and drawing 2.25 million buys in 2006.

Couture miss: After winning their first meeting, he was knocked out twice by Chuck Liddell in light heavyweight championship matches in 2005 and 2006, losing the most famous championship trilogy in UFC history.

Lesnar miss: After dominating former UFC champion Frank Mir in his UFC debut on Feb. 2 in Las Vegas, including one knockdown and two hard takedowns, Lesnar made a rookie mistake and was caught with a kneebar only 90 seconds into the fight.

Couture hit: Outside the sports world, he starred in a movie, “The Scorpion King 2: The Akkadian,” opened a chain of Xtreme Couture gyms, founded a line of Xtreme Couture T-shirts the can be seen around any mall in North America, and was in a popular national ad for DirecTV.

Lesnar hit: Given the World Wrestling Federation (now World Wrestling Entertainment) championship from movie star Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, the original “Scorpion King,” on August 25, 2002, in Uniondale, N.Y. He also headlined “Wrestlemania 19” before 54,097 fans, selling at Safeco Field in Seattle, against Kurt Angle; and once sold out a soccer stadium in Melbourne, Australia with 56,732 fans. Had he not hated the travel and the lifestyle so much, he was destined for a Hall of Fame career in the entertainment sport.

Couture miss: Never won the national Greco-Roman championship during an Olympic year, ending up as an alternate in the 1988, 1992 and 1996 Games.

Lesnar miss: After walking away from a guaranteed $1 million-per-year pro wrestling contract, Lesnar, after not having played football since his junior year of high school, tried out for the Minnesota Vikings. Despite first round draft choice-like numbers on the speed and strength drills, his lack of football experience led to him being a late cut in camp. He was offered a spot in the developmental NFL Europe league, but having left wrestling because he hated travel, he turned the offer down.

Couture hit: While never winning an individual title like Lesnar, Couture did something Lesnar didn’t do, as he was part of the 1990 NCAA team wrestling champion Oklahoma State University Cowboys.

Lesnar hit: Under intense pressure (as it would have been difficult for the UFC to continue to promote him as a top star with a second straight loss) Lesnar, having had only two pro fights and less than three minutes of ring time, defeated borderline top ten heavyweight Heath Herring, with 41 fights all over the world under his belt at UFC 87 . This led to him earning a UFC heavyweight title fight, just like Couture did, in only his fourth pro fight.

Couture legal problems: After a dispute with UFC midway through a four-fight contract, Couture, the UFC heavyweight champion, quit the company. He claimed he was chasing his dream of fighting Fedor Emelianenko, considered the greatest MMA heavyweight of all-time. Negotiations between the UFC and Emelianenko for that fight had fallen apart at that time. Later, when he tried to negotiate for a fight with Emelianenko outside the UFC, he was sued by the company he made his name in. During his time off, he was never stripped of the championship, more as a way for UFC to strengthen its legal case. Couture vowed he would never fight again for UFC, even if it meant it would end his career. A year into a nasty court fight with no resolution in sight, Couture sent UFC president Dana White a message saying he was ready to come back. That settlement led to this fight.

Lesnar’s legal problems: Less than one year into a seven-year contract with WWE, Lesnar, citing he was chasing his childhood dream of playing in the NFL, quit the WWE in the spring of 2004. As part of a negotiated settlement, Lesnar signed a one-sided non-compete clause. He was allowed to play pro football, but he was not free to do anything else sports or sports entertainment related, even to the point of doing a role as an athlete in a movie or television show, anywhere in the world until the contract would have expired in the summer of 2010. In particular, WWE insisted he not compete as a pro wrestler or an MMA fighter. After being cut by the Vikings, Lesnar ignored the agreement he had signed, went to work for New Japan Pro Wrestling for $50,000 per match, and was sued by WWE. Unlike Couture, Lesnar won his legal fight, even to the point of changing the name of his trademark pro wrestling finisher, The F-5, to “The Verdict,” to rub it in his former employer’s face. Then Lesnar and New Japan had their own financial issues and Lesnar left the company, also as its champion. He then moved on to MMA.