Off the Hook - By Joe Reilly

OTH: UFC 52 – The Rematch Volume 2

This weekend the main attraction at UFC 52 will showcase a UFC Light Heavyweight Championship rematch. Randy ‘The Natural’ Couture defends his title against Chuck ‘The Iceman’ Liddell. Whether you have seen their first fight or not, the rematch should definitley get you pumped, as you will see the best two guys at this weight class that the UFC have to offer go head to head. Will Couture defend his championship and continue his unparallelled dominance or will Liddell step up and take the belt he has been chasing for so long? Read on to get my two-cent…

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This weekend the main attraction at UFC 52 will showcase a UFC Light Heavyweight Championship rematch. Randy ‘The Natural’ Couture defends his title against Chuck ‘The Iceman’ Liddell. Whether you have seen their first fight or not, the rematch should definitely get you pumped, as you will see the best two guys at this weight class that the UFC has to offer go head to head. Will Couture defend his championship and continue his unparalleled dominance or will Liddell step up and take the belt he has been chasing for so long? Read on to get my two-cent.

Randy ‘The Natural’ Couture (The UFC Light Heavyweight Champion)

Randy Couture is the number one fighter in the world at 205 lbs today. He is approaching his 42nd birthday in a few months. These are just two examples of what makes this man a living legend and the greatest inspiration in the game today. Originally, the ‘Natural’ moniker came from Couture’s introduction to the sport of MMA. His MMA debut was at UFC 13 back in 1997 at the age of 33. Hardly a spring chicken, but Couture had one element that many fighters at the time didn’t and that was world-class Greco Roman skills from years of wrestling through high school all the way through to the Olympic qualifiers.

Couture found that even with the lack of striking and submission skills he was able to impose his dominant clinch game rather easily to demonstrate his unrivaled will to win. So, Couture discovered immediate success in this new sport and over time he has shown that he has adapted his game really well with good striking skills and is always trying to improve his Jiu-Jitsu skills. So, the ‘Natural’ concept is very suited to his quick evolution and aptitude for the sport. From personal observation I believe this name is also fitting for another reason.

In nearly every sport there is substance abuse occurs and MMA is no exception, unfortunately. It is a common assumption among many MMA insiders and fighters that steroid use is commonplace in the top-tier fields of MMA. By speaking off the record with different fighters, trainers and journalists out there, you hear many stories of steroids behind the scenes. However, I haven’t come across even one claim from anyone in the sport that Couture has ever abused his body with any illegal substance. In fact anyone I know that has trained with Couture at all maintains that he indeed is ‘Natural’.

Initially, Couture competed at around 225 lbs in MMA, which fell into the Heavyweight class. Couture, for the most part, dominated this division with his superior speed and skills. Then, in 2002, a drastic change in the Heavyweight division occurred. The larger men in the division started catching up with their skills. Couture found this out firsthand with back-to-back losses in championship fights against Josh Barnett at UFC 36 and Ricco Rodriguez at UFC 39. Both men brought great skills to the fights, but the deciding factor was size and conditioning. Couture dominated from the start, but he tired after working extremely hard and once he found himself underneath either man, he didn’t have the gas or size to reverse or defend effectively against their attacks.

After these losses, Couture examined his career so far and thought hard about what he had to offer the sport of MMA. He came to the conclusion that he still had the will to train and win, but more importantly at his age, he was still remarkably fit. Couture was then set to take on Andrei Arlovski at UFC 42 in early 2003. The fight fell through, as Arlovski got injured. Instead, Couture was presented with another fight for the following UFC event. The UFC Light Heavyweight championship had become vacant with Tito Ortiz refusing to defend his title to the rightful number one contender Chuck ‘The Iceman’ Liddell.

Couture was then offered the chance to cut down to 205 lbs and fight Liddell for the vacant title. Couture welcomed the idea, as he felt it would be a good move to finally fight people his own size. At UFC 43 in the summer of 2003, Couture came into the fight with Liddell as a 3 – 1 underdog by most sportsbooks. People thought Couture was done. He was coming off two losses and he chose to fight one of the most dominating forces at the new weight class. I’ll admit that I thought Couture was going to lose to Liddell, who had been storming all opposition up to this point.

However, when fight time rolled around, it was very much the opposite. Liddell came out with his usual sit-back and counter game, but Couture used good footwork with nice striking skills to upset Liddell’s balance. This made the Iceman easy prey for Couture’s dominating takedowns. Liddell tried to stand up from the bottom, but eventually, his gas tank emptied and Couture stopped him by ground and pound in the first round.

After this fight, Couture issued a challenge for Tito Ortiz to the step-up take the title from him. Ortiz immediately accepted the challenge and an undisputed champion would be crowned at UFC 44. Coming up to UFC 44, I felt certain Couture would not only win and dominate after the display he showed at UFC 43. Many laughed at me on the Internet forums and other people that felt the same way, but our predictions came true, as Couture dominated his way to a unanimous decision victory over Ortiz after five rounds. Couture even spanked Ortiz’s rear end for good measure.

Next on Couture’s list was Brazilian Phenom Vitor Belfort. Both men had fought before at UFC 13, which was a dirty boxing clinic from Couture. Both men rematched twice at UFC 46 and 49 respectively. At UFC 46, the fight was stopped early by a cut Couture suffered after being caught with a grazing punch to the eye by Belfort. After Belfort won the title through controversy, both men fought again at UFC 49. Couture dominated that fight with aggressive clinch work and a bloody ground and pound display to lead to a doctor’s stoppage in the third round. At Light Heavyweight, the champion is looking even more impressive with each fight.

