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 fourth part of Couture's UFC career - his return from retirement and his UFC heavyweight title bout against Tim Sylvia.
The moment: Couture returns from 13-month retirement, wins heavyweight title
March 3, 2007 is a special day for any Randy Couture fan and stands as one of the great days in the history of MMA. That's the day Randy Couture returned from his 13-month retirement to challenge the hated Tim Sylvia for the UFC heavyweight championship. Sylvia won the title in impressive fashion, knocking out Andrei Arlovski in a big upset at UFC 59. The two immediately rematched at UFC 61 and Sylvia won a unanimous decision in a unanimously panned fight. Then, four months later, Sylvia returned to defend against Jeff Monson. Again, Sylvia won a decision in another universally panned fight. With the division needing a challenger and Couture seeing an opening, he announced on the short-lived show "Inside the UFC" that he was returning to fight Sylvia at the UFC's initial foray into Ohio, at "UFC 68: The Uprising," from Nationwide Arena in Columbus.
Not many people were giving Couture a chance. People looked and saw the younger, much bigger Sylvia and figured Couture would be nothing but cannon fodder for the champ, considering he'd just been knocked out twice in a year's span by Chuck Liddell at a lower weight class. The oddsmakers agreed, making Couture a +225 underdog. Even though he was retired from MMA, Couture remained active, opening the Xtreme Couture gym in Las Vegas and also prominently facing current Strikeforce middleweight champion and Brazilian jiu-jitsu ace Ronaldo "Jacare" Souza in a grappling match. So it wasn't like Couture was coming into the fight a dead fish, but at 43 years old, not many were giving the two-time former heavyweight champion a chance — but that's when Couture does his best work.
In front of the biggest crowd to ever see a mixed martial arts show in North America to that point, the fans were frenzied when Couture and Sylvia stepped into the Octagon. Couture received a hero's welcome while Sylvia was roundly booed. As referee "Big" John McCarthy told them to get it on, the crowd of 19,049 chanted "Randy! Randy!" The chant only stopped as Couture faked a inside leg kick and came over the top with a right hand, sending both Sylvia and the decibel level flying. If roofs could literally be blown off of arenas because of sound, this would've done it. The crowd was so loud you could barely hear announcers Mike Goldberg and Joe Rogan, making this one of the all-time great moments in the sport's history.
Couture rushed in, pulled Sylvia to the mat and immediately hopped on his back with both hooks in. To his credit, Sylvia controlled Couture's wrists, making it difficult for him to secure a choke. "Who ever would've expected that to happen," Rogan asked.
Couture remained on Sylvia's back for the remainder of the round and as the second round started (obviously on the feet), everyone asked themselves, "Can Couture do it?" As Couture ducked some punches, landed some of his own and then took Sylvia down, even the Magic 8-Ball was saying "Signs point to yes." After a period of inactivity, McCarthy stood the two up. If you needed to know how much of a pro-Couture crowd this was, there was no booing of the lack of action. Instead, the crowd heartily booed McCarthy for the stand-up. The round would end with Couture up two rounds on the champ.
Stay with us after the jump as we detail the rest of the fight...
The third round again was all Couture. He used head movement to avoid Sylvia's punches and started lighting the champ up. In a round spent completely on the feet, Couture dominated to go up 3-cobb
"Tim Sylvia is getting battered on the feet! Who ever would've predicted this?!" - Rogan
Couture missed on a takedown attempt to open the fourth round, but after the two traded knees in the clinch, Couture ducked under a punch, got to Sylvia's body and tripped his right leg out from under him. Couture would work some ground-and-pound as Sylvia finally became active with his legs from underneath, but neither was enough for McCarthy, as he stood the two fighters to another chorus of boos with three minutes left in the round. On the feet, Couture would again win the striking battle and took Sylvia down with two minutes to go, mounting with a minute remaining. Sylvia, though, would give his back and slip out. The round ended with Couture landing a shot and Sylvia yelling "F---!"
There was a sense of nervous anticipation in the crowd as the fifth round started. Could Couture finish the storybook comeback or would Sylvia knock him out? The fans cheered a breathed a sigh of relief as Couture pushed Sylvia into the cage and then took him down a little more than 40 seconds into the round. "Randy! Randy!" After spinning out of a leg lock attempt, Couture would work from side control, landing knees to the body and elbows to the head. The clock was ticking on Sylvia, as he was on his back with less than two minutes to go and found himself mounted with 95 seconds left. Sylvia would buck and escape the mount and be back on his feet briefly, but Couture was on him like white on rice and dragged him right back to the mat with 65 seconds left as the crowd exploded. As time wound down, the crowd got progressively louder and louder. As the final horn sounded, Nationwide Arena exploded again.
"The scoring right now is just academic. Unbelievable!" - Rogan
"Nobody on this planet thought Randy Couture could strike with Tim Sylvia. He completely owned him. He landed like 20 hooks, 25 straight right hands. No one thought he was gonna take Tim Sylvia down, he took him down like seven times. Complete domination. Complete ownage. Randy Couture, 50-45." - Eddie Bravo
"Ladies and gentlemen, after five rounds of action, we go to the judge's scorecards for the decision. All three judges score this contest 50-45 for the winner by unanimous decision, and now, once again, the NEW UFC heavyweight champion of the world: Randy 'The Natural' Couture." - Bruce Buffer
"Not bad for an old man!" - Couture
Why it was important: Couture's win breathed some much needed life into a division that was dying a quick death with Sylvia as champion, as I outlined last year. The win was great for the UFC, as it gave them another legitimate headliner that the people loved. For as long as mixed martial arts goes on, this is one fight that will never be forgotten. It was a truly special night for all involved. As someone who attended the show in person, I can say without hesitation that will be one of the top-five events I will ever attend, and I've already been to a Final Four and a WrestleMania and this undoubtedly ranks above those. It was an atmosphere that will be tough to duplicate going forward, a special scenario as the sport welcomed back one of its favorite sons for another run.