Wednesday, 20 April 2011

Who is the greatest UFC heavyweight of all time? (Part five)

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This is my fifth and final edition of the five of the greatest UFC-bred heavyweights of all time. For part four click here.
Ultimate Fighting Championship(UFC) has been around a mere 18 years and has seen some of the best fighters to date walk through its Octagon door.
The most notable fighter to not yet compete inside the "Sin City" cage has to be Fedor Emelianenko, who may also be the greatest heavyweight of all time.
This time last year fight fans were raving about how stacked the UFC heavyweight division was with the likes Brock Lesnar, Cain Velasquez, Shane Carwin and Junior Dos Santos leading the pack.
With the recent plight of injuries, the promotion's heavyweight division was overshadowed by the Strikeforce Heavyweight Grand Prix which features Alistair Overeem, Fabricio Werdum, "Bigfoot" Silva, Brett Rogers, Sergei Kharitonov and Josh Barnett.
Between 1998-2005 Japanese promotion Pride FC had three of the very best heavyweights ever in Emelianenko, "Minotauro" Nogueira and Mirko "Cro Cop." Those three would fight each other for the top spot which was undoubtedly held by "The Last Emperor."
I would love to see who you guys feel are the top five UFC heavyweights of all time and perhaps choose the one you think outranks them all.
Canidate #5: "The Natural" Randy Couture (19-10)
Notable Wins: Chuck Liddell, Tito Ortiz, Pedro Rizzo (x2), Kevin Randleman, Mark Coleman, James Toney, Gabriel Gonzaga, Vitor Belfort (x2), Jeremy Horn, Mike Van Arsdale, Tim Sylvia, Brandon Vera, Tsuyoshi Kohsaka Notable Losses: Chuck Liddell (x2), Vitor Belfort, Josh Barnett, Ricco Rodriguez, Brock Lesnar, Enson Inoue, Valentijn Overeem, Antonio Nogueira
Notable Accomplishments: Three-time UFC heavyweight champion, two-time UFC light heavyweight champion, UFC 13 tournament champion, 1991 Pan American Games gold medalist in Greco Roman wrestling, two-time winner 1991 Pan American championships in Greco Roman wrestling, three-time Team USA Olympic alternate in wrestling (1988, 1992 and 1996), three-time NCAA Division-1 All-American in wrestling
When you look at Randy Couture you see a man who looks like he's been taken from a John Wayne movie. The mangled ears, the grizzled smile and years of battles worn upon him.
Born in Everett, Washington, "The Natural" would grow up in the hardships of a strained relationship with his father and wrestling. He moved from Alderwood middle school onto Lynnwood High School where he would wrestle throughout.
He even won a state championship while competing at Lynnwood.
Couture would enlist in the United States Army between 1982-1988. He admits his tenure was nothing like "G.I. Joe" and he did mostly boxing and wrestling.
Randy was settling into life as a coach on the Oregon State wrestling team but his thirst for competition and seeing a UFC tape got him hooked. He left the decent paying gig at Oregon State and risked a lot to obtain his dream of being the best.
He would enter the UFC in 1997 at UFC 13.
In his first ever dive into the famous Octagon, he faced Tony Halme, also known as WWF wrestler Ludvig Gorga. Couture was outweighed by nearly 100 pounds but was able to secure a double leg takedown and unleash some ground and pound for the win. He would also easily dispatch Steven Graham in under five minutes of action to become the tournament champion.
SEG were impressed with this "old man" and gave him a shot at the most explosive fighter they had, Vitor Belfort.Couture-1_medium
At UFC 15, the MMA community watched stunned at this old man coming in and defeating "The Phenom" by way of absolute ass kicking. He was a masterful strategist as he circled away from Belfort's powerful left hand and used his clinch. We also saw the first display of perfected "dirty boxing," boxing down from the clinch with one hand around his opponent's neck/head.
The crowd rallied behind Couture as he was awarded a shot at the heavyweight champion and kickboxing champion Maurice Smith.
The UFC traveled all the way to Japan for UFC 17 featuring a main event of Smith vs. Couture. The bout went the entire 21 minutes and was a classic display of discipline vs. discipline. Couture used top control and take downs while Smith used his kickboxing. The judges gave the decision to Couture who won his first UFC heavyweight championship.
Couture had a desire to defend his belt against King Of Pancrase Bas Rutten but when the fight didn't come to fruition he left the UFC for Vale Tudo Japan.
He would lose by armbar to Dutch legend Enson Inoue after just 90 seconds.
Couture would take a break from MMA to focus on his dream of the Olympics following a loss to Mikhail IIIoukhine in the RINGS promotion. The 2000 Olympics would be just a dream as Couture did not qualify to make the team.
Couture would return to MMA and face veteran Jeremy Horn at RINGS: "King of Kings 2000" tournament. He would go on to defeat Horn by decision and then beat Pancrase veteran Ryushi Yanagisawa in his second fight. A title shot was earned but offered from a different promotion.
The UFC offered Couture a title shot in his return against freak athlete and collegiate wrestling star Kevin Randleman. In Randleman's corner was former UFC champion Mark Coleman and in Couture's was Dan Henderson and Matt Lindland.
