Saturday, March 3, 2007

Couture tries to make history

By Neil Springer

Randy (The Natural) Couture has an opportunity to make history.The former four-time UFC champion will fight tonight to recapture the heavyweight title at “UFC 68: The Uprising.” The show is poised to set a new mixed martial arts attendance record and the 43-year-old Couture could become the first UFC fighter to win a championship after retiring.

“I’ve had a lot of fun and a lot of great moments; I’ve had the opportunity to do and see a lot of great things through this sport,” said Couture, who retired a year ago after a another loss to Chuck Liddell. Since then he has filled his time as an ambassador and analyst for The Fight Network.

“The peak of my career could be Saturday night; who knows? I’ve set an attendance record; I’m 43 and competing for the heavyweight title, which is pretty unique. That could be it right there; we’ll have to wait and see.”

In the short time he’s been gone, Couture missed the octagon and that’s what drove him to sign a new four-fight contract. That and the fact he endured a messy divorce with his longtime wife and mother of his four kids.

“I had a lot of crap going on that I need to settle,” said Couture, who has since remarried and refocused on fighting. “Once all that was done, I began to feel more like myself again and just wanted to compete more and win titles.

“It certainly has nothing to do with wanting to get hit; we all try to avoid getting hit as much as possible, but that is a part of competing. It’s all about challenging yourself, wanting to get better, learning new skills and then applying them.”

Couture no doubt has his eyes on the prize, but in his way stands the 6-8, 255-pound heavyweight champion, Tim (The Maine-iac) Sylvia.

After Sylvia’s title fight with Jeff Monson, which went to a decision, Couture criticized Sylvia for being too conservative in the ring. It was at this point Couture decided he could beat Sylvia and reclaim the heavyweight title.

“Tim’s a big guy, but I’ve trained with him before,” said Couture, who held the heavyweight belt in 1997 and 2001. “I had a lot of guys his size and bigger in camp for the last eight weeks, ganging up on me, trying to punch me in the head and smother me, which is what he’ll probably try to do.

“It was a little rough at first, but I just kept plugging away and making adjustments. The last four weeks have just been fantastic. I’m ready to go.”

Liddell, the reigning light-heavyweight champ, who was in Toronto earlier in the week, admitted Couture is the toughest opponent he has faced, but feels Sylvia’s size and reach may give him an advantage.

“It’s an interesting match-up,” said Liddell, who refused to pick a winner. “Randy had a problem with heavy wrestlers when he was a heavyweight, but Silvia’s a heavy striker, so it’s not quite the same. We’ll just have to see what happens.”

With the recent additions of former-Pride fighters Mirko (Cro Cop) Filipovic and (The Texas Crazy Horse) Heath Herring to the heavyweight division, fans can’t help but wonder who Couture will fight next. Couture said the only match on his mind at the moment is Sylvia, but there are still a few fighters he would like to battle before his career is done.

“One of the reasons I’m fighting Tim is to challenge myself and fight the best guys in the world,” he said. “If Fedor Emelianenko came to the UFC, I would savour the opportunity to compete against him. The same could be said about Cro Cop - he’s one of the top fighters in the world. Those are the guys that I see as interesting competition and guys that I want to fight.”

Couture would neither confirm nor deny whether his four-fight deal will be his swan song, but if it is, he doesn’t have a single regret.

“There are always ups and downs, but I don’t really think in those terms,” he said. “My whole career, win or lose, has been a blast; I wouldn’t change a thing.

“I’ve had a great career and I just want to continue to compete and I think people will remember me the way they did this past year when I stepped out. I feel I’ve brought a certain integrity to (MMA) and I’m proud of the way I’ve represented myself and the sport.”


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