By Mick Hammond
It’s been an eventful year for the Sportfight promotion. The company took many steps forward in their quest to become one of the most recognized and admired organizations in American MMA. Along with a move into Portland’s Rose Garden Arena (home of the NBA’s Portland Trailblazers), the company took the show on the road to Denver, Colorado for the first time and debuted their own TV show on a major cable provider in the Northwest.

Now the company again seeks to branch out with their Proving Ground show this upcoming Saturday, December 3rd in Gresham, Oregon, where they will be debuting their first ever all-amateur show. With Proving Ground, Sportfight hopes to continue to develop fighters that could become major stars for the promotion within the coming years.

To discuss the show MMA Weekly spoke to Sportfight co-promoter and UFC superstar Randy “The Natural” Couture as well as discussed his upcoming bout with Chuck Liddell in February and why 2006 will be Couture’s year.

MMA Weekly: First off Randy tell us how Sportfight came to be holding their first ever all-amateur show this weekend.

Randy Couture: We were looking to do another pro show but we couldn’t find a good date for The Rose Garden and for the bigger show we’ve been putting on. It made sense for us to kind of come back and give these amateur guys a chance to go out there and show what they’ve got.

MMA Weekly: Sportfight has been one of the few organizations that have successfully mixed both pro and amateur bouts at its events. Was that a goal when you and Matt Lindland started the promotion?

Randy Couture: Well I think it’s the only way these guys can no only learn and deal with competition and get exposure, but having several athletes competing at Team Quest we need an outlet for those guys as well. So it’s important from a fighter’s perspective to have a show that you know is a quality show that the guys are going to be treated well and be matched up as best we can match them up with integrity and give them good fights and take care of them.

MMA Weekly: Just to clear this up for fans that may be hesitant to go to an amateur show, they’ll be getting the same kind of action at this show as they would a pro show right?

Randy Couture: Sometimes these fights are more exciting, these guys put it all on the line, they’ve got nothing to lose, they’re wide open, excited to be there, excited about showing their skills and being able to compete. Other than the fact that they are not getting paid there’s nothing “amateur” about these guys. They’re very experienced and technical fights, you’re not going to see any sloppy guys just trying to fight, these guys are bonafide well-trained fighters and good athletes.

MMA Weekly: You yourself came from a very prolific amateur wrestling background before getting into pro fighting. How important do you think it is for fighters to get in amateur fights before turning pro?

Randy Couture: It’s the only way to go now; you don’t really have a lot of other options. It’s much more difficult to get right into the higher echelon fighting. I was fortunate enough to be able to get in just on my wrestling experience without having demonstrated any fighting ability. But that’s not the case any more, you’ve got to demonstrate fighting ability and win some championships in regional shows or do some things against guys that have competed at that level. So this is the way it is and rightly so, guys should be proven, they should demonstrate some technical as well as mental ability to go out and deal with the adversity of competition and compete.

MMA Weekly: How good would it be to see some of these young fighters come off this show and maybe eventually make it onto Sportfight’s main show as professionals?

Randy Couture: It’s an exciting thing to see some of these young guys come through and watch their progression, watch their technique improve, watch them progress as fighters and not only mature as fighters but as people as well. The perfect example is Ian Loveland, he came through all the amateur ranks here, FCFF and Sportfight, and now has had a couple fights in pro division and is just a fun kid to watch fight. He’s fighting in Canada this weekend and he’s a great fighter and is a perfect example of how the system should work.

MMA Weekly: You mention the FCFF, which is run by fellow teammate and UFC fighter Chael Sonnen. Is there any kind of competition for amateur fighters or is it all good clean fun?

Randy Couture: It’s all good clean fun, we try hard to support Chael’s show and Chael’s fought on our card and done a great job supporting Sportfight. We have the same goals in mind and that’s to see the sport continue to flourish here in the pacific northwest and I think there’s no animosity or competition between us, we’re working towards the same goals so it’s good.

