UFC President Dana White took a big risk Saturday night. For years the war of words has raged between White and what feels at times like the entire boxing establishment. A fledgling boxing promoter, White never made it to the big time. Instead, he and his investors, the billionaire Fertitta family, made the Ultimate Fighting Championship a promotion capable of challenging, and eventually, surpassing the sport of his childhood. So when it comes to the UFC versus boxing, it's personal for White. Very personal.
That's why, when he finally pulled the trigger on his dream confrontation between boxing and mixed martial arts, White knew he had to get it right. Sure, James Toney was on the wrong side of 40. Yes, he was sixty pounds past his best fighting weight. But he was also one of his generation's best boxers. And with a good puncher there is always a chance.
White needed someone who could rise to the occasion. Someone who he knew would come in, fight smart, and make him look like a genius. He also needed a hero, a fighter that could provide balance to Toney's over the top bad guy persona. There was only one man for this job - "The Natural" Randy Couture.
For almost a decade Couture has been able to capture the moment, creating some of the most memorable fights in UFC history. Couture makes every fight seem special. And when the UFC needs a big moment, he delivers.
At UFC 33 the promotion made every mistake in the book. It was their first time back on pay per view nationwide and the show was one of the worst of all-time. The fights got progressively worse as the night went on and not only did the Tito Ortiz main event set new lows for activity and interest, it also went over time causing Zuffa to lose millions when cable companies cut the broadcast in the midst of the main event. Their next show needed to be special. And was it ever. With Couture and his greatest opponent, kickboxer Pedro Rizzo, leading the way, UFC 34 was one of the most spectacular events fans had ever seen. He righted the ship.
The Couture highlight reel doubles as an archive of the UFC's best moments. Couture has a knack for creating art; the Octagon is his tapestry. The huge double leg on Chuck Liddell at UFC 43. Spanking Ortiz at UFC 44. The amazing punch that floored the mammoth Tim Sylvia. His epic battle with fellow warrior Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira. Even in defeat, he does things the right way. He could have complained about a vicious eye poke that led to a Liddell knockout win. He took the high road. If the unthinkable had happened, if Toney had floored him with a punch, if the cage had filled with hooligans - Couture would have done the right thing.
What's next for Couture is anyone's guess. White suggested that the legend would return to light heavyweight. At an incredibly fit and sculpted 220 pounds, that seems like the right move. Trapped underneath the massive Brock Lesnar or trading punches with a swollen Shane Carwin is no way to ease into retirement. Finding the right fight will be troublesome for matchmaker Joe Silva. Couture deserves to fight an opponent worthy of his talents. He's earned that. And, one thing is certain. When the time comes to fight again, Couture will deliver, will find away to give us that instant of action that takes our breath away. Of course he will. He's Randy Couture.