Even Ryan Couture, a legitimate crown prince of mixed martial arts, has to be amused at how different his life was just four years ago.
"I was 200 pounds and lazy and working at a bank," Couture laughed this week while taking breaks to assist customers at Xtreme Couture Mixed Martial Arts and Fitness in Las Vegas. "I was thinking, 'What's my future?' I hadn't entertained the idea of relocating. I didn't have any idea this would happen."
Indeed, Couture, son of MMA legend Randy Couture, was building a drastically different life in Bellingham, Wash. His banking career seemed like it could be his future, and he hadn't come near wrestling since finishing high school in suburban Seattle.
Couture struggled with a possible entrance into MMA because of his father's success ("The Natural" is a 12-year Ultimate Fighting Championship veteran and former champion). He was a college graduate, a math major, who was tired of the wrestling years involving constant concern about his weight. He hadn't competed in years.
But quickly, Couture has embraced MMA. On Sunday, he will headline the TUFF-N-UFF Amateur Fighting Championships event in Las Vegas. As his second amateur fight, the bout will help test his mettle in the sport his father helped make famous and perhaps nudge the younger Couture closer to a professional career.
Before all that, Couture reconnected with his famous father, dropped the extra weight, established that he was a quick learner in various martial arts and joined the family business in Vegas.
It wasn't a path he planned, but a path he has embraced.
"As long as I was watching sport, I had that fan instinct to get in there and do it," Couture told MMAjunkie.com (UFC blog for UFC news, UFC rumors, fighter interviews and event previews/recaps | MMAjunkie.com
). "I realized as I was picking it up that I was working my way into becoming one of the better guys in the room. I did a few grappling tournaments, which reminded me of wrestling tournaments. I felt like I owed to my self to give it a try."
Wrestling with a shadow
Couture grew up knowing his father as a military man and wrestling coach, not as an MMA star. The family moved several times during Couture's youth, from Germany to Tennessee to Oklahoma, where Randy Couture was the wrestling coach at Oklahoma State University.
With a coach in the family, Couture and his sister were often at practices and events, both soaking in the atmosphere and entertaining themselves.
"He loved to goof around with us," Couture said. "He would wrestle with us, me and my friends, and we loved it."
Couture's mother and father split when he was in the sixth grade, and he moved with his mother to a Seattle suburb, where he focused on both wrestling and soccer in his athletic life. After a high school wrestling career, Couture enrolled in Western Washington University in Bellingham, Wash., where he became a math major. He graduated in 2004 and took a job at a bank to remain in Bellingham, falling into a routine that might now seem terribly boring.
Soon, Couture entered the gym.
"I decided I was tired of feeling lazy," Couture said.
He reconnected with some college friends who met in a back room at the local Gold's Gym for jiu-jitsu sessions. One of those acquaintances, Cody Houston, later opened West Coast Fight Club in Bellingham, and Couture continued his MMA training.
By January 2008, feeling both lethargic about his banking life and wanting to form a stronger connection with his father, Couture moved to Las Vegas. It was the start of a potentially blossoming MMA career.
Couture, actually, had to talk himself into his amateur MMA debut.
In the fall of 2008, Houston called from Bellingham and said he was setting up an MMA event at his gym. He asked Couture to attend, but after years of training Couture was ready for a fight. He was added to the card, the debut of a legend's son.
"The most difficult part was walking past the big crowd and the cheers," Couture said of the November 2008 event. "I've never been comfortable in front of a crowd. As soon as I got ready, I could see the other guy was as nervous as I was.
"The bell rang, we felt each other out, and I hit him with a combination. He shot in, but I caught him a triangle choke and the whole thing was over in about two minutes."
Couture relished the intense emotional feeling that fight provided, and he desires more. He knew of the Tuff-N-Uff shows from attending to support members of Xtreme Couture in the past, and he was able to join Sunday's card as a headliner. Couture also hopes to be part of another event at Houston's Bellingham gym in March.
The question, of course, is the future. Couture openly discusses the possibility of turning pro but understands he first needs more fighting experience. For now, he's working with his father in the family gym, training, supporting the gym's regulars and hoping fans don't hold unfair expectations because of his last name.
"There was never any pressure from him," Couture said of his father. "I'm excited for the chance to be close to him, and I hope I can make my own name in what I'm doing. I'm not doing it because of him, I'm trying to prove myself."