Yeah, I said it. Randy Couture is not a legend! Commonly referred to in the UFC as a “legend” and someone who has revolutionized the sport, Couture is arguably the most popular MMA and fighter in history. Sure, he’s popular but is popularity the only factor that determines “legendary” status?
Merriam-Webster dictionary defines a legend as “one popularly regarded as historical” and “a person that inspires legends”. So, in the literal sense, since Couture is indeed “historical” and “inspirational”, he is a legend.
Now let’s take the perceived definition of a legend. When most of us hear that someone was a legend of their sport, we think of someone who was far superior than their peers; someone who put on performances that our children will be reading about and watching 30 years from now; someone who was a constant winner.
Was Randy Couture any of these? Is there any concrete proof that “The Natural” was far superior than the people he fought alongside of? Did Couture compete in matches that our kids will be looking back on years from now in the way that we look back on the clutch performances of Michael Jordan or Tom Brady? Was Couture a winner? The easiest way to answer these questions is to look at the numbers. As the old adage states, “the numbers don’t lie.” The answer to each of these questions is an unequivocal, NO!
Couture was a bit of a late-starter on the MMA scene. He was 34 when he had his first professional fight against Tony Halme (late WWF star Ludvig Borga) at UFC 13 in the first match of a one-night, 4-man Heavyweight tournament. This would be the first of many times in his career where Couture would be the “David” facing off against a “Goliath”. Couture choked out Halme in just a minute despite being out-weighed by 100 lbs. That same night, he overcame a 70 lb. weight advantage and scored a TKO victory over Steven Graham in a little over three minutes. There stood an old, inexperienced, undersized, yet, victorious Randy Couture basking in the cheers of a crowd that he had just won over for the first of many times. It was a sign of things to come.
It would be Couture’s next fight against a 19-year old Gracie black belt named Vitor Belfort that would add a new layer onto Couture’s legacy. His first two fights painted the picture of a grizzly rookie who could beat even the biggest people in MMA. Even at 15-years-his-junior, Belfort was a heavy favorite. For all 8 minutes, 17 seconds of the fight, Belfort was completely outworked by Couture. Couture exhibited better standup, better grappling, and was far better on the ground. With this win, Couture became the number one contender for the UFC Heavyweight title. This was the fight where Couture became known as a master-strategist. A few months later, Couture earned his first title by defeating Maurice Smith by decision.
If this article were about Couture’s rise to fame and his popularity, I’d continue to chronicle his each and every match. This article isn’t about that, however; it’s about how a guy who started out as a 34 year old rookie that quickly earned the backing of the fans by being an underdog master-strategist has been branded incorrectly as an MMA “legend”.
Don Kelley of MMALinker.com recently posted an article on how Couture, despite his record, is a legend of the sport and should be regarded as one of the best. Kelley went through many of Couture’s biggest matches and explained exactly what Couture did in those matches to earn his titles as a master-strategist and all-time great. In his closing, he explains: “Out of his 17-10 record, 14 of those fights were title fights; Fourteen. Not too many fighters can say they have fought for the title 14 times. 3 of those fights won him the heavyweight title, 2 of them won him the light heavyweight belt, and 9 of those fights were defending his belts or fighting for a belt. What other fighter’s record, in all of MMA, can make a claim like that?”
After all of that, we can conclude that there are 5 reasons why people consider Randy Couture a “legend”. They are because he was very often undersized, often considered to be over-matched, won titles in multiple weight classes multiple times, helped to put MMA in the mainstream, and finally, he did all of this between the ages of 34 and 46. All 5 of these things are true, but it doesn’t make Couture a legend. I think that most fans have taken these 5 factors and run with them. Randy Couture might have skill, popularity, a lion heart, and longevity on his side, but he’s still not a legend.
Randy Couture sure did win the UFC Heavyweight title 3 times. Since he’s not the current UFC Heavyweight Champ, it also means he’s lost it 3 times. He was stripped the first time, lost his second Heavyweight Title to Josh Barnett, and lost his third to Brock Lesnar. After losing his second Heavyweight Title to Barnett, his very next match was for the same belt he had just lost when Barnett was stripped of the belt after testing positive for anabolic steroids. Couture fought Ricco Rodriguez for the vacant title and lost that match as well. So, Couture was in 9 fights that involved the heavyweight title in some way or another.
In these 9 fights, Couture went 6-3 with his 6 wins coming over Maurice Smith, Kevin Randleman, Pedro Rizzo twice, Tim Sylvia, and Gabriel Gonzaga. His 3 losses were thanks to Josh Barnett, Ricco Rodriguez, and Brock Lesnar. It doesn’t take a diehard MMA fan to figure out that the 6 heavyweight’s that Couture beat were nowhere near as good as the 3 that he lost to. Couture beat the mediocre heavyweights and lost to the ones that were actually good. The “Couture was under-sized” argument is moot. Everyone knows that the Heavyweight division is fought by guys between the weights of 205 and 265. It is what it is. If Couture chose to fight in these fights at 220, then that’s on him. He could have put on the weight to be more on par with the guys he was facing. If we’re in a race and you run forwards while I run backwards, we’re still racing.
