"This is the last time you're going to see these gloves and these shorts in this octagon," a despondent Couture told the crowd after losing the rubber match to Chuck "The Iceman" Liddell. "I'm retiring tonight."
Still, like Sugar Ray Leonard, Muhammad Ali- let's face it- almost every boxer, Randy Couture couldn't stay true to his retirement plan. He's a fighter; that's what he does. Training other fighters, commentating on bouts, it all just wasn't good enough.
But the surprising part is not that Couture has decided to return to fighting; after all, fighters always seem to come back. The part that has people talking is who he decided to come back against.
In short, Randy Couture is going to fight Tim "Maine-iac" Sylvia at UFC 68: The Uprising, for the UFC Heavyweight Championship.
Couture held a10-5 record as a heavyweight before dropping down to light heavyweight to take on Chuck "The Iceman" Liddell back on September 27, 2002 ( in a historic win ). Since that day over four years ago, Couture hasn't stepped in with a heavyweight.
Wondering how this gutsy decision might pan out?
Then read on.
As a wrestler, Couture achieved All American distinction at Oklahoma State and was a Greco-Roman National Champion. Let's put it this way, if you've ever seen the guy fight, his prowess in this arena is no surprise. Couture has some of the best takedowns and ground control that MMA has ever seen ( heavyweight division included ). Further, he always comes to the Octagon in shape ( even if he will be 43 when he takes on Sylvia ).
Couture has improved his submission defense greatly over the years, and hasn't been submitted in a jiu-jitsu sense since 2001. He's also improved his submission skills, as he showed during an August 20, 2005 bout with Mike Van Arsdale ( Couture won via an Anaconda Choke ).
Still, submissions are not his game.
From a technical standpoint, Couture has worked himself into a better than average MMA striker. On the inside, he's actually rather excellent ( Couture put the word 'dirty' into dirty boxing ). Further, he has a pretty good jaw ( everyone who's anyone has been KO'd by Liddell; so don't hold it against him ).
All that said, Couture's hand reflexes seemed slower than in previous fights when he took on Mike Van Arsdale on August 20, 2005. Was it a bad night, Van Arsdale's improvement, or old age? Further, were Liddell's last two rather easy (T)KO wins over the former UFC Champion in part due to those same slowing reflexes?
That's the question. Here's another factor; Couture is a small heavyweight. Sylvia, as many of us know, is not.
So he's big.
Here's the bottom line. Sylvia's technical stand up is excellent. Further, he hits like a truck and is very hard to take down. However, he's not very athletic.
In other words, his entire body seems to move kind of slow.
In terms of takedowns, he rarely shows off his skills ( he prefers to keep things standing ). However, his one extremely powerful takedown against Frank Mir back on June 19, 2004 seemed to say it all.
If Sylvia wants to bring you down, he's certainly capable.
During his last title defense against Jeff "The Snowman" Monson, Sylvia really came through on the ground. Heck, he almost submitted an Abu Dhabi Champion. Along with this, what was once a weakness ( jiu-jitsu skills ) may now be in the average range or even better in this division.
Beyond it all, Sylvia is a Miletich fighter. That means he always comes to fight in very good shape.
He needs to take the fight to the ground. If he can grab one or both of Sylvia's legs without getting dropped on the way in, it is possible. Further, if he does succeed in taking this fight to the canvas, Couture will need to stay on top.
After all, being underneath Tim Sylvia on the ground can't be a good thing.
On the other hand, if Sylvia is able to keep things standing for most of the fight, one would think that there are only two likely possibilities.
Sylvia will win by decision; or more probably, he'll knock Couture out.
Sylvia's size, strength, and excellent technique will make him very hard to take down. Further, his reach may serve to keep Couture at bay.
Or put him to sleep.
However, this is Randy "The Natural" Couture we're talking about; he's a legend for a reason. Perhaps Couture will be able to find a way to navigate his way past Sylvia's slow, powerful punches and take this fight to the ground.
Though Sylvia will be the deserving favorite coming in, only a fool would count Couture out totally.
Remember, he's a natural.
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