Randy Couture interview

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Your first UFC fight was almost a decade and a half ago. How did you adapt your training as MMA evolved and you got older?

When I started fighting I was using training routines from my time on the US national wrestling team. I’d do a sprint day, a plyometrics day and a weights day and repeat that for six days a week. But when I moved to Vegas around eight years ago I hired a strength and conditioning coach and he helped me to amalgamate the sessions and make them more sport-specific to accurately simulate the five-minute rounds of an MMA fight. Then I shifted to three days a week of combined and refined strength and conditioning training, which left the other three days free to focus on technique to develop more tools to use during a fight.

The sport has changed so much since the start of your career. What’s your craziest memory from the early days?

My first fight was at UFC 13 in Augusta, Georgia, back in 1997. I fought twice that night, because the UFC was still using the tournament format, and the arena was a small civic centre that only held around 2,000 people. Nobody in the crowd knew who any of the fighters were, they were just there to see some scraps. My wife at the time, Tricia, was sitting up in the stands and there was a whole row of guys sitting in front of her who probably had six teeth between them and they were all fired up. Their banter made her so nervous that she had to go to the bathroom and throw up before my first fight. There were definitely more fights in the stands than there were in the cage that night!

What was the toughest fight of your career and who hit you the hardest?

The toughest fight for sure was my first fight with Pedro Rizzo at UFC 31. It was a rough and tumble, back and forth battle and a really tough fight. He kicked me 14 times on my left thigh and by the time I got back to the locker room it was swollen and black. I couldn’t walk properly for about six weeks after that and he broke my nose too. In terms of who hit the hardest, it had to be Chuck Liddell. I’ve been knocked on my can a few times in my career, but he was the only guy to knock me completely unconscious, to the point where you’re fighting one second and the next you’re looking up going, “Who the fuck are you guys?” Chuck was long and rangy and he had the timing that creates that knockout power. It isn’t about being able to bench press 500lb [227kg] - it’s about the mechanics and having the timing and range to catch somebody on the end of a punch.

Now you’re retired, what do you do to keep in shape?

I do more strength and conditioning, maintenance-style training now. I still get on the mats, but I tend to do a lot less sparring and a lot more grappling. When I was out in Sofia filming The Expendables 2, I was able to grapple once or twice a week with a friend of mine from the Secret Service who’s stationed over there. It’s a lifestyle and it doesn’t feel right unless you get your time in at the gym.

Talking of The Expendables, who do you think was the toughest of your cast mates? They all train and they’re all physical guys in great shape. Dolph Lundgren still competes in Kyokushin karate and he’s a big guy. I’ve heard Jason Statham is doing some grappling and he used to be a diver, so he’s a great athlete. Terry Crews was also a professional American football player and he’s a big, strong guy who moves very well. Chuck Norris and Jean-Claude van Damme are both in the sequel too.

What were they like to work with?

Chuck Norris is one of the nicest guys you could ever want to meet, just a sweetheart of a guy. Jean-Claude is a nice guy too and an interesting guy. It was fun to see him play the bad guy, as it’s something he doesn’t do very often and it was an interesting role for him. I think he did really well with it.

You were known throughout your career as a master strategist. In your opinion, what’s the gameplan to beat current UFC light heavyweight champion Jon Jones and who can pull it off?

The blueprint for Jones is a lot like what Chael Sonnen did to Anderson Silva at UFC 117 – wade through his striking and athleticism and make it dirty and ugly. You need to run him up against the fence and put him on his back as much as possible. That’s the kind of fight that will be difficult for Jones and will really test him. But it’s not going to be easy for anyone to do it, because Jones has great wrestling skills and he’s a tremendously diverse athlete who moves really well. I do think Dan Henderson and Sonnen could both beat him. Even though Sonnen fights at middleweight, he walks around at about 215lb [98kg], so he could easily move up to light heavyweight. But I think Henderson especially would give Jon a really good go and it would be an interesting fight.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?

It was from my stepdad, Don, after I’d gotten into a fight at junior high school. He told me that even when you win in those situations, you lose, and that you should never fight unless you’re backed into a corner and you’ve got no place else to go. Then you should come out with everything you’ve got and never quit.

Sam Razvi wrote for Men’s Fitness UK (which predated and then shared a website with Coach) between 2011 and 2016.