Saturday, September 06, 2008

Couture Returns to Defend Heavyweight Crown against Lesnar on Nov. 15, by Thomas Gerbasi - 2nd September 2008

If we’ve learned one thing in combat sports, it’s to never say old adage was solidified once again today, as UFC President Dana White announced the November 15th return to the Octagon of heavyweight champion Randy Couture to face Brock Lesnar in the main event of UFC 91 at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas.

The announcement comes after nearly a year of contentious relations between the organization and Couture, who walked away from the UFC in October of 2007 with two fights remaining on his contract. But in August, the heavyweight champion and the organization worked on a renegotiation of his contract that will enable ‘The Natural’ to finish his Hall of Fame career with the UFC.

“We had some problems with Randy, we’ve resolved them all, and he’s always been the heavyweight champion of the UFC,” said White. “It took us some time to get everything straight, but I think we’re all good now and ready to move forward and get Randy back out there fighting again.”

”I think we cleared the air and addressed a lot of the issues, we’re both in a different place, and both the company and myself are trying to move forward,” said Couture. “I think we understand each other, and I certainly would much rather fight in the Octagon than anywhere else. Spending the last year in legal fights is not someplace where I’ve had a very good time. At 45, I can’t sit around in court rooms for very long – I want to fight.”

Couture’s first order of business – taking on the imposing 6-3 ½, 265 pound Lesnar, a former NCAA Division I National Wrestling Champion whose arrival in the UFC earlier this year shook the foundations of the MMA world. Add in the former pro wrestling superstar’s spectacular victory over Heath Herring at UFC 87 in August, and the stage is set for what will most certainly be one of the most highly-anticipated heavyweight title fights in history.

“I haven’t looked at tape yet and studied him,” said Couture of Lesnar. “Obviously, he’s a great big guy, and on the ground or standing, he poses some interesting problems, so I’ve got to go to work and find the answers to those questions.”

“My whole goal coming into this company was to get a shot at the UFC heavyweight title, so for me, this is a great opportunity, one that anybody in my position wouldn’t turn down,” added Lesnar. “Randy poses all kinds of threats, and we’re gonna try to nullify them and try to win the title that night.”

You don’t have to convince White when it comes to the importance of this matchup.

“I can tell you this right now,” said White. “Couture vs Lesnar will be the biggest fight in UFC history.”

And though some might question whether Couture
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- 45 years old and more than a year removed from his last fight – will be able to keep up with a younger, faster, and stronger challenger, keep in mind that the Las Vegas resident has made a career of baffling oddsmakers, most recently in March of 2007, when he returned from a year-long retirement to shutout 6 foot 8, 263 pound Tim Sylvia to win the UFC heavyweight crown a record third time.

Couture went on to successfully defend the title with a third round TKO of Gabriel Gonzaga in August of 2007, but two months later, the title was left in limbo, leaving Brazil’s Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira to swoop in and take the interim belt by submitting Sylvia in February. Nogueira is scheduled to clash with his fellow Ultimate Fighter 8 coach (and former heavyweight champion) Frank Mir in December, with the winners of these two heavyweight megafights to meet sometime in 2009.

“The winner of the Brock-Randy fight will be the heavyweight champion of the UFC,” said White. “Obviously, the reality show is already in motion, and those two (Nogueira and Mir) are already scheduled to fight, so they’ll fight for the interim (title) and then it will be Champion vs Champion when this thing’s all done. So it’s a pretty interesting little tournament.”

Of course, Lesnar will have something to say about putting a dent in Couture’s fighting plans, and he’ll get his chance to say it on November 15th.

“Things happen in mysterious ways, and I’m fortunate and honored to get in the Octagon with Randy, so it’s very exciting all the way around,” said Lesnar.

As for Couture, it’s been a long, strange trip to get to this point, but suffice to say, he’s happy to put acting, book tours, and speaking engagements on the side for now in order to get back to where he belongs – the Octagon.

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