MMA Weekly: And of course if there was any kind of competition you could always settle it at the gym right?

Randy Couture: [Laughs] Yeah that’s always a possibility.

MMA Weekly: All right, let’s talk about you a bit now. As everyone knows you’ve got the big rubber match between yourself and Chuck Liddell coming up. Can you tell us where you are at right now in terms of preparations for that fight?

Randy Couture: I’m in my fifth week of peaking phase for the fight February 4th. My conditioning is feeling really good; technically I’m feeling on track and getting ready to go. I’m feeling pretty comfortable with the good little crew of guys in Vegas to workout with now. We’re training at the UFC Training Center, we’ve got Jay Hieron, Mike Pyle, Jason “Mayhem” Miller has been coming in, John, Chris, Heath Herring’s been showing up, and Frank Mir’s been coming in. It’s a real good group of guys and a great facility and I’m feeling pretty good about it. Ron Frasier has been running the striking and boxing practices and that part of the game, so that’s been pretty nice.

MMA Weekly: So there’s no shortage of people that want to come in and take a run at The Natural huh?

Randy Couture: [Laughs] That’s always kind of the way it is, everyone wants to come in and see where they’re at. That’s one of the things that makes this crew nice, there are no egos, no one is out to prove anything, all these guys want to come in and get a good workout in. I learn things from them and I’m certainly happy to share any of my background or expertise. Alex Schoenauer, who is also fighting this weekend in Nebraska, is another kid that’s been coming in regular and has been a real good workout partner. Forrest Griffin has been coming in also; he’s in England right now for the casting of the upcoming season of The Ultimate Fighter. He’s another one that moved to Vegas and has been a regular workout partner for me, it’s been awesome.

MMA Weekly: I know from people that have trained with you that sometimes it can get a little demoralizing for them because you get the better of them more often than not because you’re so good at what you do.

Randy Couture: I don’t know, I try to be a positive influence, you’ve got to respect those guys but in that regard you can’t cut them any slack, you have to push them and I think they respect you for that as well.

MMA Weekly: Still it’s got to feel good to show the younger guys that you’re still the man right?

Randy Couture: [Laughs] I don’t think too much about that, I’m not too worried about it, it’s not really about that for me.

MMA Weekly: Recently the Boston Globe reported that Chuck Liddell will be making 2.7 million dollars this year, what are your thoughts on that?

Randy Couture: I don’t know where they got those figures, but if that’s true it’s great and I hope the trend continues and the athletes start reaping the benefits of the sport, because that’s what it boils down to, the athletes.

MMA Weekly: As long as they don’t forget to include The Natural also right?

Randy Couture: [Laughs] It never hurts.

MMA Weekly: I’m sure it’s in stark contrast to what you made your first year from fighting.

Randy Couture: My first year I had four fights and I think total I made considerably less than I do for one fight now. I think it’s a testament to how far the sport has come and it can always be better. I hope it keeps progressing and just hang on and enjoy the ride.

MMA Weekly: Finish this line for me, “2006 will be a successful year for Randy Couture if ______.”

Randy Couture: 2006 will be a successful year for Randy Couture no matter what. [Laughs] There is no “if.” Win or lose this fight, certainly I intend on going out and winning this fight, either way it’s going to be a successful year for me, I’m excited about it.

MMA Weekly: Thank you as always for the time Randy, we always appreciate it. Is there anything you’d like to say to conclude the interview?

Randy Couture: Definitely if you want to see the best amateur fighters make their mark, come out to Mt. Hood Community College Saturday night. The fights begin at 7pm, so come out and check out Sportfight: Proving Ground, it’s going to be a great night. Check out our new website, www.xbrandmall.com, there’s a whole MMA floor on a virtual reality mall that’s pretty cool. And of course RandyCouture.tv, Sportfight.tv, and TQFC.com, you can find us on all those spots as well.