by Jeff Cain – MMAWeekly.com
Randy “The Natural” Couture takes on Gabriel Gonzaga Saturday night at UFC 74 with the UFC heavyweight belt on the line.
Couture expects to push the pace, frustrate his opponent and win in the latter part of the five round title bout. Couture recently spoke with MMAWeekly about his opponent, the fight, and his strategy.
“I think it’s going to be a good fight. I have a lot of respect for Gabe as an opponent. I’m looking to try and wear Gabe out by the third or forth round, try and frustrate him and make him work harder than he wants to work. I can, hopefully, find a way to take him out of there by the third or forth round, but I’m prepared to go the distance if we need to. I think it’s going to be a tough event. It’s going to be a lot of fun,” the UFC heavyweight champ told MMAWeekly.
Describing Gabriel Gonzaga, the fighter, Couture commented, “He’s a young, big, aggressive, well rounded fighter. He’s got very, very formidable stand up skills, obviously. He’s well known in the grappling world for his Jiu-Jitsu abilities. In a lot of the fights I’ve seen, he hits some pretty nice takedowns. He’s got a complete package as a fighter, so I’ve got to be ready to go.
“I think if I have an advantage in this fight, it’s that it’s a five round fight, and he’s never been in that territory. So I need to go out and push the pace, make him work, and I think that will pay dividends for me in the later rounds.”
Gonzaga is 4-0 in the UFC, coming off a knockout victory over the highly regarded striker Mirko “Cro Cop” Filipovic at UFC 70.
Asked about Gonzaga’s striking, Couture said, “I think he has a tendency to throw one punch or one kick. In just about all the fights I’ve watched, he doesn’t throw anything in combinations. He pop shots and picks his moment to kind of explode to try and land that one big shot. He likes to throw a counter right hand. He doesn’t set up his kicks. He’ll just step in and throw a kick, which is what he did to Mirko. I think Mirko thought it was coming to the body and it came to the head.
“I think the one thing I have that will probably preclude him from throwing a lot of kicks is the fact that he knows that I’m going to shoot. I’ll take him down if he picks his foot up, so I think he’s going to be a little leery about coming in and trying to throw a lot of kicks, especially high kicks. But you never know. You have to be ready. I’m ready for anything.”
One distinct advantage Couture has over Gonzaga is experience. When Randy steps in the Octagon Saturday night, he’ll be competing in a UFC title bout for the fifteenth time in his storied mixed martial arts career.
“I think that’s one advantage that I bring to this is that I have been in a lot of big, five round title fights. It’s a lot of hype. It’s tough waiting until the end of the night and everybody else has fought. Sometimes that waiting, and that crowd, and all of that can get to a guy. They talk about first-time UFC jitters, a lot of that same thing happens for guys going into his first title fight too. I think the harder I can make him work early on, I think the more it’s going to pay off as the fight dwindles on,” stated Couture.
Before dropping down to the light heavyweight division to take on Chuck Liddell at UFC 43, Randy was coming off back-to-back loses in the heavyweight division to Ricco Rodriguez and Josh Barnett. Gabriel Gonzaga has a similar style to Rodriguez and Barnett; he’s a big, good grappler with the ability to strike and solid submission skills.
Asked what’s different now, Randy replied, “I think I always had to be smart with bigger guys. I had to train differently, and I had to be sure not to put myself in certain situations. I think with Josh and Ricco, I was focusing so much on showing up my Jiu-Jitsu and being effective from my back that I started to think like a Jiu-Jitsu player and started pulling guard and ended up on my back. Against guys that size, the last thing you want to do is try and lay down there and find a submission.
“I think once I went and analyzed those tapes and realized that, I kind of shifted back to my wrestling mentality. And then looking at guys like Chuck Liddell who are at all costs not going to stay on the bottom, that affected how I started approaching fights and how I started training.
“I think now I’m tactically and technically much better at getting out from underneath those big guys because I’m not laying around down there thinking I’m going to pull guard or submit anybody from there. If a submission comes, they come, but I’m looking to get my a** out from underneath and put myself in a better chance to win against a bigger opponent.”
Couture continued, “I expect to put him on his back. I think that just about every person I’ve fought I managed to take down, and I want to put him there just because I think once he hits the ground, he’s going to feel comfortable. He is a Jiu-Jitsu guy, so he’s used to operating off his back.
“If I’m effective on top of him and able to damage him and make him work there, that’s one more area I could frustrate him in and shut him down. I see that as a little psychological win for me to put him on his back and not allow him to get to any submission positions or change positions much at all. In the long-term of the fight, those are all little victories that go toward that big victory.”