Friday, March 9, 2007

From “over the hill” to “king of the hill”

By Scott Welton

Chalk up another one for the old guys.

Randy “The Natural” Couture, 43, delighted Ultimate Fighting Championship fans Saturday by defeating Tim “the Maine-iac” Sylvia for the heavyweight UFC title.

“Not bad for an old man,” Couture said in the ring immediately following his victory.

Not bad indeed. And the victory couldn’t have gone to a nicer guy.

Articulate and polite, Couture is known for being a class act — probably the classiest fighter in the world of mixed martial arts.

While many online pundits said Couture didn’t have a chance in the weeks leading up to the fight, UFC’s poll broadcast just before the event showed roughly 70 percent favoring Couture.

Both local and ringside crowds erupted in cheers seconds after the fight’s beginning when Couture faked a low left kick to land a hard overhand right to Sylvia’s head, dropping the big man to the octagon’s floor.

None of the exchanges that followed during the five-round contest were as dramatic as the fight’s first punch but Couture steadily worked Sylvia over with a mix of solid stand-up, skillful take downs and methodical groundwork.

In addition to winning on the scorecards, Couture looked hardly worse for the wear following the fight while Sylvia’s left eye was purple and swollen nearly shut. Given his age, I’m sure Couture will feel aftereffects of the fight for at least a couple of weeks, however.

Couture’s victory reminds me of when George Foreman beat Michael Moorer — a fighter who was nearly 20 years younger — to become, at age 45, the oldest fighter ever to win the world heavyweight boxing title in 1994.

Only in this case in addition to being significantly older (Sylvia turned 31 Monday) Couture was also the smaller fighter. At 222 pounds, he was nearly 40 pounds lighter. At 6 foot 1 inch, he is also seven inches shorter than Sylvia and has a significant reach disadvantage.

Up until Saturday, Sylvia has been able to use his reach time and time again to defend his title in a boring but effective manner, jabbing away while sprawling to avoid take down attempts from opponents. Couture was able to effectively bridge the gap, slipping Sylvia’s punches and connecting with his own.

Having put on the performance of a lifetime, Couture should bail out now on his contract, which has three more fights lined up for him, and retire on a high note.

Couture’s first title defense is likely to be a pretty rough affair as Mirko “Cro Cop” Filipovic is slated for a title shot if he wins his next fight.

Chances are Couture won’t step out of the octagon without absorbing some abuse from Cro Cop, win or lose. And at age 43, recovering — even if there is no serious injuries — is no picnic.


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