Wednesday, April 27, 2011 | 2:05 a.m.
Las Vegas Sun sports reporters Case Keefer and Ray Brewer spend their weekly radio show, which airs Monday at 5:30 on 91.5 KUNV, discussing the UFC 129 fight card. They break down whether Randy Couture has a shot to upset Lyoto Machida and what makes him such a legend in the eyes of many, while also touching on the two title fights.
With sweat dripping down Randy’s Couture’s face, his form-fitting shirt drenched and sticking to his body, and a few bumps and scratches obvious on his forehead, the legendary mixed martial artist appeared in no shape to be photographed.
Couture, in preparation for his farewell fight Saturday against Lyoto Machida at UFC 129 in Toronto, was in the middle of one of his two-a-day training sessions last week when he spotted 6-year-old Darian Castillo observing a few feet from the cage at Xtreme Couture.
During a break, and without being prompted by his handlers, Couture went over to the child. They briefly chatted and posed together for a photo.
The Castillos were visiting from San Luis, Ariz., and stumbled upon the training center after an Internet search revealed it was close to their hotel. Not in their wildest imagination did they expect to meet Couture, Darian’s idol.
“It’s amazing how he is still fighting and doing so well,” said Dania Castillo, Darian’s mother. “It shows that you can (accomplish) anything at any age.”
The 47-year-old Couture, who announced two weeks ago his retirement plan, has influenced several fighters during his lengthy and successful career. Some of them — such as UFC lightweight Gray Maynard and former light heavyweight champion Forrest Griffin — call his Xtreme Couture facility home and often train under Couture’s watchful eye. Others are young hopefuls looking for someone to relate to in a sport that is still relatively new. That’s something Couture, a Las Vegas resident, can speak endlessly about.
“It’s a heck of a lot different,” Couture said. “I used to get a half-step back (from people) and it was like, ‘Are you one of those cage fighters?' Like, oh my God, this guy could be dangerous. He might be a criminal or something. There was a totally different perception when I started this.”
Couture’s career has featured many accomplishments and titles — he is a three-time former UFC heavyweight champion and a two-time light heavyweight champion — and he is widely considered one of the greatest performers in MMA history.
His impact on the sport, however, isn’t limited to his triumphs in the cage. After all, his 19-10 record in the UFC is far from perfect. But when you combine his fighting accolades with his exploits out of the octagon and down-to-earth attitude — such as his meeting with Darian — his status spikes to the level of legendary.
“Most people his age are going to the park and doing something else, not fighting and not fighting against guys half their age,” said Gil Martinez, Couture’s boxing coach. “It shows kids that if you truly want something, all you have to do is work hard and you will get it.”
Step one foot into Xtreme Couture on any weeknight, and the fighter’s impact is obvious. The 24,000 square-foot facility — complete with two octagons, two boxing rings and 1,000 square feet of training mats — is buzzing with activity, ranging from a MMA class for children ages 6 to 12, training sessions for professionals such as Griffin and a fitness-based class for adults.
Just like basketball, where youngsters hope to eventually be like Michael Jordan or Kobe Bryant, Couture is one of those fighters others strive to emulate. Of the 335 members at Xtreme Couture, 170 are under the age of 18.
“They look at Randy like he is a legend,” said Moki Magno, one of the coaches at the facility whose son Coebe, 8, is part of the youth program. “Randy is a very, very humble guy and would never say that. I wouldn’t trade anything in the world to have my son change gyms. Randy is a hero for these kids. He has done so much for everyone; that is why we are loyal to him.”
While Couture won’t be fighting anymore, he’ll still be a fixture on UFC fight nights and at his gym. He’ll be in the corner May 28 when Maynard fights Frankie Edgar for the UFC lightweight title, while his other fighters — such as Amir Sadollah and Evan Dunham — will surely keep him busy.
“He has set down the foundation for them to see what kind of work it take to get where he has been,” Martinez said. “A lot of the guys see him train and understand the kind of dedication they need to follow in his footsteps.”
Couture is a role model for what he’s accomplished, partially opening the door for others to enjoy success. Some consider him one of MMA’s founding fathers. Others call him the Muhammad Ali of MMA.
At his gym, where there are plenty of pictures and awards hanging on the walls to document his career, the fighters know a different Couture. He’s someone always willing to help an up-and-coming fighter, has hosted camps for children and goes above and beyond to promote the sport.
While he hasn’t been as hands-on with training others during preparation for his UFC 129 fight, Couture is expected to bring the same passion and hard-working attitude to new his venture in fighting. Instead of relentlessly preparing himself for a fight, he’ll be preparing Maynard and others for stardom.
“We’ve created an atmosphere where fighters who want to work can thrive,” Couture said. “The staff here is fantastic, and they give a ton of their time and energy. I don’t think any of these guys are dependent on me, other than I paid the bills to open this place up. Outside of that, they are all independent guys in here doing their thing and living their dream.”