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UFC 91:

New champ reflects on fight, future

Second-round stoppage of Couture adds legitimacy to Lesnar’s resume

UFC 91

Sam Morris

UFC CEO Lorenzo Fertitta, center, and President Dana White joke with Brock Lesnar that they will have to get him a larger belt after he beat Randy Couture for the heavyweight title Saturday, November 15, 2008 at the MGM Grand Garden Arena. Lesnar won by TKO in the second round.

UFC 91: Couture vs. Lesnar

Fans take photos as Randy Couture enters the arena before his heavyweight championship bout against Brock Lesnar at UFC 91 Saturday, November 15, 2008 at the MGM Grand Garden Arena. Lesnar won by TKO in the second round. Launch slideshow »

Lesnar Era Begins

Brock Lesnar is the new UFC Heavyweight Champion after beating Randy Couture Saturday night at the MGM Grand.

White says UFC ‘not close’ on network deal

It was clear Saturday day night at the MGM that the UFC is continuing to develop its audience and in the foreseeable future MMA could become even more mainstream with a major network deal.

But UFC president Dana White, who will know later this week if his “record-setting pay-per-view” proclamation came true, said his organization is not involved in any current cable TV negotiations.

“Just because you get a network deal doesn't mean it's a good deal. When we get a good network deal, we'll be on network television,” White said.

“The networks are so strong, they pretty much tell you the deal that they're going to give you whether you like it or not.”

White said the UFC built its own multimillion-dollar brand and doesn’t need the help of cable TV to continue its expansion.

“We built this company without the help of anybody. It was us and the fighters, that's it,” White continued.

“If somebody wants to do the right deal with us, we'll do it with them. Spike did. So we're on Spike TV. Believe me, I'm happy as hell to be on Spike TV."

That being said, White certainly embraced ESPN’s expanded coverage this week from Las Vegas, which included segments on Sports Center from a live set at the MGM arena.

With current plans of expanding the UFC into other parts of the globe, it’s probably only a matter of time before the sport is broadcast by a major U.S. company.

“The network deal will come when it comes,” White said. “I'm not chasing it.”

Maybe it is about the size of the dog in the fight after all.

Well, a dog might not be the best animal description for Brock Lesnar. Beast is a more apt label for the 6-foot-3, 275-pound behemoth.

Despite having just three mixed martial arts bouts under his belt before Saturday night’s title fight at the MGM Grand Garden Arena, Lesnar dismantled former Ultimate Fighting Championship heavyweight champ and fan favorite Randy Couture.

When Lesnar — who was a full 50 pounds larger than Couture — didn’t dwarf the UFC legend with his sheer body mass, the former World Wrestling Entertainment wrestler dominated the 45-year-old with his speed, strength, and of course, size.

“They are some big-ass ham hocks coming at you,” said Couture, after losing his title via a second-round TKO at the hands of Lesnar’s specialty-made XXXXL-gloves.

“I felt good. He’s just a big guy. He caught me with a big shot,” continued Couture, who thought he side-stepped Lesnar’s big right hook.

Instead the 220-pounder crumpled to the mat where he was greeted with at least two dozen more finishing blows.

“I must have hit him I think about 40 times and I was wondering, ‘Is this referee ever going to come in here and stop this?’ ” said Lesnar, after stunning the near sellout crowd of 14,272.

For a split second Couture looked as if he might somehow survive the flurry of leather bouncing his head off the canvas. But referee Mario Yamasaki stepped in and signaled the stoppage at 3:07 in the second round.

“I can't believe it, it’s like a dream right now. It’s pretty awesome.” said Lesnar after claiming the championship belt, which UFC president Dana White joked: ‘We’ll have to find a larger belt.’”

The title marks the third such honor that Lesnar has achieved in his combative sports career. But he admitted that the WWE championship, nor even his 2000 NCAA heavyweight wrestling title at Minnesota, could compare to hosting the UFC championship.

“I believe in hard work and that it pays off,” he said.

"I may come across as a cocky SOB, but I believe in myself. I've got the utmost respect for Randy Couture. He's been a great champion."

The league’s elder statesmen returned the compliments, warning media members that they were only watching the early stages of what could be an impressive career for the 31-year-old Lesnar.

“I was referring to, kind of having an idea where Brock is at in this stage of things. He’d love to go out and submit guys, it will probably take him a while to learn some more submission skills and feel really comfortable on his back,” said Couture, who was making his first fight in 15 months after settling a well publicized contract dispute with the UFC.

“I’m sure he would love to refine his striking, kicking and all those other things with that great big body. But it’s probably gonna be a while before that feels real comfortable for him too.

“I can remember those feelings of wanting to do those things and not feeling technically sufficient,” Couture continued. “Wrestlers have a particular mindset, they’re perfectionists. They break things down by the numbers, but it still takes time.”

That’s sounds fine to White, who said he was still in shock by Lesnar’s quick ascent to the top.

“To do what he’s done in his fourth fight, I’m still having trouble believing that,” said the UFC president, whose self-proclaimed “biggest fight in UFC history” drew a $4.8 million gate Saturday — making it the fourth-largest in the organization's history. Pay-per-view numbers will be calculated later this week.

“This is a different game than when Randy won the title without a lot of experience. These guys now, wow, they’re really great athletes and well-rounded.”

While Couture might not have much longer battling in the heavyweight class, he’s excited about the level of fighters that will soon carry the torch.

“It’s getting stronger and stronger,” Couture said. “Brock is a great indicator of where the heavyweight division is going. We’re seeing guys who aren’t just big guys, they’re also very, very good athletes.

"Brock, obviously, is walking around with the title now, but more importantly, he’s on the right path to completing his game and adding all the skills to become a complete mixed martial artist. I know what that’s like. It’s fun, but you have to step out in that cage and prove it. And carrying that belt around makes you a target.

“There are a lot of great guys in the division now. ‘Napao’ Gonzaga looked good tonight and he looks like he’s heading in the right direction. There are a ton of guys.”

Couture’s not ready to take himself off that list yet either.

“I still feel like I'm getting better as a fighter so we'll see," said Couture (16-9), who has two fights left on his UFC contract.

“I'm going to let things settle down and see what happens. "I still feel like I'm getting better. I still enjoy fighting."

So too does Lesnar, who said he was uncertain of what exactly his next step would be after he faces the winner of the interim heavyweight title fight between Frank Mir and Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira at UFC 92 at the MGM Grand on Dec. 27.

“I try to learn every day and I train hard every day,” Lesnar said. “I work with a good group of guys and we go and drill things, over and over. You have to be a well-rounded fighter in this day and age. I want to continue to mold myself into a dominating fighter.”

Andy Samuelson is a sports writer/editor for the Las Vegas Sun. He can be reached at [email protected] or 702-948-7837.

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