It’s a typical predicament for Randy Couture. A bigger, younger, stronger athlete awaits him in the cage.
Couture will likely be the betting favorite when the two meet at the MGM Grand Garden arena on Nov. 15 at UFC 91 in Las Vegas – most bookies have learned their lesson by now – but not by much. Lesnar is a 265-pound problem Couture must solve along with another question of how long the UFC heavyweight champ can punch his time-defying ticket.
He is three weeks into his camp and says he’s getting back to fighting shape. This week, the big guys come to Xtreme Couture – All-American wrestlers John Juarez and Josh Hendricks, Seth Whittle, Brad Imes, and UFC heavyweight Shane Carwin, fighters as close to Lesnar’s size as possible. In sparring, the mammoths will rotate in on Couture in five-minute shifts, mimicking Lesnar’s bulldozer style.
“It’s gonna suck,” Couture said in a video interview with MMAWeekly.com.
Lesnar’s NCAA-bred power and XXXL size, as well as his existing celebrity, have taken the UFC heavyweight division by storm. After pummeling Health Herring at UFC 87, it wasn’t a big leap for UFC brass to match the former WWE wrestler against the returning champion. But Couture says Lesnar’s wrestling background makes him easy to break down.
“He comes out very aggressive, spends a lot of energy early on, tries to overwhelm guys, like Heath, he smothered him and stayed on top of him. He played it just like a college wrestler. He was just riding a guy, only in this college wrestling match you’re allowed to punch him in the head.”
Couture knows he can’t afford to spend an evening under Lesnar’s weight. Since re-emerging as a heavyweight at UFC 68, he’s abandoned the idea that he could be competitive from his back. Losses to Josh Barnett and Ricco Rodriguez at UFC 36 and 39, respectively, taught him the value of positioning against bigger men.
“When you get stuck underneath those guys, I don’t care how good your jiu-jitsu is, they’re not going to give up submissions, they’re not going to get caught,” he said. “So now you’re down there underneath a big guy getting hit. I think I switched back to that wrestling mentality where when I get on my back, I want to scramble, fight, scrap, do whatever I have to do to get off my back, just like I would in a wrestling match.”
Then, Couture needs to put the big man on his back. Like his fights with Tim Sylvia and Gabriel Gonzaga, he will need to negate his size disadvantage with a combination of lateral movement and smothering pressure. It’s the job of a matador. Though Lesnar hasn’t seen a fourth or fifth round in his short career, Couture needs to survive his initial onslaught.
“I think that’s something I have to be ready for, (to) be elusive and stick and move, force him to miss and force him to charge, come after me and be able to move out of the way,” he said.
Despite so many unknowns about the depth of Lesnar’s skill set, Couture is confident he won’t see any surprises on Nov. 15 at UFC 91.
“He is what he is,” said Couture. “He’s a big, strong, athletic guy, and that’s the strength that he’s going to try to rely on. The rest of the changes in technique are going to be fairly subtle. He’s only had a couple months since the last fight. There’s not a lot of time to develop a bunch of new tricks. That’s the reality of the situation.”
As for the future beyond Lesnar, Couture says he hasn’t put any thought into the next round of the UFC’s unofficial “tournament.” Should he be victorious, Couture will likely face off with the winner of Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira vs. Frank Mir sometime in early 2009. According to Couture, talks between Fedor Emelianenko’s American representatives are ongoing; a good sign for removing the impasse that turned him from the UFC in October of 2007.
“The fact that they’re still talking and have been talking this whole time is an indication that things are going alright, and there’s some likelihood,” he said.
Given the box office potential of a Couture/Emelianenko fight, it wouldn’t take place until late next year. That suits Couture fine. Right now, he’s just happy to be back in the gym, focusing on a fight.
As Couture often says, everything will work itself out.
“It’s an end to a pretty long year,” Couture said of the Lesnar fight. “There’s been frustrations, but at the same time, there have been some really cool, great things that have happened. There’s been the good and the bad, and my whole life’s been that way.”