This truly was a display of how much wrestling had come along in MMA.
Couture proved the critics wrong again as he out-wrestled Randleman and frustrated "The Monster" with stellar ground defense. With a trip and some ground and pound, Couture had won his second UFC heavyweight title.
Couture would enter another RINGS: "King of Kings" tournament. In the first round he fought Tsuyoshi Kohaska and won unanimous decision. He would fight Valentijn Overeem in the second round of the tournament but lose by way of Guillotine choke. The eventual winner was a foe he would meet down the road in Antonio 'Minotauro" Nogueira.
Couture returned to the UFC to face the best striker in the heavyweight division, Pedro Rizzo.
Rizzo, known for his blistering kicks that feel like bamboo sticks being cracked against flesh was a protege of UFC vet Marco Ruas. Couture had not faced a pure striker like Rizzo since his first UFC heavyweight title fight against Maurice Smith.
For 25 minutes Couture's leg would endure the worst beating it would ever receive. The tree trunk legs of Rizzo battered Couture round after round. "The Natural" was still able to maintain control and implement his game while standing on a battered leg.
After the judges tallied their score cards the crowd booed as Couture had won the fight. Many thought the striking and damage done by Rizzo was enough to secure the win.
The war was not quite over.
The UFC gave Rizzo another crack at Couture and held a rematch at UFC 34 in Las Vegas, Nevada. The fight would be much more decisive as Couture pummeled Rizzo for a 3rd round TKO.
Couture would face another tough challenge against submission wrestling specialist Josh Barnett at UFC 36 in March of 2002.
Barnett would only need two rounds to stop Couture by way of TKO and win his first and only UFC heavyweight title. The win was suppose to be a glorifying moment for Barnett but everything isn't as they appear.Couture-barnett-hands-up_medium
It would be the UFC's first steroid scandal as it was revealed that Barnett had used PEDs in his first against Couture. The UFC stripped Barnett of the title but could not give Couture the UFC heavyweight title back.
The UFC would give Couture a shot at the now vacant UFC heavyweight title against another young star, Ricco "Suave" Rodriguez at UFC 39.
The Team Punishment protege would beat Couture in fashion and win his first UFC heavyweight title.
With two straight losses, Couture was thinking what to do next. He would face a whole new class of fighters, the light heavyweight division.
Couture never did things the easy way and he would take on UFC star Chuck Liddell.
Many critics thought "The Iceman"' would knockout Couture like had to so many before the fight. Randy Couture being the master of game planning he is, had other ideas.
At UFC 43, "The Natural" and "The Iceman" would exchange leather for the interim light heavyweight title. It was made an interim title due to the dodging of Liddell by then-current UFC light heavyweight champion Tito Ortiz
Couture worked hard on his boxing for the fight and it clearly showed off as he outboxing the striker. He brought the fight towards Liddell, a known counter-striker.
Couture would go on to win a third round TKO and become the interim UFC  light heavyweight champion.
Couture would get his first major foray into the main stream media as he and Ortiz exchanged barbs on The Best Damn Sports Show Period. Couture was sick of Ortiz ducking Liddell and as promised would beat a heavily favored Ortiz.
Couture would do what only one other (BJ Penn) man has done, win two UFC titles in two different weight classes. After five rounds of pummeling which was highlighted by Couture spanking Ortiz, "The Natural" once again proved that age wasn't a factor. He unified his interim title with Ortiz' UFC light heavyweight strap to be the undisputed champion.
Couture, riding the high of a champion, would be faced against a man he started his legacy against, Vitor Belfort.
UFC 46 would be the rematch that first took place all the way back at UFC 15 where Couture bullied the Brazilian for eight minutes before a TKO.  The energy in the crowd was there only to be snuffed just as quickly.
As Couture was attempting a clinch an errant left hook from Belfort caused a severe cut on the eye of Couture thus ending the fight by medical stoppage. A stunned crowd didn't know how to react as some were Belfort fans but nobody wanted a title fight to end this way.
Belfort and Couture would rematch at UFC 49 and like their first fight at UFC 15, Couture would bully his way to regain his UFC light heavyweight title.
For three rounds Couture proved he was superior and earned back his UFC light heavyweight title. He now held wins over Liddell, Ortiz and Belfort, who were three of the very best in the division.
The UFC brass would break all the rules and run a reality based show called "The Ultimate Fighter" (TUF) that would air after WWF's "Raw is War" on Spike TV. The show was 16 fighters in the middleweight and light heavyweight division vying for a six-figure UFC contract.
The inaugural season had coaches Chuck Liddell and Randy Couture. The big payoff was a UFC light heavyweight title bout between the two at UFC 52.
It was in this season that Couture started a fond friendship with eventual TUF season one winner Forrest Griffin and now the two train together.
UFC 52 at its time was the highest grossing gate and had well over 200,00 pay-per-view buys. With the overwhelming success of TUF, this fight had been officially star-studded.
