Issue 018

October 2006

Randy ‘The Natural’ Couture

A UFC Hall of Famer, former two-time UFC heavyweight, and two-time light heavyweight champion, Couture is a genuine fighting legend. One of the most inspiring figures in the sport’s history, Couture retired earlier this year after losing to Chuck Liddell. One of MMA’s best strategists and coaches, Couture was also one of the best-conditioned athletes around, even into his early 40’s. Epic wins over Vitor Belfort, Kevin Randleman, Pedro Rizzo, Chuck Liddell, and Tito Ortiz are a testament to his skill, athleticism, and grit. Starting off as a wrestler, Couture evolved into a very well-rounded fighter and is a co-founder of Team Quest. His MMA record stands at 14-8.

Vitor ‘The Phenom’ Belfort

A cousin of the Gracie family, Belfort exploded onto the scene almost a decade ago as an exhilarating teenager. A protégé of the late Carlson Gracie, his career has seen constant ups and downs and he has amassed a 14-7 record. Equally capable of stunning displays of speed, power, skill, and aggression as he is of boring an audience to the point they walk out of his fights, Belfort is a real enigma. Physically impressive but mentally fragile, he’s still one of the most gifted light heavyweights and has fought some of the very best in the world. 


October 17, 1997, Bay St. Louis, Mississippi

A UFC heavyweight title eliminator with 20-year-old Belfort the favorite, this fight would play a major part in the sport’s constant evolution. A 34-year-old who had made his fighting debut just five months earlier, Couture was ‘just a wrestler’. Belfort was the ‘Phenom’; young, laden with muscle, unbeaten, and blessed with knockout power and dizzying hand speed. Of course, no one had seen his reputedly great ground skills since his 4 fights had been over in 12, 77, 43, and 52 seconds respectively, each one ending with him battering his helpless opponents. Couture’s impeccable wrestling credentials (a 3-time All-American in Freestyle and 3-time USA Wrestling champion in Greco-Roman wrestling) weren’t going to be much use against Belfort. Even worse, he had little submission skill and his striking consisted of 3 weeks of training for this fight and some boxing in his youth many years earlier.

Avoiding Belfort’s opening flurry, Couture landed a jab, and both tried takedowns and a few punches from the clinch without much success. Holding the backs of each other's heads, both men fired away – Belfort with short hooks and uppercuts and Couture with knees. Both blocked well but it was clear Couture’s strategy of not giving Belfort room to punch was working. As soon as he found the space, Belfort swung a left hook but Couture responded by instantly driving him to the mat with a double-leg takedown. Couture moved into side control before switching into position for a side headlock and landing a couple of punches. Belfort wriggled free and ended up holding guard. For the next couple of minutes, Couture patiently wore him down with punches. At one point the American went for a can opener before letting fly with some heavy lefts that forced Belfort to escape and scramble to his feet.

Belfort tried a few punches but with just over seven minutes gone looked exhausted. Couture held him behind the head and with what would later be known as ‘dirty boxing’ bashed away with some raw, uncultured right uppercuts. Tired as well as hurt, Belfort went down, trapped, by the fence. Couture drove a few short knees into his face before switching his attention back to punching. Blocking one last desperate attempt to escape and even flirting with the idea of a rear naked choke, Couture went back to just pounding away until referee John McCarthy stepped in after 8.16 of compelling action. As the “USA, USA” chants echoed in the small arena, Couture had proved he was much more than just a wrestler.


January 31, 2004, Las Vegas, Nevada

Just over six years later and the venue was a sold-out Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas. The first fight had been held in the makeshift arena of a downmarket casino, in a Deep South town of just 8000 inhabitants. The fighters had to make do with trailers in the car park for changing rooms. The UFC had changed immeasurably since then, and both men older, wiser and more experienced. Couture was now the defending light heavyweight champion (after dominating Chuck Liddell and humbling the brash Tito Ortiz). A smaller, more mature Belfort had battled injuries and inconsistency, and was fighting under the emotional black cloud of his sister’s recent disappearance (a mystery that has never been solved). The fight itself was a monumental disappointment. Couture threw a low kick and charged and Belfort grazed him with a left hook. They clinched by the fence with Couture blinking furiously, grimacing in obvious pain. The punch had grazed his upper and lower left eyelids, the seam of the glove slicing the fragile skin. The fight was over in 49 seconds. Belfort had won the title by TKO in the most disheartening, hollow way imaginable leaving Couture and the audience mightily disappointed. 

August 21, 2004, Las Vegas, Nevada

The second fight may have been a disaster, but it set the stage perfectly for a final, decisive battle just a few months later. The opening moments looked almost exactly like the first 30 seconds of the previous encounter but things ended very differently. For three full rounds, Couture used his strength, wrestling, stamina (and a perfect gameplan) to crowd, pressure, and punish Belfort. It took most of the first round to take him down though. When Couture finally got him to the ground with just over a minute remaining, he threw some punches by the fence, winning a quiet opening round.

Early in the second round a violent (but accidental) clash of heads gouged a cut in Belfort’s right eyebrow, and he bled freely for the rest of the fight. Belfort defended everything thrown at him but Couture was also neutralizing his striking, and he used a Greco-Roman bodylock to power him to the mat with just over three minutes left. Couture expertly kept Belfort by the fence and stayed busy. Belfort’s brief moment of hope saw him go for an armbar that Couture easily avoided. 

Belfort tried something new in the third. His hands contemptuously low, he tried to draw Couture in and throw a fast left hand. Couture did come forward, but instead of eating a punch he clinched and took Belfort down, planting him by the fence inside 30 seconds. The slow destruction continued from there, with Couture just hammering away through Belfort’s ineffective guard. Kneeling and punching, controlling, forcing, and elbowing, this was a masterful performance by the 41-year-old. Belfort looked for a couple more armbars but Couture shrugged them aside and carried on grinding away. His white shorts stained pink with Belfort’s blood, Couture battered him with some vicious short elbows, constantly working and attacking. At the end of the round Couture got up and walked away while Belfort sat where he was. His cornermen tried to clean him up and get ready for the 4th round and for a few moments it looked as though he’d come out for some more punishment, but the fight was mercifully stopped when he was saved by the doctor. Couture had reclaimed his belt and proved beyond all doubt his position over the younger fighter in the final chapter of their epic saga.