The word legend gets tossed around a lot, but few fighters have earned that label more than UFC Hall of Famer Randy Couture.
A throwback to the days when MMA couldn’t get sanctioned, much less shown on TV, Couture started his career without sold out crowds chanting his name. But he stuck around long enough to see arenas filled with fans clamoring to see him perform while he built an almost unmatched resume over the course of 30 professional fights.
A new four-part PFL documentary called The Randy Couture Story looks back at Couture’s entire legacy, from his days in the military to a college wrestling career and a run at the Olympics before a move into fighting back in 1997. For the next 14 years, Couture conquered two divisions while holding championships in the UFC at both heavyweight and light heavyweight, and he never backed down from a challenge.
Even now, Couture admits it’s still a little odd to see a documentary put together about his career because for all he accomplished in the sport, he was never one to advertise his own accolades, no matter how they stacked up to other all-time greats.
“For me, it’s always weird seeing myself on a television, on a billboard,” Couture told MMA Fighting. “I don’t think I’ll ever get used to that. I think it’s something that’s always going to [be] a bit strange honestly. Those guys [in the documentary] were awesome, they were awesome to step up. Chuck [Liddell], Tim [Sylvia], Coach [John] Smith, everybody that agreed to be involved and tell how our paths had crossed and how we had affected each other is a pretty cool thing.
“Thanks to those guys for being involved and doing that. It’s flattering. They’re great guys. They’re great guys before we fought each other. One of the things that’s unique to our sport in MMA, and something I hope never changes, is that camaraderie that we as athletes share.”
One of the best surprises that popped up while filming the documentary series was a showing at his friend Jay Glazer’s house, where he was greeted by former UFC light heavyweight champion Chuck Liddell, who he shared the cage with on three separate occasions.
After competing at heavyweight for his entire career, Couture made the move down to 205 pounds back in 2003, and he shocked the world when he dominated Liddell before finishing him in the third round to become the first fighter in UFC history to win titles in two different divisions.
“Thanks to Chuck, I was really happy that he was willing to step up,” Couture said about that first meeting with Liddell. “We’ve always been friends, we’ve always gotten along. I knew him when he was at Cal-Poly, wrestling for Cal-Poly, and things led and worked out the way they did. I think we were both excited to be coaches in that first season of The Ultimate Fighter, and I think in a lot of ways that changed the landscape of our sport.”
While Liddell ultimately exacted his revenge with a pair of wins to close out the trilogy, that wasn’t the end of Couture’s championship run. In 2007, he went on to make a comeback at heavyweight, where he was matched up with Tim Sylvia at UFC 68.
Giving up seven inches in height, five inches in reach, and more than 40 pounds in weight, Couture still managed to drop Sylvia during an early exchange on the feet, and he spent the better part of the next five rounds pouring on the punishment to win a lopsided unanimous decision.
At the time, Couture winning championships while moving between the two biggest weight classes in the sport was a rarity, and a feat that’s still only been matched by one other fighter in UFC history when Daniel Cormier became a simultaneous heavyweight and light heavyweight champion back in 2018.
When Couture was still active, fighters were rarely afforded the opportunity to compete for gold in two different divisions. But lately, it’s become a common occurrence, and he doesn’t see anything wrong with that.
“I think it’s a natural tendency,” Couture said about fighters chasing multiple titles in different weight classes. “We’ve seen it in boxing for years. Guys moving up or down weight classes to get a particular fight or to win multiple titles. I don’t think it’s any more or less meaningful. I think those guys that have the ability to come down or go up a weight and do that, I think that’s a normal thing. We as athletes want to be the best and be considered the best.
“I felt like I was stuck between weight classes. I’m certainly not by any stretch of the imagination a big heavyweight. But when I started the sport, 15 or 20 pounds was a lot to cut because lightweight was anything under 200 [pounds]. So now we have as many weight classes as we do, it’s a little easier for guys to transition up or down and make weight in another weight and still compete and still be healthy and still perform to their ability. I don’t think it takes away from it that more guys have done it, more guys and gals. I think it’s still cool.”
The next fighter who will attempt to match Couture’s accomplishment will be former UFC light heavyweight champion Jon Jones, who vacated his 205-pound title in order to prepare himself for a run in the heavyweight division.
Jones has already been afforded the next shot at the title, and he awaits the winner of the UFC 260 main event rematch between Stipe Miocic and Francis Ngannou. Since declaring his intention to move up to the bigger division, Jones has posted videos and training photos of the changes his body has been undergoing while packing on the pounds in order to deal with bigger competition.
For his part, Couture expects Jones to make a smooth transition based on his talent alone, but he also offers a warning to the former 205-pound king about the kind of power he’ll face at heavyweight.
“I’ll be interested to see,” Couture said about Jones. “He’s a big guy, he’s a tall guy. I think he’s taller than I am. I think he’s 6-foot-3, I’m only 6-foot-1. He certainly has the frame to put on the mass, and technically, he’s as good as anybody.
“It will be interesting to see how he works around bigger, stronger guys, cause that is a challenge. You’ve got to approach them differently. You don’t want to go head up with a guy that’s that big and that strong.”