Ryan Couture Enters the Family Business, On His Own Terms

Ryan CoutureRyan Couture was about 14 years old when he heard his father Randy was going to compete in the Ultimate Fighting Championship. It was the spring of 1997, Ryan was a ninth-grader, and the sport -- then more commonly referred to as "No Holds Barred" or NHB -- was still in its wild west infancy.

"It definitely took some getting used to when I saw the videos of him fighting and hitting people," he told MMA Fighting. "That was kind of freaky for me at first, but I got over it pretty quick. The more I learned about the sport, the more I grew to love it."

It would take years, but Ryan would eventually find his own path towards the sport, and on Aug. 13, he'll become the first son to follow a high-profile father into major MMA when he makes his pro debut on the Strikeforce Challengers 10 show.

Mixed martial arts is a young man's game, and a young game itself, and because of the combination, we've yet to see many legacies passed along from father to son. Other sports have seen countless generations roam their fields and playing surfaces. Baseball had the Bondses and Griffeys, football had the Mannings and Winslows, baseball had the Bryants and Waltons, hockey had the Hulls and Howes.

In its short history, MMA has yet to have a truly high-profile pairing, though the Worshams (father Cal was 11-9 and fought three times in the UFC, and son Hunter is 5-2 fought and once fought for Strikeforce) and Bertos (father Dieusel fought in UFC 10, and son Edson is 16-8-1, and fought five times for EliteXC) both saw action in major promotions.

This is different. This is the the son of MMA royalty. And with Randy Couture's status as one of MMA's most decorated champions, Ryan is bound to receive extra spotlight, and of course, extra scrutiny.

A few years ago, walking down an aisle to fight in a cage was something Ryan himself would have never seen coming. After graduating from Western Washington University with a math degree, he worked as a bank teller before earning a promotion to operations supervisor. Three years into his tenure at the bank, Couture didn't have a definitive career goal.

"I never really had a set idea of what it was I wanted to do," he said. "I just figured that eventually I'd stumble onto something I liked enough to stick with. That turned out to be the case, it just wasn't at all what I expected it to be."

His father ultimately influenced his career change more than anyone, but not in the way you'd think. At the time, Randy had already launched the Xtreme Couture empire, and business was booming. Looking for help, he called his son and asked him if he was interested in relocating to Las Vegas to join him.

Ryan jumped at the opportunity for a change of scenery and the thought of working side-by-side with his dad. And even though he'd already dabbled in grappling and kickboxing training by then, it was strictly for exercise. Even in moving to the fighting capital of the world, he harbored no thoughts about a fighting future.

"It was all about getting involved with the business," he said. "I was excited to get to reconnect with dad and live in the same town as him again. It had been years since that had been the case. But I wanted to be part of the business and earn a living. Training was just a hobby."

Once Ryan moved though, he quickly realized that his true passion was not office work. It soon became clear he'd been bitten.

"When I got here to Xtreme couture, obviously the training went up several notches in quality," he said. "Being around so many top quality fighters all the time, it was kind of hard not to catch the bug, work out more and more and try competing. Then when I got in the ring for the first time and got a taste of what that was like, I was hooked."

The 27-year-old Couture, who fights as a lightweight, has spent much of the last two years preparing for his pro debut. He compiled a 5-1-1 amateur record during that time, and will make his pro debut against Lucas Stark in Phoenix (the event airs on Showtime). It marks the first bout in a six-fight contract he signed just last week.

For this camp, Ryan has had the luxury of often training side-by-side with his dad, who is also preparing for a fight. His comes Aug. 28 against James Toney at UFC 118. But despite the shared genetics, Ryan has shaped himself into a fighter that doesn't necessarily resemble the familiar style of his famous father.

Ryan says that he prefers to keep his standup at range, favors more kicks than his dad and is more comfortable off his back than in Randy's trademark ground-and-pound position.

"A lot of people assume I'm going to be a dominant wrestler, and that I'm going to want to clinch up with guys and dirty box," said Couture, who wrestled in high school but not in college. "I think people are sometimes surprised when they see that my style doesn't look much like his at all. That's kind of a good thing, too. It opens their eyes and lets them know I'm not just a miniature clone of him, for better or for worse."

That's not to say there still won't be comparisons. Every son who follows in his father's footsteps knows the comparisons are indeed inevitable. For a time, it was something that kept Ryan uninterested in competing.

"I had plenty of warning," he said. "I knew what I was getting into. But it's something I came to terms with before I even started as an amateur."

As for his own goals, Ryan harbors no illusions about matching resumes with his dad, though he knows the viewing public will eventually form its own conclusions. All that matters is that his dad will be with him on Aug. 13, and he'll be with his dad on Aug. 28, two fighters supporting each other.

Father and son, making fighting a family business.

"I'm going to keep trying to improve, and I'll pursue it as long as I enjoy it," Ryan said. "I'd like to see how far I can take it. If that means maybe some day I can be a champ, that would be awesome."

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