He weighed in at a very lean 203 lbs for the weigh-ins yesterday and he attributes this to even harder workouts along with his Light Force nutrition programme by Ryan Parsons. Couture appears to be in the best shape of his career, but can Liddell change the outcome that happened at UFC 43?

Chuck ‘The Iceman’ Liddell (The Light Heavyweight Contender)

Chuck ‘The Iceman’ Liddell is a well-rounded fighter with powerful knockout skills. He is also an accomplished wrestler with great takedown defence. He also has a purple belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. Liddell has once again established himself as the number one contender to the UFC Light Heavyweight crown. As mentioned before, Liddell was originally planning to fight Tito Ortiz, but actually fought Randy Couture for the championship. After that loss, Chuck was devastated and claims that he was really disappointed with his cardio level looking back at the fight. He switched conditioning and strength coaches shortly before the fight and had not got sufficient time to prepare in this area for Couture.

Since that fight, Liddell has fought in the PRIDE 2003 Middleweight (205 lbs) Grand Prix. He knocked out Allistair Overeem in the first round with a brutal overhand right. In the second round, he had a war with Quinton Jackson, which led to exhaustion for Liddell and Liddell’s corner throwing in the towel. Apparently, Liddell had a torn quad in that fight which prevented him from utilising the knees and kicks, which only allowed him to box with Jackson, which proved bad for Liddell.

Liddell returned to UFC action at UFC 47 to take on his nemesis Tito Ortiz. Liddell maintained that Ortiz was afraid of him and that he was going to knock out the ‘Huntington Beach Bad Boy’. The prophecy was fulfilled at the beginning of round two, where Liddell unleashed a flurry of punches that sent Ortiz crashing to the canvas. This fight really pushed Liddell over the line in popularity with the fans and he came into his next fight at UFC 49 to a huge reaction.

At UFC 49, Liddell fought an old rival in Vernon ‘Tiger’ White from the Lion’s Den. White came out looking to strike with the Iceman and Liddell was more than happy to oblige. White, a natural southpaw, came out right-handed to try and confuse Liddell. It didn’t work, as Liddell was prepared to fight on both sides. Liddell outstruck White and he had more power in his strikes. Liddell knocked White down several times, but White showed a lot of heart and somehow kept getting back up. Liddell finally caught White with a hard right hand on the chin that put White down permanently. Liddell was the victor by KO in the first round.

Since UFC 49, both Liddell and Couture participated in the Ultimate Fighter reality show, as coaches. Last week, Diego ‘The Nightmare’ Sanchez and Forrest Griffin won the Middleweight and Light Heavyweight classes respectively. Both men were representing Team Liddell. So, Team Liddell went over Team Couture 2 – 0 last week, but is this a preview of what is to come at UFC 52?

Breaking down the rematch

Going into this fight, Couture is definitely the favourite, but you can never count Liddell out. Like the Hughes/Trigg rematch, their first fight was back in 2003, nearly two years ago. The main thing Liddell did wrong in the first fight from a strategy point of view was that he played a counter game. He was planning on sitting back banking on Couture coming to him. He was hoping to slip Couture’s takedowns by using angles and counter with some solid shots. Couture did indeed try to storm him and he did this by strikes, which Liddell didn’t expect.

Couture countered the legkicks with punches that upset Liddell’s balance, which made the takedowns come much easier for Couture. In my opinion, one of the best adjustments Liddell can make for this fight is to develop an aggressive strategy. Most accomplished strikers are very cautious against accomplished wrestlers because they fear the takedown. Liddell has a remarkable ability to just stand up from the bottom, so if he is aggressive and lands at least one shot that stuns Couture, it would be an ideal opportunity to get the KO. Some may say that Couture outstruck Liddell before, but Liddell is the better striker, he just fought the wrong gameplan last time. Also, Liddell recovers extremely well when he gets rocked. Liddell’s very first bout in PRIDE a few years ago against Guy Mezger is a perfect example of this. Mezger outstruck Liddell for the majority of the first round and Liddell seemed frustrated by it, but Liddell came in aggressive at the opening of round two. It wasn’t long before Liddell knocked out Mezger. When it comes to slugging it out Liddell will win nine times out of ten, as he can take a shot and even when he’s hurt he can hit you right back and knock you out.

The second element of Liddell’s game that must be top-notch is his conditioning. He tired quickly against Couture last time and Liddell’s gameplan of just trying to stand up from the bottom really contributed to his empty gas tank. Another area of Liddell’s game that he should try and use from the bottom is his Jiu-Jitsu skills, this may surprise Couture, as he may not expect a submission attempt. Overall, I don’t expect Liddell to change much, as I saw a video on of Liddell training. Liddell looked like he was playing the counter game on the feet still, so I expect him to do the same against Couture and this will give Randy Couture the victory by either stoppage in the fourth or fifth round or by unanimous decision.

As I said in the Hughes/Trigg preview, if you are in North America, order the event from your PPV company and anyone in Europe that has Bravo on their cable provider check out the event on one-day delay this Sunday night. Enjoy the show, everybody.

Joe Reilly