New arena brings
fighter ultimate reward
By Dan Mooney
Special to The Seattle Times
His wife was sick to her stomach as
she sat at ringside. His mother was crying as she watched from
Randy Couture wondered, "What
have I gotten myself into?"
The 1981 Lynnwood High School
graduate had made a name for himself as one of the country's
finest Greco-Roman wrestlers, but on May 20, 1997, he entered a
totally different ring. Couture was competing in the Ultimate
There was no easing into the sport.
His opponent, 300-pound Tony Halme, vowed to "rip his arms
off." At the time, UFC billed itself as "the world's
most violent sport" and had few rules to prevent him from
trying to carry out his promise.
"I was scared to death that
night," recalled Couture's mother, Sharan Courounes, of Mill
Creek. "I was hyperventilating. I was listening to what his
opponent was saying and it really shook me up."
But Halme's bluster was mostly just
that. Couture won by submission and, in the process, discovered he
had a gift.
Fast forward. It's Nov. 2 and
Couture has just defended his heavyweight title in Las Vegas by
beating Pedro Rizzo by TKO. The money's good — he earned
$125,000 for the championship — and he gets noticed. During an
Ultimate Fighting bout in September that he attended as a fan, he
attracted as much attention as any celebrity — including Mike
Tyson and Carmen Electra — in the audience of the sold-out event
at the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino in Las Vegas.
"I didn't make much money in
wrestling," said Couture, a 38-year-old father of two.
"I'm making a decent living now as a fighter. This is what I
do with my life now."
When UFC began in 1993, it was
little more than a back-alley brawl. The rules? Only eye gouging
and biting were out. The sport, which has become popular on
pay-per-view television, has evolved and now has less gore and
requires more skill.
"Ultimate Fighting is very
technical, becoming more about skill all the time," said
Couture, 7-0 in UFC. "It's about being able to defend
Ultimate fighters can win by
knockout, submission, having a referee or doctor stop a fight or
by judges' decision. There are five, five-minute rounds in
Couture's heart is still in
wrestling. He's an assistant coach at Centennial High School in
Gresham, Ore., where he lives with his wife and daughter. He also
teaches wrestling and martial arts at night.
"Is he the greatest assistant
coach in the world in high-school wrestling?" said Vern
Olsen, Centennial's former coach. "If he's not, he's awfully
"Back in the old days, when
the coach told you something, you did it," Olsen said.
"Kids now want to know why they are doing it, and Randy has a
ready answer. He brings new cutting-edge stuff to young
"You go to clinics to watch
what Randy brings to our program every day," said Trent
Kroll, Centennial's first-year head coach.
Couture also trains and teaches at
the Team Quest Combat Club in Gresham. The club, a converted
garage with a few mats thrown down, is dark, damp and light on
frills. Some Centennial wrestlers get in extra training there.
"He'll spend forever working
with you," said Brody Porterfield, a Centennial wrestler and
one of Oregon's top 189-pounders. "He gives you all the time
he has to work on your wrestling."
He's a wrestler right to his
cauliflower ears, which he wears proudly.
"In some countries, they
(cauliflower ears) get you to the front of the line," said
Couture. "I could get them fixed, but there's a status thing
to show you are a warrior."
After graduating from Lynnwood,
Couture spent six years in the Army, where a coach got him hooked
on Greco-Roman, a style of wrestling that focuses on the upper
He moved on to collegiate power
Oklahoma State, where he was a three-time All-American, finished
as a NCAA runner-up twice and was part of two national
championship teams. He went on to win four national Greco titles.
The Olympics appeared to be a good bet.
In 1988, '92 and '96, Couture went
to the U.S. Olympic Trials. Three trips, zero spots. The 1996
shortfall proved devastating because he was favored to make the
"I expected to win in
1996," said Couture. "I was ready to go to the Olympics,
get my medal and move on with my life. It was a real
Couture often questioned himself
about falling short in 1996. He decided to push on for one last
try, aiming for the 2000 Sydney Games. But Greco-Roman had to
share time with Couture's new meal ticket, Ultimate Fighting.
Couture won four fights in 1997, capturing the heavyweight title
when he defeated Maurice Smith by majority decision in December
1997 in Japan. He was named Full Contact Fighter of the Year.
He wouldn't return to the UFC for
nearly three years, concentrating instead on wrestling. But the
Olympic dream died for good when Couture lost in a wrestle-off to
Jason Klohs in August 1999.
Couture returned to the UFC on Nov.
17, 2000, defeating Kevin Randleman when the referee stopped the
"It was great to be
back," said Couture. "I knew it was time to move on and
make the transition into full-time fighting."
Couture's No. 1 weapon is to take
opponents to the mat, where he introduces them to his wrestling
skills. But one-dimensional fighters are quick road kill in the
He's earned the nickname "The
Natural" because he quickly learned the skills of mixed
martial arts. He has thunder in both hands when he punches. As a
kid, he would sneak over to the Lynnwood Elks Club to box. His
introduction to the "Sweet Science" was short.
"My mom made me quit,"
said Couture. In the Army, he said he laced on the gloves for all
of three weeks.
The 6-foot-1, 225-pound Couture has
made several opponents submit through his punching prowess. But
Couture largely credits his mental approach to his UFC success.
"It's about being relaxed,
focused before a fight," said Couture. "You are already
jacked up by the nature of the sport."
Couture's new life has grown on his
"I still get scared when he
fights, but being a former athlete helps me," said Tricia, a
nurse practitioner who met her husband while playing volleyball at
Oregon State, where Couture was an assistant wrestling coach from
1993 to 1998.
"The competitive side in me
comes out and I want him to win."
Couture's children have inherited
some of his physical prowess. His son, Ryan, a 135-pounder from
Woodinville, placed third two years ago in the Class 4A state
championships and is now a sophomore at Western Washington. Aimee,
17, teaches martial arts at the Team Quest Combat Club.
Couture says he will likely not
compete professionally again before June but is content to spend
time with his first love.
"Coaching at this level is a
refreshing change," he said. "The kids get so excited to
wrestle every day."
Source: Seattle Times