'Natural' selection: MMAmania.com UFC 118 interview exclusive with Randy Couture

Kevin C. Cox

Why is Randy Couture fighting James Toney?

Well, what else is left for "The Natural" at this stage of his career? UFC Hall-of-Famer, five-time champion across two different weight classes, pay-per-view (PPV) commentator, actor, trainer, and the one man who can refer to himself as "Captain America" and still be taken seriously.

To that end, the hoopla surrounding his upcoming fight against "Lights Out," to Couture, may seem like just another day at the office.

Sure, the promotion (and public) has decided to bill this contest as "boxing vs. mixed martial arts," but don't expect Couture to spend any more time on his feet than absolutely necessary.

"I won't play that game," the legend tells me. Nor is he buying what the Toney camp is selling. "I don't pay attention to that stuff," referring to the tall-tales of slick submissions and never-ending cardio coming from inside his opponent's gym.

James Toney wants to shock the world at UFC 118: "Edgar vs. Penn 2" on August 28 in Boston. Randy Couture wants to send a message to any other boxer who thinks they can hang with the mixed martial arts elite.

And if that wasn't enough to keep him busy, "Toll Road" also has a starring role in Sylvester Stallone's upcoming blockbuster movie called "The Expendables" that opens on Aug. 13.

So what else can we expect from Couture heading into UFC 118? Find out after the jump.

Jesse Holland (MMAmania.com): You're just a few short weeks away from Boston. Would you consider yourself to be on point both physically and mentally?

Randy Couture: Absolutely. I'm on track and my preparations have been going real well. I'm ready for Boston.

Jesse Holland (MMAmania.com): Give us some perspective on your decision to pursue James Toney. I know that you called him out on Twitter but was there dialogue with the UFC prior to that about facilitating this bout?

Randy Couture: That was James Toney's doing. He started running his mouth about all the guys he wanted to knock out in MMA and my name was on that list. I said "Alright then, let's see if you can get it done."

Jesse Holland (MMAmania.com): From a publicity standpoint, your bout with James Toney is being considered a "Boxing vs. MMA" match. How much of your legacy is at risk by taking on this challenge?

Randy Couture: There's no risk. I don't understand why people keep saying that. How is it a risk? This is a fight that garners a whole bunch of eyes from the boxing world as well as other areas and can bring new fans over to MMA.

Jesse Holland (MMAmania.com): Well in a worst case scenario you could lose, and if the public perception is that a five-time MMA champion falls to an aging boxer with no cage experience-

Randy Couture: James Toney poses all kinds of problems. There's a lot of unknowns coming into this fight, not just for him, but for me as well. Look at what he's accomplished in the sport of boxing, some of the names he's beaten. He's a dangerous opponent and I think an interesting opponent. The bottom line is there's a lot more going on in this sport than whether I win or lose.

Jesse Holland (MMAmania.com): When this fight was first reported as being "in the works," I contacted the Nevada State Athletic Commission (NSAC) to qualify Toney as a licensed competitor. While they couldn't reveal any dialogue that had taken place, they didn't sound too high on having Toney debut in what on paper may read like a mismatch. Can you comment on the promotion's decision to hold this fight in Boston and not Las Vegas?

Randy Couture: I think this fight was already booked as the decision was made to hold the event in Boston. I don't think the commission had anything to do with it but I'm not sure, that stuff is out of my control. As far as I'm concerned, all you have to do is look at what he's done in boxing. That has to count for something.

Jesse Holland (MMAmania.com): Your son Ryan has a fight coming up on Aug. 13 for Strikeforce. Will you corner him and what kind of emotions do you anticipate as a parent now that your son has transitioned to the pros?

Randy Couture: It's going to be his seventh fight, his first as a professional, so I don't get nervous at all. I also watched him compete as a wrestler before that. He's well prepared, has a great attitude and a passion for the sport. He's going to have a long career and I'll be happy to watch him compete on Friday.

Jesse Holland (MMAmania.com): Speaking of Strikeforce, there was of course your very public pursuit of Fedor Emelianenko when you abruptly left the UFC in 2007. After that failed to materialize and you returned to the Octagon, was there still a glimmer of hope as he approached his remaining Strikeforce fights that he would one day become a UFC employee? And how much of your desire to fight Fedor was diminished by his loss to Fabricio Werdum?

Randy Couture: It was inevitable. He was gonna lose at some point. Everybody loses, this is the fight game. Werdum did a great job. Now that he has a loss it shows he's human. It lost some of its luster, maybe for the fans, but not for me. I was more interested in competing than waiting around for him so I kind of got over that whole thing, but he handled it well. It will be interesting to see how he responds in his next fight.

Jesse Holland (MMAmania.com): You're expected to return to 205-pounds following your fight with Toney. Why do you think the championship has changed hands so often in the light heavyweight division? Five times in less than three years.

Randy Couture: It's always been a deep division and that just goes to show you why it's been the top weight class in the UFC for so long. Any one of these guys on any given day are capable of winning it. There's a lot of tough son-of-a-bitches in that division.

