Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Couture says friendship with Sylvia is "messing with" the champ going into UFC 68

By Steve Sievert

Advantage, Couture.

While Randy Couture's return to the UFC was as surprising as Britney Spears assaulting the paparazzi with an umbrella, "The Natural's" comeback destination was eye opening.

Conventional wisdom suggested Couture would head back to the octagon as a light heavyweight. Instead, a guy who lost his last two heavyweight bouts in lopsided fashion, was not only coming back in that division, but his first stop would be against champion Tim Sylvia at UFC 68 this Saturday.

Sylvia stopped short of calling the move insulting, but he didn't have to string together the words to send the message. On top of that, Couture believes "The Maine-iac" is struggling with having to face a guy who's counted as a close friend. That could give the hall-of-famer a mental edge heading into fight night.

The two trained together several years ago when Couture lived in Oregon. Sylvia crashed at Couture's house and the two forged a bond that was strengthened during the second season of The Ultimate Fighter, when they appeared as guest coaches.

"We developed a strong friendship and as most fighters do, we have camaraderie amongst each other. That is probably causing more problems for Tim than it is for me. I'm used to fighting and competing against my friends. Tim doesn't have that wrestling background where that happens on a regular basis; so I'm sure that friendship is messing with his head a little bit right now."

Couture believes the time he spent training and rolling with Sylvia will help him when the two tangle for real this Saturday.

"I can certainly see where the best chance is for taking him down. It's not the open shot that Ricco (Rodriguez) and Jeff Monson and several of the other guys have tried. You need to get to Tim's body and clinch with him, get inside, not stand out in range and try to take him down. I think my mobility and wrestling technique will allow me to take him down."

At 43, Couture is wisely not looking passed this fight, but many fans, who have questioned his comeback, are eager to know what's next. This much we know: Couture has a four-fight, 18-month deal that he could easily walk away from at any time.

There's also nothing written in stone that says Couture must swing and grapple as a heavyweight in the four-pack. He hasn't ruled out dropping down to light heavy, if his foray against Sylvia goes south.

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