Randy “The Natural” Couture Talks to PDG – Part III
By Justin Bolduc
In the third and final installment of a PunchDrunkGamer – MMA Access exclusive, Randy Couture speaks about acting, Fedor Emelianenko, and being a legend.
PDG: You began your career as a wrestler and stepped into mixed martial arts when there really wasn’t much to it. Since then it has become the fastest growing sport in the world, and you have become a legend. What is it like for you to be known worldwide and be considered one of the greats of the sport?
Randy: I don’t really think about it, I’m still the same person that I’ve always been. I just kind of do what I do – I like to train in the gym and I like to work with these fighters and I like to fight. I kind of entered this sport on a whim from the wrestling world because it looked intriguing and I saw some other wrestlers doing it and the whole thing kind of just took on a whole life of its own.
There have been a lot of sacrifices. The travel and the time away from family, the celebrity [status], and the demands of this professional sport cost me a marriage. I feel very blessed now to have Kim in my life. My current wife – the love that she has and the support that she has, is amazing. Together we have taken it to another level.
But it’s a little overwhelming to be recognized everywhere you go sometimes. I’ve been stopped in airports, stopped in the grocery store… it doesn’t really matter. It’s just overwhelming at times, but when you think about it it is also kind of cool.The fans are fantastic and they just have a genuine passion and love for the sport – as do I, so we share that. So it’s not bad at all.
Now I have the opportunity to do some acting, which like fighting if you told me ten years ago that I’d be in the position that I am currently in and the notoriety that the sport has gotten I wouldn’t have believed it. Now the doors are opening for me in the acting world, and I’m trying to make the most of the opportunities I have been given. It’s pretty interesting.I joke and tell my wife “don’t pinch me.” If I’m not awake I don’t want to wake up – it’s a pretty good dream [laughs].
PDG: We have been used to hearing of Japanese fighters being superstars in their home country, but now guys like Chuck Liddell and yourself are breaking into that here in America. With your popularity is it hard to maintain a balance?
Randy: It’s always been much easier for me to just be myself, and I think because of that approach it doesn’t really put any pressure on me to be anything that I don’t want to be in the long run. I think the fans appreciate being approachable and being a fairly normal guy. Other than the fact that I get to fight, I’m basically the guy next door for all intents and purposes. It’s just always been my approach and I just don’t see that changing. I don’t care if I’m winning an Oscar in five years; I’m still going to be the same guy.
Those aren’t things you do that define you as a person. I think your character comes from a lot of other places. Certainly the sport has helped define my character – my willingness to get back in there when I’ve lost… pick myself up and keep my head up whether I won or lost. But that started a long time ago with my mom and my upbringing, and I just don’t see that changing.
I’ve had several friends, close friends – people I thought were close friends, when I went through the divorce a couple of years ago that questioned what I was doing and thought I had changed. They started calling me “Vegas Randy” and stuff.I think those that had no invested interest of their own that they were losing out on because of the change in circumstances that I was going through knew that I was the same person, that nothing had changed. Unfortunately [the marriage] didn’t work out and we were headed in different directions. [My ex-wife] wanted something completely different for her life and lifestyle then the road that I was on. It was pretty difficult. My own mother, having been divorced once before years ago, questioned what I was doing going through a second divorce. It was very challenging. Ultimately that entire situation led to me retiring in the first place after the third Chuck [Liddell] fight.
Everybody wants a piece of your time – be here or be there, endorse this… it’d be easy to get caught up in a lot of that.It’s hard to filter through what you want to do and what is really important, and it’s never been very easy for me to just tell somebody “no.” That’s the constant struggle – not to spread yourself so thin… I have the challenge to sleep in my own bed and to see my wife on a regular basis – it’s difficult. Fortunately she loves the sport and doesn’t mind traveling and going with me to a lot of places. But it’s a constant struggle.
The autobiography is actually finished. We’re starting printing and it will be out on July 22. You can actually pre-order it now online, and it tells the journey that I’ve been on as a kid up until now, today. It might be interesting to some people.
PDG: How do you feel about being labeled a legend in MMA?
