After being forced into retirement by the business end of Lyoto Machida’s foot, Randy Couture will go down as one of the greatest mixed martial artists of all time. We’ve heard the accolades a million times: multiple division champion, pioneer of the sport, prettiest ears, blah, blah, etc. But what’s been tossed around by a few, but not given nearly the due attention it deserves is that Randy Couture should go down in the annals of this amazing sport as the greatest, most successful UFC Heavyweight Champion of all time.
If a champion is measured not by the titles he wins but by the times he defends them, hell anyway you wish to measure it Randy is the king of the big dudes in the UFC. Take a walk down memory lane and see for yourself. After the tournament format played itself out, of the 14 UFC Heavyweight Champions, only 6 ever defended their belt. That’s right, the UFC Heavyweight Crown gets passed around more than my ex-girlfriend at a frat party.
Of those illustrious 6 who managed to successfully defend their belts, 2 had but a single title defense: Maurice Smith by forcing Tank Abbott to tap to strikes, and Kevin Randleman by defeating Pedro Rizzo by decision. 3 had a pair of title defenses: Tim Sylvia, yeah that Tim Sylvia, the guy who got his ass handed to him in 9 seconds by AARP Heavyweight Champion Ray Mercer by showing up at a booby-flopping 312 pounds, and most recently was knocked stupid in just 32 seconds by Abe Wagner—yup, believe it or not that walking mess of a professional fighter was once a feared heavyweight. Tim defended his belt against Andrei Arlovksi and Jeff Monson. He also defended it earlier in his career, but under dubious circumstances. Tim shocked the MMA world in 2003 by smacking Ricco Rodriguez around to earn the title. He then defended it against Gan McGee, but popped for steroids after the contest and was subsequently stripped of the title. So that doesn’t really count by my estimation.
As for the other 2 time defenders, Andrei Arlovski defended against Justin Eilers (RIP) and Paul Buentello. Granted, his title defense against Justin was as the interim champion, so take from that whatever it’s worth to you. And then we have Brock Lesnar, who defended his belt against Frank Mir and Shane Carwin—both of which, because of mass chaos and confusion in the division, were under the “interim” banner.
Other notable former champions who never got themselves even 1 title defense are Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira and Frank Mir. And the current champion, Cain Velasquez, has yet to attempt his first title defense due to injury.
That leaves only one man standing with 3 successful title defenses: Randy Couture. Randy won the UFC Heavyweight Championship on 3 separate occasions: first in 1997 by defeating Maurice Smith, then in 2000 by beating Kevin Randleman, and finally in 2007 when he made his famous return from retirement to defeat Tim Sylvia at 43 years old. He successfully defended his belt against Pedro Rizzo (twice) and Gabe Gonzaga. And if you wish to count the early tournaments, Randy won the crown in 1997 at the UFC 13 Heavyweight Tournament. The guy is just a warrior pimp.
Some will no doubt judge him, ignorantly and erroneously, by his record of 19-11. The stats are not nearly as important as the competition though, and few in the sport faced the best of the best as often as Randy. He fought in 15 championship bouts at light-heavyweight and heavyweight, winning titles in both weight categories, still one of only two (BJ Penn is the other) fighters to hold UFC titles in two different divisions.
The UFC heavyweight division may one day see a dominant champion who exceeds 3 title defenses, but as it stands now, Randy is the man.