Mixed Martial Arts

Couture to face Lesnar for heavyweight title at UFC 91

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The Canadian Press
9/2/2008 7:20:57 PM
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Tired of battling the UFC in court, Randy (The Natural) Couture has returned to the mixed martial arts organization and will defend his heavyweight title against former pro wrestler Brock Lesnar at UFC 91 in Las Vegas on Nov. 15.

Couture said he had cleared up "a lot of" his concerns with UFC management and had grown frustrated and tired "at throwing money at lawyers and the legal system with no end in sight.

"I want to fight. That's what I do. That's what I do best," he told a UFC conference call Tuesday. "And the best place for me to fight is in the cage, in the Octagon, not in a courtroom, not anywhere else. ... The last year hasn't been a lot of fun. I could have lived without the headaches and all the other crap that's gone on."

At 45, time is running out for Couture, a UFC Hall of Famer who cited problems with the organization's management, pay structure and inability to set up a fight with Russian star Fedor Emelianenko when he announced what he called his resignation from the UFC last October.

The UFC filed a lawsuit against Couture in December, arguing he was in breach of contract and had damaged their business.

On Tuesday, the two sides publicly made up.

"We're done. We're no longer in a court battle with Randy Couture," said UFC president Dana White.

"I like Randy, I always have," he added. "This whole thing never made sense to me ... I'm like a giddy little girl right now. I'm happy."

Added Couture: "It feels pretty damn good. I feel like I've been walking around under a black cloud for the last year."

The resolution might not be what he was after - a November fight with Emelianenko would have done the trick - but Couture called it a step in the right direction. And he emerges with a new three-fight deal that will no doubt contain a lucrative cut of the pay-per-view audience for the Lesnar fight.

"Mark my words on this one, Couture versus Lesnar will be the biggest fight in UFC history," said White, who predicted the card will set an MMA record with more one million pay-per-view buys.

White expects the Lesnar-Couture bout to be a blockbuster despite the fact that the 31-year-old Lesnar, a former NCAA wrestling champion, is a raw MMA fighter with a 2-1 record.

Lesnar is a physical specimen at 6-3 and 280 pounds, and used that mass to manhandle and bloody veteran Heath Herring en route to a unanimous decision last time out at UFC 87 in August. He brings wrestling fans to the table while drawing the attention of MMA devotees curious at what the big man can do.

Add Couture to the mix and White may be right as to the appeal of Couture-Lesnar, although Couture-Emelianenko would no doubt be bigger.

Couture's decision to walk away from the UFC forced the privately held organization to give outsiders a rare glimpse at its books. In a rare "show me the money" moment last October, the UFC held a news conference to reveal Couture had made US$2.9 million for his two fights in 2007.

The winner of the Couture-Lesnar bout at the MGM Grand Garden Arena will then meet the winner of a December matchup between Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira and former champion Frank Mir, who were already slated to fight after serving as coaches on the next season of "The Ultimate Fighter" reality TV show.

The UFC never stripped Couture of his title but instead set up an interim heavyweight fight between Nogueira and former champion Tim Sylvia at UFC 81 in February. Nogueira won, allowing White to proclaim Tuesday that the Couture-Lesnar and Nogueira-Mir winners will both go into their subsequent heavyweight showdown with a title on the line.

"It will be champion against champion," said White.

Lesnar was submitted by Mir, a black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu, when he made his UFC debut at UFC 81.

White said the UFC will do "everything in our power to make a Fedor fight happen," if the Russian becomes available. He's currently under contract with rival promoter Affliction, which also sponsors Couture.

Couture (16-8) is an icon in the sport, having held the heavyweight title three times and the light-heavyweight crown twice. His trio of fights with Chuck (The Iceman) Liddell helped put the sport on the map.

The U.S. army veteran has served as a TV analyst for the UFC and added acting to his arsenal in recent years, appearing in such films as "Redbelt" and "The Scorpion King 2: Rise of a Warrior" as well as "The Unit" on TV. He also runs a successful string of Xtreme Couture gyms, with one franchise in Toronto, in addition to his own clothing line and nutrition products.

Like Lesnar, Couture has impressive amateur wrestling credentials. He was runner-up as NCAA champion twice and was an alternate to the U.S. Olympic team four times.

Couture's last fight was in August 2007, a win over Gabriel Gonzaga at UFC 74. Asked if he was ready for Lesnar, he replied; "I'm not ready yet, no, but I will be in about 10 weeks."

Couture first retired after losing a UFC 57 rubber match at light-heavyweight to Liddell in February 2006. But he returned to the sport, saying he wanted to challenge then-champion Sylvia.

The UFC handed him a new contract and made the fight. Couture toppled the six-foot-eight Sylvia at UFC 68 in March 2007 before 19,049 in Columbus, Ohio. At the time it was the largest MMA crowd in North American history (UFC 83 in Montreal in April broke that record).

At six-foot-eight and 265 pounds. Sylvia came in 13 years younger, six inches taller and 40 pounds heavier than the 3-1 underdog Couture. Still Couture won every round in a masterful five-round performance after a year away from the game.

"Not bad for an old man," Couture said in the ring after the fight

Couture expects to weight 225 pounds when he fights Lesnar, who will have to cut about 15 pounds not to exceed the 265-pound heavyweight limit.

He said the Lesnar matchup made sense "because it's part of a resolution for getting back on good terms with the UFC and taking a step towards hopefully making that Fedor fight happen."

White, never afraid to voice his opinion, suggested that rivals like Affliction will soon fall by the wayside - "and then Fedor will have to come here. Listen, you're not under contract if the company isn't in business any more."

The Emelianenko questions on the conference call did little for Lesnar's mood.

"Randy Couture is fighting Brock Lesnar Nov. 15," Lesnar sniped. "His No. 1 concern should be Brock Lesnar. ... I'm sick and tired of sitting on the phone, listening about Fedor. He's not with the company, he might not ever be with the company so who gives a shit?" 

Randy Couture (Photo: ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images)

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(Photo: ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images)
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