Randy Couture goes by a few nicknames: The main two, "The Natural" and "Captain America," are well-placed nicknames. Any fan who has been watching Couture for any period of time knows he could easily go by another nickname as well: "The Magician."
That's because Couture has pulled a rabbit out of his hat so many times we're starting to lose count. During this seven-part series leading to his fight with former light-heavyweight champion Lyoto Machida at UFC 129, we'll take a look at all those times Couture has pulled the rabbit out of his hat while becoming one of the most beloved fighters in the history of the sport and ask if he can do it again as he enters yet another fight as a heavy underdog coming up in less than two weeks at Rogers Centre in Toronto, Ontario.
Today, we look at Couture's second UFC run — his fight with Kevin Randleman and his title defenses against Pedro Rizzo.
The moment: Couture returns from absence, wins 2nd heavyweight title
After beating Maurice Smith to capture the UFC heavyweight championship, Couture disappeared from the Octagon. He spent just short of three years away from the UFC, as Jonathan Snowden explained in The MMA Encyclopedia:
Couture was rising in stature as the UFC was sinking nearer and nearer bankruptcy. The company simply couldn't afford to pay Couture the $80,000 they had promised him. Rather than take a drastic pay cut and defend his newly won title, Couture walked away. He had a surprisingly unsuccessful tenure in Japan, losing three times by submission and never really impressing in his three decision wins.
Three years after being stripped of the title, Couture received a call from then UFC matchmaker John Peretti, offering him an opportunity to come back and fight for the title against fellow wrestler Kevin Randleman. For a purse of $85,000, Couture agreed to step into the Octagon once again.
Randleman was coming off two straight wins, beating Pete Williams for the vacant title and defending in a decision win against Pedro Rizzo. So here comes the 37-year old Couture in against the 29-year old "Monster" in Randleman, as the two met for the UFC heavyweight title at UFC 28 (Nov. 17, 2000). Unlike his fight with Smith, it was Couture who found himself on his back 20 seconds into the fight. Randleman kept Couture there for the duration of the round but Couture was able to threaten with an armbar attempt at one point.
Randleman started the second round landing some heavy punches and was able to drag Couture to the mat once again. The horn would sound and Randleman was solidly up two rounds. In his corner, a fresh-faced Dan Henderson tells Couture that Randleman is tired.
Couture started the third round by clinching with Randleman and landing some knees to the body. It was an extremely active clinch with both men fighting tooth-and-nail for position.
"Couture is starting to frustrate Kevin Randleman here. His game is starting to be played in full." - Mike Goldberg
No sooner did those words escape Goldberg's mouth, Couture landed a beautiful trip takedown and was in Randleman's guard against the fence. Couture went to work with ground-and-pound, cutting Randleman in the process. Couture would mount with about 90 seconds left in the round. Randleman tried to hold on but Couture would break the grip twice, finishing the fight with punches the second time, as referee John McCarthy stepped in and stopped the bout.
Why it was important: The win was not only big for Couture, as he became a two-time UFC champion, but was also big in other ways, as Snowden explained in The MMA Encyclopedia:
Couture's win over Randleman was a turning point in many ways for the entire sport. UFC 28 was the first UFC event sanctioned by the state of New Jersey and the sport was still very much on a provisional status. When the Commissioner of the New Jersey State Athletic Control Board Larry Hazzard saw Randleman and Couture, two NCAA All Americans and world class athletes, it did more than you could imagine to convince him that MMA was a real sport and much more than a bar room scuffle. As always, Couture was the perfect ambassador for the sport of MMA.
Stay with us after the jump as we detail Couture's back-to-back wins over Pedro Rizzo.
The moment: Randy Couture posts back-to-back wins over Pedro Rizzo
Controversy was in the air as Zuffa took the reins of the UFC at UFC 31 (May 4, 2001) and, in the first of many controversial judges decisions in the Zuffa era, Couture defended his heavyweight title with a hotly-contested unanimous decision win over Pedro Rizzo.
Couture got Rizzo to the mat about halfway through the first round and the rout looked to be on. Couture went to town on Rizzo, busting him up. As Scott Keith notes on Heavy.com:
Rizzo must be the toughest SOB alive to take this kind of punishment and still defend himself. Couture can't finish, as the round expires with Rizzo still alive after nearly a minute straight of getting punched in the face. There's a 10-8 round for Couture if I've ever seen one.
The second round started and Rizzo lands a crushing body kick. After a restart, Couture tries to shoot in but they're coming from miles away and Rizzo easily sidesteps them. Rizzo is lighting Couture up with kicks and punches. Couture survives the round, but the tide of the fight changed on a dime.
Couture would get takedowns in rounds three and four but could not secure one in the fifth and final round, sending the fight to the scorecards.
"A lot will decide on how they look at the third and the fourth rounds. Striking relatively even. Couture got some takedowns. Rizzo was more active in that last minute and probably won the fifth round." - Jeff Blatnick
After going to battle for 25 minutes, Couture and Rizzo stood arm-in-arm in the cage talking to each other while awaiting the decision. Once Bruce Buffer read the decision and boomed "STILL!" Couture looked genuinely surprised he won the fight.
Of course, the nature of the fight set up a natural rematch, which happened six months later at UFC 34 (Nov. 2, 2001). While their first fight was back-and-forth, Couture left absolutely zero doubt who the winner was after the second fight.
Like the first fight, Couture got on top in the first round and went to work on Rizzo. Not anywhere near as much damage by Couture in the first round of this one, but the key here was to not let Rizzo get going. Couture did just that, getting another takedown and not letting Rizzo breathe, ending the second round with Rizzo bleeding profusely.
The third round got off to a slow start with Couture not being able to find a takedown and Rizzo reluctant to engage. Couture finally clinches and Rizzo inexplicably pulls guard. That proved to be his downfall, as Couture quickly went to work and forced McCarthy to stop the bout with a flurry of punches on the ground.
Why it was important: The two wins cemented Couture as the undisputed UFC heavyweight champion and it also was Rizzo's last of three shots at the UFC heavyweight title.
In the next installment of The Magic of Randy Couture: Couture might've been rolling with seven straight UFC wins, but the bigger era of UFC heavyweights would catch up with him, forcing him to make a career-defining drop to 205 pounds. We'll look at that drop and how Couture became one of the most popular fighters in UFC history because of his performances at light-heavyweight.