Friday, November 14, 2008

Couture hopes to stop Lesnar from repeating history in UFC title bid

Randy (The Natural) Couture won the UFC heavyweight title in just his fourth outing as a mixed martial arts pro, winning a decision over Maurice Smith in Yokohama, Japan.
Almost 11 years later, the 45-year-old Couture (16-8) looks to prevent Brock Lesnar (2-1) from doing the same as the two face off in the main event of UFC 91 at the MGM Grand Garden Arena on Saturday night (available on pay-per-view).
Couture, a five-time champion in the UFC with success in both the light-heavyweight and heavyweight ranks, is coming off a 15-month absence. He is giving up 14 years and 50 pounds to the brash Lesnar, who shows no signs of nerves in his title challenge despite his recent entry into the sport.
Couture, however, remembers how he felt for the Smith championship fight.
"The walkout (to the cage), I wouldn't say it felt comfortable yet but it certainly felt a lot better than the first time. I didn't feel like I was going to pee down my leg," Couture recalled Thursday at a pre-fight news conference held in the lobby of the MGM Grand.
Lesnar has made a meteoric rise in MMA. In fact, it was at Couture's last fight - a TKO win over Gabriel Gonzaga at UFC 74 in August 2007 - that Lesnar and his management first talked to White about joining the UFC. Lesnar had one fight under his belt at the time, but wanted to test himself against the best in the sport.
"While I thought he was a lunatic, I respected him," said UFC president Dana White. "I said 'all right, we'll try to figure this thing out."'
Lesnar, a former WWE champion, took a pay cut to join the UFC, according to White, who did him no favours by matching him up with former heavyweight champion Frank Mir in his UFC debut at UFC 81 in February. Lesnar had Mir in trouble early but made a mistake and fell victim to a leg submission after 90 seconds.
Even Mir knew it was a narrow call.
"I was not winning that fight for the first minute and 20 seconds," Mir said with a chuckle that night.
Lesnar won next time out, dominating veteran Heath Herring en route to a three-round decision at UFC 87 in August.
White calls the UFC 91 main event a meeting of two "freaks" - Couture because he is champion at 45 and Lesnar because of his eye-popping size and speed.
"I guess we're both freaks in our own way," said a bemused Couture. "That's funny. I don't know. I don't feel like The Elephant Man."
The six-foot-two, 220-pound Couture is a former two-time alternate on the U.S. Olympic Greco-Roman wrestling team. Amazingly, 15 of his 18 UFC fights have been for the title.
"He's 45 years, still whupping on the young guys," said White. "Still in great physical condition and he's beaten a who's-who in the UFC."
The six-foot-three, 275-pound Lesnar is a former NCAA wrestling champion whose resume includes a tryout with the Minnesota Vikings.
"He is one of the most incredible athletes I have ever seen, one of the biggest human beings I've ever seen and obviously one of the most talented guys in sports," White said.
The UFC expects the clash of the big men to draw 1.2 million pay-per-view buys, a record for the organization. At C$44.99 a shot, that's some $54 million. Not bad considering White and the Fertitta brothers spent US$2 million to buy the ailing organization in 2001.
The UFC relished the atmosphere at Thursday's news conference, which drew a crowd in the MGM lobby. Couture remembered how at his first UFC fight - UFC 13 in May 1997 - the scale for the weigh-in was in a broom closet in the Holiday Inn.
"It's a remarkable transition and it's been an amazing ride," said Couture.
Couture was on the outs with the UFC during his second retirement, embroiled in a contract dispute. On Thursday, he talked about he missed the action, especially when cornering some of his own fighters from his Xtreme Couture gym - "in some ways feeling like a leper at some of those shows."
"At the same time, wanting to compete and feeling like I could still compete, every single time I went to corner one of my guys."
White also recalled days gone by, saying his first UFC news conference for a Tito Ortiz fight drew four people in New York and three of those - Spanish-language reporters - left when they found out Ortiz did not speak Spanish.
"I thought we were going out of business every weekend," White said of the early days.