Randy Couture also was a 3 time UFC Light Heavyweight champion as well; granted, one of these was as an interim champ. The record books still count that as being a champion, so we must as well. It should be pointed out, however, that he only won the Light Heavyweight Title by beating the Light Heavyweight champion twice. Couture fought 6 matches that involved the Light Heavyweight Title in some way or another. In those 6 fights, Couture went 3-3. His 3 wins were the interim title win over Chuck Liddell and the two title victories over Tito Ortiz and Vitor Belfort. His 3 losses came at the hands of Vitor Belfort once and Chuck Liddell twice. A 3-3 record in the most competitive division in MMA seems average to me; not legendary. Earlier I stated that a legend is someone who was far superior than their peers; someone who put on performances that our children will be reading about and watching 30 years from now, and someone who was a constant winner. A 3-3 record shows that Couture was not more superior then his peers and was not a consistent winner. In my opinion, a legend is someone who learns from their losses and mistakes, improves upon them, and comes back a winner. By losing 2 out of 3 to Liddell, Couture proved that Liddell was indeed the superior of the 2. Liddell learned from his lone loss to Couture in their first match and beat him 2 more times to prove that. That doesn’t sound very “master-strategist” like if you ask me.
Couture’s record in itself shows why he is not a legend. He is 18-10. That’s a .643 win percentage which would be great if this were the MLB or NBA. In MMA, a .643 win percentage is mediocre at best. A guy who, on average, loses once every 3 fights isn’t a legend. In fact, that trend gets most people fired from the UFC. Ask Mark Coleman who, at a very comparable 16-10, was just given the boot after a defeat from Couture. And let’s take a closer look at some of Couture’s 10 losses. A few of those blemishes come at the hands of Valentin Overeem (26-25), Enson Inou (11-8), and Mikhail Illoukhine (27-11). Granted the losses to Inou and Illoukhine were at the beginning of his career, the loss to Overeem was while Couture was the UFC Heavyweight Champion for the second time. His loss to Overeem was by guillotine choke just 56-seconds into the match. Really? Couture at the prime of his career loses to a guy who, at the time, was 16-7? So not legendary.
Let’s talk more about the prime of Couture’s career. Since Couture started late, the prime of his career was a little later. Couture had his best, most memorable matches from 2002 until 2007. During those 5 years, Couture fought 11 times with 10 of those fights having some sort of title implications. In these 11 fights during the prime of his career, Couture was a mediocre 6-5. In the PRIME OF HIS CAREER, Couture put up a record of 6-5. Here’s an even better stat. From January 31, 2004 until March 3, 2007, he actually alternated wins and losses. A 3 year span in the prime of his career where Couture couldn’t string together back-to-back wins. Another important thing that a legend tends to do is finish fights in great fashion. Couture, unfortunately, has never been that type of guy either. In fact, 44% of his fights were the result of a decision. (And that’s including the BS decision win that was gifted to him at the expense of Brandon Vera.) But don’t worry – he’s been given a pass because he was smaller than his opponents, was old, and was popular.
One good way to determine exactly how good someone truly is, is by considering how good they would be against other fighters commonly referred to as legends. Is there anyone on this earth who thinks that Couture in his prime (the almighty, invincible, 6-5 prime in which he lost to some guy named Valentin Overeem) could beat the likes of Fedor Emelianenko, Georges St. Pierre, BJ Penn, or Anderson Silva? (Side note: I know GSP and BJ Penn are in different weight classes, but since Couture has been given a free pass since he was much smaller than some of his opponents, than these guys should be granted the common courtesy.) The answer is NO. Those 4 would rip Couture apart from limb to limb without a doubt in my mind. Pound for pound, Couture isn’t in the top 10 now and isn’t in the top 10 pound for pound of all time.
It’s time to take the numbers for what they are; the truth. Let’s call a spade a spade. Randy Couture is no legend. Randy Couture is a fraud. Randy Couture is the most popular and profitable fighter of all-time. Randy Couture is one hell of a wrestler and striker. “The Natural” has the heart of a lion and has fought people much bigger than him. He started the sport at an age where most have given up. He continues to excel at the sport at a time when others are multiple years removed and permanently damaged from it. He’s won just as many belts as he’s lost and he’s done it at 205 and above. He’s one of the 3 or 4 people responsible for putting the UFC on the map.
But, make no mistake about it, he wasn’t far superior to his peers; he hasn’t put on multiple performances that our kids will talk about in 30 years; and he wasn’t a consistent winner in a sport where your wins and losses trump all other stats. You live by the sword and you die by the sword. In a sport where people get canned on a daily basis for not winning enough, Randy Couture has received his pass long enough. Dana White can continue milking the Couture-Cash Cow by feeding him easy match after easy match while proclaiming that he’s a legit contender, but we’re not buying it anymore. Randy Couture may be popular and may be a warrior, but Randy Couture is no legend.
Randy Couture is not a legend.
Brett is 26 years old and from Millville, NJ. He has is a life-log fan of the Philadelphia sports teams as well as the Boston red Sox and Cincinnati Bengals. Brett is also a big fan of professional wrestling and mixed martial arts. If you would like to comment on one of his stories, please e-mail him at [email protected]
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