Jesse Holland (MMAmania.com): Is there still a drive to compete for the light heavyweight title and if so, how does the James Toney bout help or hinder your progress?

Randy Couture: It's about interesting fights for me. "Shogun" Rua is a hell-of-an interesting fight for me. Machida was and still is, an interesting cat, title or no title, the way he fights. There's so many guys who would make a great match-up. I'm just happy to be competing against guys my size and not these monsters in the heavyweight division like Brock Lesnar, Shane Carwin and Cain Velasquez. But I'm still confident that I could hold my own at either weight.

Jesse Holland (MMAmania.com): With so many to choose from, and your clout within the MMA community, can you just burst into Dana's office and say "Hey, I'm ‘The Natural' and this is who I want to fight, make it happen."

Randy Couture: (Laughs) Well, I don't think anyone is bursting into his office, but I'll text him and say "Hey, I want to fight this guy" or "This looks like an interesting match-up for me." In the end it's still a business and they have to make a business decision about what fights to put on.

Jesse Holland (MMAmania.com): You've had so many memorable battles in your career but you're not exactly the most animated guy before and after a fight. While we may not have been able to see it, was there ever a fight where you stepped into the cage and said to yourself  "Man, F- this guy, this time it's personal."

Randy Couture: Nah, I've never had any personal fights. I think that's a mistake.

Jesse Holland (MMAmania.com): As a fan, my best Randy Couture moment was your heavyweight title win over Tim Sylvia at UFC 68 -- even though I predicted you would get knocked out. I will say that feeling stupid was well worth it to see you come back and defy the odds yet again. Where does that rank for you as far as career highlights?

Randy Couture: Man, I've been fortunate that I've had a lot of fights not unlike the Sylvia fight going all the way back to first Vitor Belfort fight when no one gave me a snowball's chance in hell to win. Same thing with Pedro Rizzo, Chuck Liddell [and] Tito Ortiz. Those are some of my favorite moments that I'll remember for a long time.

Jesse Holland (MMAmania.com): And your career lowlight?

Randy Couture: Not sure I've had a career lowlight. I've lost, certainly, and had misfortunes along the way. The eye cut in the second Belfort fight certainly sucked, as did the eye injury against Ricco Rodriguez. That was the worst injury I've sustained in my career and it was my second loss in a row. I was 39 and you start to question whether or not you're doing the right thing and maybe it's time to start thinking about doing something else. Fortunately I was able to get back on track and keep it going for so long.

Jesse Holland (MMAmania.com): And how much longer can you keep this up? I know it's hard to quantify, especially since you're feeling good and you've won two straight, but there has to be a number somewhere in the back of your mind.

Randy Couture: One fight at time. I'll evaluate my performances, my training, as long as I hold up and do what I gotta do I'll keep going. I'm happy, so I'll just keep plugging away and having a blast doing it.

Jesse Holland (MMAmania.com): The success of Xtreme Couture has given you a powerful brand and one that has fighters gravitating towards your facility. But what about fighters who may be bouncing around from camp to camp with no direction? Ever try to recruit and perhaps groom a guy who may not have a place to call home?

Randy Couture: We don't chase fighters. A lot of guys come through here and that's good exposure for us and we appreciate those guys, but we have a core group of guys that have been here since day one like Gray Maynard, Martin Kampmann and Tyson Griffin. We're developing new guys all the time. Evan Dunham is becoming a staple here but it always goes back to the nucleus.

Jesse Holland (MMAmania.com): Speaking of Griffin, what went wrong in the Gomi fight?

Randy Couture: Griffin works hard. He's an amazing athlete. The gameplan was to go out and take Gomi out of his realm, set him up and use his wrestling but he didn't get it done. He got caught but he took it well. He's a man and he's already back into it.

Jesse Holland (MMAmania.com): You made quite an impression on the set of "The Expendables." Co-star "Stone Cold" Steve Austin remarked on how fun it was to do fight scenes with you -- but was afraid you might accidentally let one go and put him down. Give the fans your best memory from the recent filming.

Randy Couture: I enjoyed the fight scenes. The higher I picked up the stuntmen and the harder I dropped them, the happier they were and kept coming back for more. It was a lot of fun. The monologue was interesting because I had a couple of pages of dialogue. The physical stuff was second nature but the acting part, trying to deliver your lines and actually getting it right was nerve-wracking.

Jesse Holland (MMAmania.com): How aggressive are you in pursuing new acting opportunities?

Randy Couture: I'm reading for a lot of parts now and going to a lot of meetings. There's more and more opportunities because of "The Expendables" and having it do well on Friday will certainly help that.

Jesse Holland (MMAmania.com): Success as a fighter, actor and father. What's left for Randy Couture?

Randy Couture: I don't know! But I'm having fun.

Jesse Holland (MMAmania.com): Ever wake up and think to yourself. "Holy shit, I'm living the dream."

Randy Couture: (Laughs) All the time! I've had several different phases in my life, and they've all been pretty incredible.

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