Friday, March 2, 2007

Veteran fighter would like to see UFC and Pride unite

Randy (The Natural) Couture has done it all in mixed martial arts – former two-time UFC light-heavyweight champion, two-time UFC heavyweight champion and UFC 13 tournament winner.

From fighters competing in small arenas in the 90s to UFC 66 setting the pay-per-view buy-rate record for non-boxing events in 2006, he has witnessed the evolution of mixed martial arts first-hand.

“We used to compete in 1,500-seat arenas in the South and there were very few rules and regulations,” said Couture, who ends his year-long retirement tommorow night when he steps into the octagon against Tim (The Maine-iac) Sylvia for the heavyweight title in UFC 68’s main event . “We would have weigh-ins at the Holiday Inn where fighters and their corner guys were the only ones who attended.

“The last fight I went to, there were about 5,000 fans at the weigh-in and we sold out a 15,000-seat arena. There were also pre-and-post-fight press conferences. The difference is crazy; it’s completely different now.”

The 43-year-old has even entered the broadcasting-side of the industry, as an ambassador and analyst for The Fight Network.

“I do a show called ‘Before and After the Bell,’ with regards to UFC and pay-per-views. I also do a small segment called ‘The Natural Picks’ where I analyze and pick the winners for the main-card fights.”

Saturday’s event has set a new live-attendance record for mixed martial arts, which Couture feels is long overdue.

“We’ve always felt there was something special about the sport and the athletes that compete in it. It’s great to see people understand it and realize that we’re not a bunch of idiots who just like to beat people up. It’s a very cool time to be involved in the sport.

“I think people realize that our sport is multidimensional and every single match-up - from the opening bout to the main event - is exciting.”

Rumours have been circulating around the web that Japanese MMA promotion PRIDE is in dire straits financially and that UFC may be a potential suitor. The two organizations have attempted many times to promote a Chuck Liddell-Wanderlei Silva bout, but after Silva’s recent knockout loss to Dan Henderson, talks have fallen apart again.

Couture has no idea what the future holds for the two promotions, but as a fan and a competitor, he would love for UFC and PRIDE fighters to battle.

“It would answer a lot of questions as to who are the best fighters in the world,” he said. “At the moment, since the two companies are in direct competition with one another, there haven’t really been any crossovers. It would be really cool to see a lot of the UFC guys compete against guys on the PRIDE roster.”

Couture has fought against some of the best the fighters in the world and he acted as one of the trainers on “The Ultimate Fighter 1” reality TV series. So who does he think is the future of the sport?

“I think there are a lot of (great up-and-coming fighters) at the moment,” he said. “Diego Sanchez has been on a tear. Georges St. Pierre, our new welterweight champ, is one of the most exciting fighters I’ve ever seen. Forest Griffin; I work out a lot with him and I see his dedication and I think he’s just an awesome fighter.”


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