Randy: I don’t know. I certainly don’t consider myself a legend. There have been a lot of other guys that have had fantastic fighting careers that have built this sport, educated people, and helped it grow – I’m certainly not responsible for all of that. It was nice to be inducted into [the UFC] Hall of Fame after I retired. I have to thank Dana [White] for that; it was a kind gesture on his part for putting me in there so quickly. I’m sure at some point here as soon as Chuck retires he’s going to be the next inductee, no doubt about that. But I don’t really think about all of that stuff. It’s not really something I feel I need to reflect on at this stage of things. People say it and it kind of catches me off guard because it’s not really how I look at things and how I think. I just try to kind of focus on the things in front of me and what needs to be done to both help the sport and myself continue to grow and build.
PDG: You’ve said at this point there is nothing really left to prove other than fighting Fedor. Following those comments what do you think of your career – what are you happy with and what do you wish was different?
Randy: I don’t know that I’d change a single thing looking back. The losses and the struggles that I had were all parcel with the fighter and the athlete that I turned into. I don’t think you can take away those things, like losing to this guy or that guy. It would have been nice not to have the original contract dispute with SEG and the original owners – that was a year and a half that I sat out of the UFC. But in that year I still fought in Japan – I lost that first fight to [Enson] Inoue which was a big learning experience for me. That changed my perspective on a lot of things and forced me to make changes and get better. I don’t think looking back I’d change a single thing. It’s been an amazing ride, I’ve had a blast in this sport, and I can’t think of one thing I would do anything differently – or think of anything different (besides MMA) that I would have done.
Obviously there have been some personal struggles along the way that would have been difficult for anyone, but those too force you to examine your life and examine yourself and force you to make adjustments – again about making you who you are.
I was bitter for quite a few years because my father was never around when I was a kid growing up. I kind of resented him and resented that – all the other kids had mom and dad at the soccer game, and dads came on the Boy Scout outing, and my dad was just never around. I got to a place where I looked at that and thought about who I was – if I really liked who I was, myself, or my life – and I realized I liked myself and my life, how I treated others, and I liked the person I had become. I realized if he had been there and things had been different that I might be a different person. So even though it was adverse and a challenge, it still made me the person that I am, and I was OK with that. I looked at him with a much different view then when I first had that perspective.
I tried to keep that perspective with a lot of things that I’ve gone through, like this whole thing with the UFC. Things tend to happen for a reason. I don’t always understand or know what those reasons are, but you always need to have faith and realize that things are going to work out – and this is one of those situations. There are a lot of negative things going on, but ultimately I think it’s going to be positive. I just need to stay focused and stay positive and things will be OK.
PDG: So you’re definitely planning on fighting Fedor at the end of the year?
Randy: Yeah, the last quarter of 2008 I expect to be in a position to find a way to make the Fedor fight happen. I know he’s going to have competition in between, and I hope those go well for him, and the status [of the fight] remains the same as it is now. I certainly have some acting and training to do between now and then that I am excited about. I’m going to focus on those things and stay in shape and stay sharp and be ready for that fight after my contracts have expired.
PDG: You and Fedor have been on different paths the last couple of years. You have had the rise and fall with Chuck, and then you had what was considered an epic comeback where you dominated a much larger Tim Sylvia over five rounds.Fedor on the other hand hasn’t really faced competition up to par for his level since Mirko “Cro Cop” two years ago.How do you perceive the directions you two have gone and how do you consider him in the grand scheme of things?
Randy: I can’t speak for Fedor, but from the outside it appears he has kind of been caught up in PRIDE being bought out.I’m sure if had still been fighting for PRIDE after all this time that they would have continued to throw top opponents at him. But PRIDE kind of went by the wayside and Bodog picked him up and because of the exclusivity of a lot of fighters it was hard to find notable top ranked opponents who were free to fight in another organization. It has always been a struggle with any organization that starts up is finding fighters that are marquee. He did fight [Mark] Coleman in the U.S. PRIDE here in Las Vegas, but a lot of people would say Coleman is kind of over the hill too and hasn’t really had any good performances in quite a while – but he’s still at least a dangerous opponent. But I’m sure if Fedor had his choice – and obviously he’s still being paid very, very well, but if he had his choice he would rather be challenging himself and fighting top opponents. Again, I hesitate to speak for him, but seeing him compete and the competition that he has had over the years I suspect that that is the case. I know he has expressed sincere interest in making this fight happen between him and I which tells me he’s not trying to duck anybody. The right circumstances need to come around to perpetuate him to fighting top opponents.
In some ways the promoters have tried to protect him too. They see the marketability and the star quality of the guy so they want to see him victorious then throwing him out there and risking he loses, which loses them the marquee quality he has.
