Friday, November 14

Randy Couture: Lessons from other Older Champs

UFC 91 is just a day away, and for the first time in months, the biggest sporting event of the weekend isn’t happening on the gridiron. The main event pits the Heavyweight Champion Randy Couture against a freak of a man, Brock Lesnar. Couture, the oldest title holder in the history of the UFC, will attempt to become the oldest fighter to defend a heavyweight title belt since George Foreman’s 1996 defense of his IBF title when he was 46. Unlike Foreman, however, Couture enters the fight as an underdog. To most observers it is not Couture’s age, but rather his weight that poses the biggest obstacle. He is fourteen years older than Lesnar, but also 45 pounds lighter. Perhaps there’s something Couture can learn from other champions of advanced age (at least in the sporting world sense).

There is little argument that this fight card is the most anticipated in the history of the UFC, partly because of the return of a glamorous heavyweight fight. Our country loves the big fellas, and this fight will be the first headline heavyweight encounter since 1997’s Tyson-Holyfield Bite Fight. Much like that fight, the masses are split about who will win. Many fans want Couture to win to keep a Fedor match a viable option, but even amongst those cheering for Couture, they recognize it will be an uphill battle for the Natural.

Maybe just maybe, Randy will be able to take some lessons from the other elder statesmen who’ve ruled their sport.

Arthur Gore was 41 years old when he became the oldest Singles Champion in a Grand Slam tennis event at Wimbledon in 1909. Gore lost the first two sets, before winning the final three to win.

Lesson – Survive the first two rounds. The longer the fight goes; the advantage will begin to swing to Couture. Two of Lesnar’s three fights have ended in the first round, and the third was only a three round contest and Lesnar was fading towards the end. If Couture can avoid (or survive) the big barrage early, his weight and cardio could allow him to come out on top.

George Foreman was 45 when he defeated Michael Moorer to win the IBF and WBA Heavyweight Titles. In doing so, he became the oldest ever to wear the Heavyweight crown. Michael Moorer was ahead on all scorecards when a short right connected perfectly on Moorer’s chin and ending the match.

Lesson – Even if Lesnar is ahead, he can make a mistake giving Couture an opening. Lesnar was leading against Frank Mir when Mir caught him with a kneebar. Lesnar continues to grow as a fighter, but Couture’s experience should present some opportunities for him to steal a victory through submission.

Nolan Ryan was 44 when he became the oldest pitcher in Major League Baseball history to throw a no-hitter, when he threw his seventh on May 1, 1991, but it was in 1993 when Ryan made his biggest statement for older fighters. Ryan hit Robin Ventura with a pitch and was instantly charged by the third baseman, twenty years his junior. Ryan got Ventura in a headlock and delivered several punches to Ventura’s face before they were separated.

Lesson – No one has tested Lesnar’s defenses, standing or on the ground. If Couture can take the fight to Lesnar he may be able to expose some weaknesses in the big man’s game. Forcing Lesnar on the defensive may be the best defense for Couture as well. If Lesnar uses his energy protecting himself or trying to escape its energy and time he’s not using beating Couture. Whether or not Couture can (or will) take Lesnar down remains to be seen, but there is little doubt that this would extend the fight and that should give the advantage to the elder statesman. If Lesnar takes Couture down to the ground, Randy can still learn from Nolan: control the head.

Oscar Swahn was 64 years old when he won an Olympic gold medal in the single shot running deer team event. Swahn, from Sweden, also won a bronze in the individual double shot running deer event.

Lesson – If all else fails, shoot the big sun-of-a-gun. Preferably just with a tranquilizer, because we don’t advocate murder and the Clark Griswold starter pistol might just make him angry.

It’s hard to project what will happen with two such diametrically opposing fighters, but maybe just maybe the experiences of other great champions will provide the blueprint for Randy Couture to conquer the odds and defeat the favored Lesnar.

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