by Mick Hammond
Randy Couture came on MMAWeekly Radio today to discuss his thoughts on Mike Van Arsdale, plus he talked about the steriod situation regarding Nathan Marquardt who tested positive for steroids this weekend. If you missed today’s show live, then check out today’s radio archive.
It would be easy to mistake the upcoming fight between Randy Couture and Mike Van Arsdale at UFC 54 as a one-sided affair. On paper it looks to be a mismatch, you have a multiple time UFC World Champion going up against a fighter that has decidedly less experience and only one fight in the UFC. But if anything there are no guarantees in sports, anything can happen, especially in a wide-open sport like MMA.
When all is said and done and his career is over, there will never be a fighter that quite compares to “The Natural” Randy Couture. He is without a doubt the most decorated and possibly beloved fighter in the history of the sport. Couture, a former two-time Olympic alternate in Greco Roman wrestling has rarely failed to live up his potential and has given his all each and every time out.
From his debut at UFC 13 to becoming the third ever UFC Heavyweight Champion at Ultimate Japan 1, Couture’s early days in the UFC were highlighted by his world class wrestling ability. In an age where fighters were still of singular disciplines, Couture proved that a wrestler could stand up to anyone even after the UFC outlawed the favored tactics of the then top wrestlers such as headbutts and went to more unified rules.
After claiming the title from Maurice Smith, Couture left the UFC to pursue fighting in Japan, where he defeated current contender Jeremy Horn before returning to the UFC and defeating Kevin Randleman at UFC 28 to regain the Heavyweight Championship. As the sport continued to grow and change, so did Couture. It wasn’t long before his two epic bouts with Pedro Rizzo at UFC 31 and 34 that Couture started to become more well-rounded, refining his grappling and his signature style of “dirty boxing” into his own unique style of fighting.
At UFC 36 things would start to change for Couture. He would lose his title to up and comer Josh Barnett and then after Barnett was stripped of the title, Randy would lose to Ricco Rodriguez at UFC 38 for the vacated championship. After the two losses in a row Couture would contemplate retirement before returning to action at UFC 43 against Chuck Liddell for the Interim Light-Heavyweight Championship at 205lbs.
Invigorated by fighting at a lower weight and now being the same size as his opponents, Randy dominated Liddell and then would unify the 205lb title in defeating Tito Ortiz at UFC 44 a few months later. It was within those two fights that Randy went from being a favorite of the hardcore MMA crowd to becoming the most popular fighter in the UFC. From there Randy would lose and regain the title from Vitor Belfort and then head on to coach the inaugural season of The Ultimate Fighter.
With the success of TUF 1, Couture and fellow coach Liddell would rematch each other at UFC 52 for Randy’s title. Unlike their first meeting however Randy could not overcome an out of character move to deviate from his gameplan which allowed Liddell to KO Randy for the first time in his career. After taking time off to shoot for TUF 2, Couture returns to the UFC to regain respect and take another step forward towards regaining the UFC Light-Heavyweight Championship.
To get back to the belt though Couture has to overcome Mike Van Arsdale and you can be sure that Van Arsdale will not allow himself to be an easy stepping stone to Couture’s success. Even though he’s a heavy underdog in the fight Mike possesses more skills than many people may think and has actually had his eye on Couture for nearly 20 years.
For Van Arsdale, his start in MMA is interestingly similar to Couture’s. Both were top caliber wrestlers for two very prestigious collegian programs. From there it was where these two athletes first gained notice of each other and then many years later Van Arsdale would fallow Couture into MMA in 1998.
Unlike Couture however, Van Arsdale started off on the Brazilian circuit, winning the 4th edition of the International Vale Tudo Championship, defeating three fighters in three different ways in getting there. From there Van Arsdale would make his UFC debut at UFC 17, defeating Joe Pardo via submission before returning to Brazil for the IVTC 6 show.
It was there that Van Arsdale lost his only fight to date to a then still relatively unknown and untested Wanderlei Silva via KO. After taking four years off from the sport Mike returned to MMA in late 2002 for the WFA promotion and has fought once each year since. Included in his four fight winning streak was his recent return to the UFC this past April where he defeated John Marsh in a heavyweight battle.
In that fight Van Arsdale managed to show heart, escaping trouble numerous times and pulling off a unanimous decision by winning the third round of the fight. The question remains however, is there any reason to believe he can give the legendary Couture a run for his money?
If there is one thing in Van Arsdale’s favor it is that while Couture has spent much of his training camp traveling to various places since moving to Las Vegas, while Van Arsdale has remained steadfast in San Jose with the American Kickboxing Academy. Working with some of the best fighters around including Paul Buentello, Mike Swick, Cung Le, Josh Thomson, and famed trainer “Crazy” Bob Cook, Van Arsdale might have the edge when it comes to training this time around, and to win he will have to call on every bit of it.
With both fighters’ backgrounds steeped heavily in wrestling, odds are this one will go to the ground. Neither fighter has shown great skills striking, although Couture’s stand up has been more prevalent than Van Arsdale’s over the last few years. Where this fight could be won or lost is in the submission game.
While it’s true neither fighter is exactly a Gracie on the ground, Van Arsdale does work with some talented grapplers at AKA and he may just try to pull off a submission against Couture. The trick of course is getting Randy in that position and with his extensive background in fighting he’s rarely out of position, making a tapout a slim possibility, but still some chance is better than none.
A win by Randy is expected and in all truth this fight seems to be more like a minor road bump on his return to glory in the minds of many, so he has little more than stability to gain from a win. A loss would place Randy out of the title picture possibly for the next year or so, but with his popularity it won’t be long before he returns to the Octagon much to the delight of the crowd that adores him.
Mike on the other hand would be pulling off the upset of the year, if not the history of MMA if he manages to win. If he does pull off the upset Van Arsdale would find himself possibly the target of Stephan Bonnar, Babalu Sobral, or perhaps the loser of Liddell/Horn. In any case, a win would pad his position with the company and bring in another name type fight for his resume and further his popularity with the crowd.
Sure this fight is possibly the most one-sided on the card, sure few if any people give Van Arsdale a chance in the fight, but what “is” supposed to happen doesn’t always and what “should” be the outcome isn’t always guaranteed. Both of these fighters are hungry and both want a win. Regardless of stature or fame this is still a fight between two highly competitive individuals who will give it their all until the final bell. Both Couture and Van Arsdale will put on a good show, simply because it’s not in their nature to be anything less than their best, and that’s ultimately the true determining factor of this fight’s value, not the box office appeal.