PDG: That’s how I saw the fight in PRIDE against Zulu Jr. A fight like that never should have happened.
Randy: Fights are still fights. Hong Man Choi over New Year’s Eve – it’s still a fight. He’s over seven feet tall, but a lot of people think he’s not close to Emelianenko’s class as a fighter – but it’s still a fight, anything can happen. There is risk involved in that, especially if he as an athlete he buys into “this guy shouldn’t be in there with me” and he takes that approach. I think that [Matt] Lindland, who isn’t a heavyweight obviously, is still a formidable opponent. He gave [Quinton “Rampage” Jackson] all he wanted fighting over his head. He stepped right out and cut Fedor in the first thirty seconds of the fight. Anything can happen in mixed martial arts, and we’ve certainly seen that this year with all the upsets that have occurred. Yeah, a guy may not be ranked or anybody notable, but that almost makes him more dangerous because he’ll go out there with nothing to lose and let it all hang out.
PDG: So that is the only fight left that you want?
Randy: At this stage of things, yes that is the only fight I want. I think that if that fight doesn’t happen then you will see me retire. I have been competing not to win titles, but purely for the love of competition and fighting guys that I thought were interesting to fight. Out of all the guys out there right now Fedor is the guy I want to fight. Win or lose I’ll probably retire after that fight and focus on all of that other stuff. At 44 right now, I’ll be 45 when that fight happens, that will be the best fight in my opinion to go out on either way.
PDG: Outside fighting you have of course done acting. Is there any specific role you would like to do or any type of movie you’d really like to do?
Randy: Well obviously I’ve always been a really big fan of action/adventure type films. I’m kind of trying to be taken seriously as an actor so I am trying to stay away from the fighting roles. I’m OK with taking any kind of physical role because that is a natural thing for me to be involved in – the physical characters. But taking roles strictly because I’m a fighter doesn’t really give me any credibility as being able to act to do anything in the acting realm. I’m still trying to learn skills and refine the craft and I’m getting some great experiences which is helping me out – which in some ways is very similar to when I started fighting. I know that I’m probably going to be pushed towards those more physical roles, the bad guys and the action films – which is cool with me, those are the films I like to watch, but at some point I think it would be fun to do some sort of a romantic comedy or a dramatic role to get my feet wet and stretch my legs in an acting environment.
Its fun to play other characters, like in The Scorpion King with all the costumes and swinging a big double-headed battle axe [laughs]. It was almost like a kid and playing army or something, its fun. It’s a long drawn-out process, a lot of work, and long days – whoever thought it was glamorous was crazy, but it’s a lot of fun and certainly great to see the finished product. The process is something you really have to respect and it’s interesting to learn.
PDG: Is it easy for you to go into something monotonous, like doing shoot after shoot of the same scene, coming from training where working out is also a lot of drilling and repetition?
Randy: I think athletics and my time in the [military] have taught me patience. Things don’t happen overnight. Patience and focus are two things that are very, very important in acting. You need patience to sit on set all day and maybe only really shoot fifteen or twenty minutes in those twelve hours that you are there. The ability to focus that I have learned from fighting directly correlates with focusing on the scene and your lines, and the other actors so you don’t miss your cues and it all fits together and also to find the character and be able to portray it.
PDG: Another thing you did was compete in a grappling match against [Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza], one of the best pound-for-pound Brazilian jiu-jitsu guys in the world. I know you went in wanting to win, but you came out with a draw. What was that entire experience like for you?
Randy: That was an amazing experience and it really got the competitive juices flowing again. It made me really realize I wanted to get back in there and fight again. I was very impressed with him and his style of his jiu-jitsu. It was a really, really good experience. I thought PSL event was fantastic, it was well run, and it gave me kind of that college duel-meet, kind of like the USA vs. Russia feel. I just had a great time from top to bottom with him and would love to grapple with him again sometime in the future. I know he’s making the transition into MMA now which I’ll be interested to watch and see how that unfolds for him. He’s an impressive guy.
PDG: Well Randy that’s it. I appreciate you taking the time to do the interview; I know you didn’t really want to do any. I also wasn’t planning on bothering you about your issues with the UFC, but thank you for the comments.
Randy: Well I didn’t really want to do any interviews that would inflame the situation or prevent me from settling with the UFC in a positive way. But the ground work has kind of been laid and now the situation is I’m not really going to settle with the UFC so it doesn’t matter. People are getting the word now though, but it’s all good.
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