A much calmer and focused Liddell was finally ready to take seat at his throne. Couture seeming to try and redo his UFC 43 gameplan got caught and knocked out at 2:08 of round one. This would be the first time Couture was ever knocked out in a fight.
The "Ice-age" had begun and Couture would need to get back on his saddle.
Couture would face Liddell at UFC 57 after an impressive submission win over wrestler Mike Van Arsdale. It was time to do another trilogy and Couture was prime to regain his title.
The title was on the line and much more then anyone expected.
Liddell used his counter striking and excellent timing to knock out Couture again. Couture did look better and even used some effective boxing in the early exchange. The crowd went ballistic as Liddell won and seconds later, upset.
Randy Couture had retired following the loss.
During his retirement he would dabble into the world of showbiz. He would be featured in Rob Schneider's '"Big Stan'" alongside UFC veteran Don Frye. He also competed in the Spike TV hit "Pro's vs. Joe's" where he would grapple with the "Joes."
His biggest role was on the big screen in The Scorpion King 2: "Rise of a Warrior."
Spike TV began running ads for a new UFC segment show hosted by Joe Rogan called "Inside the UFC." The show's big announcement took place during a sit down interview between Hall of Famer Randy Couture and Rogan. It was made official on the show, Randy Couture was coming out of retirement to face the UFC heavyweight champion Tim Sylvia.
At UFC 68, "Captain America" would face the much taller and larger UFC heavyweight champion.
The first UFC event held in the state of Ohio and with 19,079 fans it was the largest attended UFC show to this date in the US.

Randy Couture had regained the UFC heavyweight strap and his road wouldn't get any easier as he set to face Brazilian giant, Gabriel Gonzaga.
At UFC 74, the rejuvenated Couture used his skill to overcome the obvious size difference. Gonzaga was doing fairly well until he suffered a slam where his knee hit his own nose causing it to break. Couture also suffered a broken left arm after blocking one of Gonzaga's kicks earlier in the fight.
Couture had defeated Gonzaga in the third round by TKO and now wanted the very best in the world, Fedor Emelianenko.
With mounting marital issues and stress, Couture had quit the UFC citing money and the inability to sign Fedor as his reasons. With saying the UFC had underpaid him and paperwork denying the claims, the two sides were engaged in legal red tape.
With Zuffa and Couture sides debating the language in the contract and disputes over how Couture would find his way to fight Fedor. The two sides held a healthy talk at UFC 78 but Couture still stated he had no desire to fight for the UFC at this time.
The two sides finally agreed upon a new three-fight contract which gave Couture a much larger pay increase. The UFC honored its stance as Couture was still the recognized UFC heavyweight champion.
His first task though was none other than Brock Lesnar.
Couture had always found a way to overcome much larger opponents but, this time he was facing a practical freak of nature. The brute force from Minnesota was a highly-skilled fighter who had just dispatched of Heath Herring and fared well against Frank Mir.
The opening round was evenly contested as Couture was throwing some nice head movement and some nice boxing combos
In the second, the wear and tear of fighting such a large man took its toll. A non-lethal straight caught Couture just behind his ear, sending him to the mat, the last place he'd want to be. Lesnar began unleashing hammer fists which left Couture battered and scarred. Lesnar had become the UFC champion and Couture was once again dethroned.
Unable to get a fight with either Fedor or UFC light heavyweight star Lyoto Machida, he would get another legend of the sport, Antonio Nogueira.
The UFC would head to Couture's stomping ground of Oregon where he coached the university wrestling team.
The bout was simply stellar as both went all out on each other. In the end after three rounds, Nogueira had defeated Couture for a decision. It was also named "fight of the year"  on many analyst's year-end awards.
Couture would move back down to light heavyweight and face young star Brandon Vera at UFC 105 in Manchester, England. It was not the most exciting fight and Couture won a decision based upon his excellent control and dirty boxing. Many fans seemed to have thought Vera won the fight based on his striking throughout the bout.
The UFC 109 main event was a true test of Hall of Famer's as Couture would face Mark Coleman. The two never competed throughout their original stints.
They did in fact have a wrestling match against one another in 1989 which Coleman won by a single point.
Couture refined his training by engaging more in catch-wrestling and worked on his boxing with coach Gil Martinez. Xtreme Couture coach Shawn Tompkins left the camp and started training with Mark Coleman to add some drama.
Couture was simply too much as he blasted through Coleman and secured a win by rear naked choke in the second round.
Couture would face the loudmouth boxer James Toney in a bout that had always been on Couture's mind as it was the first huge bout of boxing vs. MMA. The crowd wanted to finally see Couture demolish Toney after weeks and weeks of "Lights Out" blasting off on how he was going to prove boxing was superior.Randy-couture-v-james-toney-image-2-181630977_medium
Couture embarrassed Toney and choked him out in the first round. James Toney looked awful and showed absolutely no answer for anything MMA and Couture could offer.
He would go on to be part of the action-packed cast of Sylvester Stallone's "Expendables" movie.
Couture is just 10 days away from facing Lyoto Machida at UFC 129 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. The event is the largest UFC has ever held with 55,000 tickets sold and a gate of $11 million.

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