#4. Randy Couture
What can be said about “The Natural” that would ever fully do his career justice? He’s one of those figures that if you just look at his record on paper, you would never think that he’s possibly the biggest and most respected legend in the history of the sport.
With a final pro MMA record of 19-11, Couture is a guy that if you didn’t witness his greatness as it was happening, if you don’t take into account the progression of the sport and the way he developed along with it, you may never fully understand just how special an athlete he truly was.
After seeing the success that many of his peers in the amatuer wrestling community were having, Couture decided to enter the sport of MMA in May of 1997. His debut would take place at UFC 13 against a guy named Tony Halme. Pro wrestling fans may remember Halme as the character known as “Ludvig Borga” in the early 1990s. To Couture, however, he was simply victim number one.
Couture would easily defeat Halme via submission and go on to beat Steven Graham in the finals of a one-night, four-man tournament. It wouldn’t be the first time Couture was the “champion” of a mixed-martial-arts event. Not by a long shot.
The first of many instances where Couture “shocked the world” took place in his third professional MMA bout, as he would be matched up with “The Phenom” Vitor Belfort.
Belfort was considered the Mike Tyson of the sport at the time as he entered the Couture fight with a perfect 4-0 record. Three of the four wins were via knockout in under one minute. The fourth? A knockout in one minute and 17 seconds.
The popular opinion at the time was that Belfort would knock Couture out and go on to rule the sport for many years, especially considering the fact that he was only 19 years old at the time and had a long future ahead of him.
Randy Couture disagreed.
Couture would stun the MMA world with his destruction of Belfort, pummeling “The Phenom” with what became known as “dirty boxing,” which is essentially punching someone in the clinch, a technique that is illegal in professional boxing, thus “dirty” boxing.
Following his eight-minute TKO of Belfort, Couture would fight one more time in the UFC, a decision victory over veteran kickboxer Maurice Smith to become only the third ever UFC Heavyweight Champion, before vacating the title and heading to Japan for better money.
Couture would go on to have mixed results in Japan before returning to the UFC, losing three of his six fights, all by way of submission.
Back in the U.S. and back in the UFC, “The Natural” would go on to win the UFC Heavyweight Championship for the second time, beating Kevin “The Monster” Randleman at UFC 28 in November of 2000.
In 2001, when Frank and Lorenzo Fertitta purchased the UFC, the guy the new UFC owners felt would be the face of the UFC Heavyweight division was Brazilian knockout artist Pedro Rizzo.
Randy Couture disagreed.
The two would meet for the first time at UFC 31 in May of 2001, a fight that at the time was considered arguably the greatest heavyweight fight of all-time, with Couture pulling off a close decision victory. The second time the two met, Couture dominated Rizzo, TKO’ing him in the third round.
Couture would then face the issue of fighting much larger opponents, first of which was Josh Barnett. Barnett would defeat Couture via TKO to become the new UFC Heavyweight Champion, however he would end up being stripped of the title for failing his post-fight drug test.
Next up was Ricco Rodriguez. Rodriguez would defeat Couture to become the next champ, crushing “The Natural’s” eye socket with brutal elbows in the process. Couture realized he was too small to be fighting these giants and thanks to an issue one division south, would put himself into the championship picture once again.
At the time the dream fight in the UFC’s Light Heavyweight division was Tito Ortiz vs. Chuck Liddell. To make a long story short, Ortiz, the champion, would not fight Liddell, forcing UFC to create an “interim” Light Heavyweight title. Couture and Liddell would fight for that belt.
Couture would shock the world once again, destroying Liddell en route to a third round TKO. He became the first man in history to win UFC titles in two different weight classes.
From there, Couture would defend his version of the title against the man who technically never lost his title in the first place, Tito Ortiz. Couture would easily dominate (and spank — literally) Ortiz on the way to a decision victory, proving he was the true undisputed champion of the 205-pound weight class.
Couture would fight in the 205-pound division for the next three years, including a stint as the first ever coach of a reality show called “The Ultimate Fighter,” a program that not only saved the sport, but took it to a level it had never been before, before returning to the Heavyweight division.
In March of 2007, Couture returned to the Heavyweight division to challenge Tim Sylvia for the title before a very lively Columbus, Ohio crowd. Couture would drop Sylvia quickly in the first round before beating on him for five straight rounds to become the only three-time UFC Heavyweight Champion, a record that stands to this day. The fans actually counted down the final ten seconds of the fifth round, thrilled that Couture had toppled the unpopular giant.
After his last “epic” moment against Sylvia, an aging Couture would go on to fight for four more years, compiling a 4-3 record that included a fun “MMA vs. boxer” match against former boxing champion James “Lights Out” Toney, before calling it a career.
And what a career it was.
We’ll cut things off here, however make sure to visit MMANews.com later this week for the conclusion of our look at the top ten most dominant heavyweight champions in MMA history, as we reveal our top three. Until then, you can debate this half of the list and share your opinions on our official FACEBOOK page, or on our official TWITTER page. You can also talk about it in our popular FORUMS.