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Couture back where he belongs

Randy Couture over the last 15 months learned one or two or 10 valuable lessons but none more important than a simple truism often echoed throughout sports: Play to your strength.

His is not in a courtroom but rather a cage. His is not defined by legal counsel but rather remarkable technique. He is not about motions being struck but rather that of his forearm against an opponent’s head.

He is not only back where he belongs but where it makes the most sense to be for this reason: Couture always has a chance to win a fight with fists. He had none to win one that kept him out of an octagon since August 2007 — between his suits and those of Ultimate Fighting Championship.

"I think I learned this is all just about business, and while some things still need to change, nobody is going to make it happen unless you’re willing to step up and do it yourself," he said. "Obviously, you get a reality check at some point when dealing with the legal system, so you eventually have to balance things out and decide what is best for you.

"I stood up for myself, and while it didn’t turn out as bright and shiny as I would have hoped, there were statements that needed to be made, and for that I will never be sorry it happened. I’m moving forward. I’m glad it’s behind me."

The biggest title fight in UFC history — at least until the next biggest occurs, which usually comes at the next event — is tonight when two freaks of nature meet for the heavyweight championship in UFC 91 at the MGM Grand Garden Arena.

Freak in that Couture is 45 and still one of the world’s best in the sport of striking and submissions, that at an age when most men plod through a treadmill workout at walking pace and spend the next week tending to sore muscles, Couture trains like a lunatic for the chance at beating the snot out of younger and stronger opponents.

Freak in that Brock Lesnar at 31 has a head the size of Missoula, that the only way you find a person of his size and power and quickness is to create one digitally and have him do battle against all the other mythical creatures on Azeroth.

They are predicting more than 1 million pay-per-view buys to watch Couture’s latest chance at proving himself a master of the underdog role, the first of what could be three more UFC bouts for one of the sport’s pioneers.

It’s a fact he learned through the excruciating reality that can be legal depositions: If he’s going to fight, he’s going to do so in the near future for this company.

UFC didn’t build itself into a mixed martial arts power globally with those who don’t know how to write a contract. These are not stupid people. They had Couture beat from the beginning of his attempt to dispute the length and terms of his deal, a situation that never reached trial. You don’t get as successful as UFC and not know how to protect your product.

It’s fairly clear Couture received bad advice from someone at some point, and while his intentions of breaking away to possibly secure a fight with the world’s best heavyweight — Fedor Emelianenko — and enhance his own earnings potential at the same time weren’t ridiculous, his strategy was flawed. Simply, it never was going to work.

"I never had a problem with Randy," UFC president Dana White said. "The fact is, this is a business where some bad people come out of the woodwork and align themselves with someone who is doing well, and the minute they lose, those bad people scatter like cockroaches when the light comes on.

"I have no hard feelings, no animosity, no nothing towards Randy. And if I did, I would tell you."

I believe him because White is as bottom-line as it gets, because UFC always has been more about the brand than the individual. If it’s good for business, it’s good for White.

Couture fighting Missoula Head is great business.

"I saw (the lawsuit) from both sides — Dana and his people put the money into this sport, and Randy puts his life on the line each time he fights," said lightweight champion BJ Penn, who went through his own contractual issues with the UFC early in his career. "Each had something to protect. But the bottom line is, never let your ego get in the way of a business decision, because you’re always going to end up coming back."

Randy Couture did.

Back where he belongs.

Ed Graney can be reached at 702-383-4618 or egraney@reviewjournal.com.

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