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The Pick is In: And it’s Randy Couture

We are one week within UFC 91 and there is no time left to deliberate about a predicted winner for this Saturday’s main event between UFC heavyweight champion Randy Couture and Brock Lesnar.

The headline says it all so the suspense has been ruined. The pick is in and I’m going with Couture. It’s my final decision, but not one that was not easy to make.

When we last saw Couture, he was smashing Gabriel Gonzaga at UFC 74. But that was almost a year and a half ago. Perhaps Couture will defy the odds yet again, but at age 45, this could be the fight in which his age finally shows. And at this stage in his life, he’s not going to age gradually; he’s going to age overnight.

Lesnar is not only younger than Couture, but he’s bigger, stronger, and faster. He will be at a disadvantage in some areas but not in all of the ones you might think. I’ve read some previews that state Couture will have an advantage if the fight goes past three rounds. I’m not so sure about that. At 45 compared to Lesnar’s age of 31, I just don’t see that being the case. If Couture presses Lesnar, I just don’t see how he will be able to maintain such a pace for 25 minutes. If Couture goes for the finish early and doesn’t get it, I think that Lesnar will actually have the advantage the longer the fight goes.

Many believe that Couture is going to try to take Lesnar into the later rounds but I believe he’s going to try and finish the fight as early as possible. If there intense exchanges early, I believe that Lesnar will have a significant advantage because he should, in theory, be able to recover quicker. And over the course of a five round fight, Lesnar is likely to be able to get a second wind at some point while a second wind for Couture just might not be possible.

Another end that has been predicted is Lesnar losing by submission. Again, this is another scenario I don’t see playing out. Couture has good – but not great – jiu-jitsu. He’s does not possess the slick submissions of a Frank Mir. If Lesnar provides an opening, Couture will be able to capitalize. However, reports out of Lesnar’s camp suggest that his submission defense is the most improved aspect of his game. If this was a rematch vs. Mir or a fight against someone such as Roger Gracie, I’d be concerned. But in this case, Couture’s submissions don’t worry me. If Couture tries to muscle a submission in, he’s going to expend a lot of energy doing so.

Couture will also need to make he wins the range game on the feet, as Lesnar is a threat to knock him out. Lesnar might not be a technical striker but he was able to floor both Mir and Heath Herring with punches. Couture does not have a glass jaw but showed in his two losses to Chuck Liddell that if you hit him hard enough and in the right spot, he’ll fall down just like any other human.

Thus far I’ve spent much of the article singing the praises of Lesnar despite the fact that the pick is Couture. So how do I see the fight going down in Couture’s favor?

Simple, I see Couture winning by way of TKO in the third round. Word out of Couture’s camp is that he’s quite confident. And if Randy Couture believes he’s going to beat someone, then I believe him.

But Couture has much more going for him than just confidence. Experience will be a major factor. Lesnar may have more gas in the tank, but Couture knows when to hit the gas pedal and when to hit the breaks. He will be able to navigate the five minute rounds better and will know when to lay in wait and when to explode.

Couture also might be the greatest tactical fighter in the history of the sport. He’s made a living finding weaknesses to exploit against fighters that are bigger, stronger, faster and younger. He has no doubt once again devised a gameplan that will put success in reach.

That gameplan could include taking a page or two out of the Tim Sylvia fight. Couture has apparently spent a great deal of his camp working on quick, explosive movements. That says to me that he plans to try and close the distance between him and Lesnar at key spots during the fight in hopes of body-locking the 2000 NCAA champion and putting him on his back.

Taking Lesnar off his feet won’t be easy because Lesnar is the stronger of the two. But Couture showed against Sylvia that upper-body takedowns aren’t necessarily all about sheer strength and that quickness and technique are almost as equally important.

Rumor also has it that Couture has spent a great deal working his ground and pound. Once he puts Lesnar on his back, I don’t see Couture trying to spend a lot of energy trying to break guard and risking position by going for armbars. I think he will look to get the fight to the ground but keep it simple once he does. Don’t be surprised to see Couture try to push Lesnar against the cage and deliver punches and elbows out of Lesnar’s guard.

One thing I’ve learned in recent years is that being good at jiu-jitsu and also being good at striking isn’t enough to ensure success in MMA and that you actually need to be good at MMA. In top gyms, there are both striking and grappling classes but then there is a separate MMA class taught to help put everything together in a cohesive package. A lot of new fighters spend a great deal of time working on their striking and their grappling but the transition game often gets neglected. Couture should try and test Lesnar’s MMA skills.

If Couture can press Lesnar against the cage and get good extension on his punches and elbows, he should be able to inflict enough damage that it will prompt the referee to stop the fight early. It’s pure conjecture on my part, but I believe that is going to be Couture’s strategy and that is how I believe the fight will reach its conclusion.

But Couture is not a one trick pony. Chances are he’s worked on multiple ways in which to try and expose Lesnar’s inexperience. In several pre-fight interviews, Couture has made a point to discuss about how Lesnar only knows how to attack at one speed and in one direction: fast and forward.

I expect Couture to utilize his footwork and focus on lateral movement in order to control the range between the two fighters. When Couture isn’t hanging back on the outside in an attempt to steer clear of Lesnar’s massive punching power, he will close the distance. Before he tries to wrap his arms around Lesnar, he will try to use his dirty boxing skills in order to stun the former WWE heavyweight champion so that he can take him to the floor.

When you factor Couture’s dirty boxing skills and combine it with the fact that Lesnar’s chin has yet to be tested, it creates the potential that Couture may actually be able to knock Lesnar out. I’m not saying it’s likely, but only that it’s possible.

What I do consider likely is Couture winning the fight on the floor. If he tries to outwork Lesnar for 25 minutes, he will lose the cardio game to the man 14 years his junior. But if Couture tries to outwork Lesnar for just 15 minutes and is able to put him on his back, he will be able to capitalize on his experience and finish Lesnar through ground and pound.

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