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 the third part of Couture's UFC career — his drop to light-heavyweight, where he captured the UFC light-heavyweight championship.
The moment: Couture unifies light-heavyweight title
Back in 2003, a lot of people thought UFC light-heavyweight champion Tito Ortiz was ducking top contender Chuck Liddell. So with the UFC itching for a light-heavyweight title fight and Ortiz unable (or unwilling) to fight, the UFC went searching for someone to fill in. Who did they settle on? None other than former two-time heavyweight champion Randy Couture, who had seemingly been run out of the heavyweight division following back-to-back losses to much bigger fighters in Josh Barnett and Ricco Rodriguez, making it a curious choice.
Of course, Couture came into the fight as the underdog, as the much younger Liddell was on a tear, having won 10 straight fights, including a vicious head-kick knockout of Renato Sobral at UFC 40. So when Couture and Liddell met for the first time at UFC 43 (June 6, 2003), the Liddell hype train was in full effect and many were expecting Liddell to buzz through Couture.
Instead, what happened was Couture never let Liddell get off the blocks, landing multiple takedowns, including an incredible trip takedown, while, as Mike Goldberg would phrase it, out-striking the striker. Couture just worked Liddell over, eventually taking him down in the third round, achieving mount and stopping him with punches at 2:39.
So that set Couture, as the interim champion, up for a unification bout with Oritz, who was riding a six-fight win streak with five defenses of the light-heavyweight title. That bout would take place at UFC 44 (Sept. 26, 2003). Again, Couture was a big underdog and again, he ended up being the one who made a big statement.
Couture completely dominated Ortiz, taking him down at will (including one heck of a takedown from a body lock in the first round), dominated him positionally and basically humiliated him, culminating with Couture literally delivering a spanking to Ortiz in one of the most memorable moments in MMA history. Couture won 50-45, 50-44 and 50-44. A complete domination.
"That guy is my hero!" - Joe Rogan
Why it was important: The win solidified Couture as a UFC legend. Not only had he become the first man to hold a championship twice, but he became the first man in UFC history to hold titles in two different weight classes. The fight with Liddell would also set up the sport's most important and defining trilogy, one that took the UFC to unprecedented heights.
Stay with us after the jump for the remainder of the post ...
The moment: Couture closes series with Belfort, coaches on The Ultimate Fighter
After losing his title in one of the most flukey ways possible after having his eyelid sliced by a grazing punch from Vitor Belfort, Couture and Belfort would meet again, for the third time, at UFC 49 (aptly named "Unfinished Business") on Aug. 21, 2004.
Like their first fight, this one was all Couture. He took Belfort down and busted him up with ground-and-pound and by the third round, blood was flying everywhere (including onto the camera and onto the notes of Mike Goldberg and Rogan). At the end of the third round, the doctor had seen enough, calling a stop to the one-sided beatdown, giving Couture his second light-heavyweight title.
The win, combined with Liddell's win earlier in the show, set the two up to become the coaches on the UFC's new reality TV series "The Ultimate Fighter" with the two meeting for the second time after the conclusion of the season.
Why it was important: The exposure on that TV show, which took off and catapulted the UFC to places previously unseen, made both Couture and Liddell into extremely popular figures with the new crop of UFC fans. Their pay-per-view fight at UFC 52 (April 16, 2005), was the most purchased UFC pay-per-view of the Zuffa era to that point and the live show set the UFC's all-time gate record with more than $2.5 million in ticket sales. Even though Couture would lose the light-heavyweight title to Liddell, his third fight with Liddell would do even bigger numbers and would again set the UFC gate record for their bout at UFC 57 (Feb. 4, 2006). After again losing by knockout, Couture would announce his retirement from MMA.
In the next installment of The Magic of Randy Couture: We'll take a look at how Couture came out of retirement and moved back to the heavyweight division for a chance to compete once again for the UFC heavyweight title against Tim Sylvia.