Birthday bash: Randy Couture emerges from retirement to blast Tim Sylvia at UFC 68

Randy Couture had been here before.

Beaten out of the heavyweight division, he found a new home and renewed vigor as a 205-pounder.

He shocked the mixed martial arts (MMA) community when he dominated Chuck Liddell at UFC 43: "Meltdown." He literally spanked Tito Ortiz at UFC 44: "Undisputed" to unify both of their titles. And a fluke injury loss led to yet another dominant performance against Vitor Belfort at UFC 49: "Unfinished Business."

But the rematch against "The Iceman" went the exact opposite of their first meeting, ending with smelling salts and pen lights being used on the now former champion. A win over Mike Van Arsdale seemed more obligation than anything and the rubber match against Liddell was set.

Unfortunately for "The Natural," it ended in similar fashion to their second bout.

Today, the recently retired mixed martial arts (MMA) legend turns a spry 48-years old. In honor of the optical goods
anniversary (whatever that means), we'll be taking a look back his 14-year career.

This is the story of Randy, the giant killer; when he came out of retirement to take on Tim Sylvia.

Let's dive in.

After Couture's second loss to Liddell -- both by brutal knockout -- "Captain America" felt much like he did after back to back losses to Josh Barnett and Ricco Rodriguez.

Unable to achieve the ultimate goal in his weight class and unable to drop another 20 pounds, "The Natural" hung up his four ounce gloves.

Two months later, he joined UFC pioneers Royce Gracie, Ken Shamrock, and Dan Severn in the promotion's Hall of Fame.

He would spend the next year providing commentary during fight cards from time to time while also getting bit by the acting bug. It seemed Couture was enjoying his newfound free time.

But when the UFC came calling once again, "The Natural" couldn't help but answer.

The heavyweight champion Tim Sylvia -- who had previously finished each of his opponents in the UFC -- had gone to a lackluster decision in three of his last four bouts. The last two of which were championships bouts leading to 50 minutes of uninspired action.

The company needed a challenger for "The Maine-iac" and they needed one that fans would care enough to buy pay-per-views (PPV) for.

Enter "Captain America."

It only took 11 months for the Octagon's siren call to beckon Couture back and he signed on to face the heavyweight champion at UFC 68: "Uprising."

It seemed like a daunting task for the man who once left the weight class because he was giving up too much size against his opponents. If Barnett and Rodriguez were able to muscle Couture around, what chance would the former Team Quest member have against Sylvia who outweighed him by over 40 pounds and held a foot-long reach advantage?

Nevermind the fact that Couture was now four years older than he was when he shocked Liddell way back in 2003. It almost seemed cruel that the UFC would use one of their greatest stars as a sacrificial lamb just to sell Sylvia as a viable champion.

Statistically speaking, Couture was more than halfway to death when he stepped into the Octagon on March 3, 2007.

I guess someone forgot to tell him that.

A faked leg kick led to a haymaker right eight seconds into the round -- and that's when everyone watching both live and at home proceeded to lose to their collective minds.

The punch crashed its way into Sylvia's skull and the goliath went tumbling down to the mat. "The Natural" pounced but unable to finish the champion off, he secured back control for the entirety of the round.

Sylvia had survived an early, early scare and having four minutes and 52 seconds in the round plus the minute in between rounds to recover was surely enough to shake the cobwebs off and assert his dominance in the cage, right?

Wrong.

"Captain America" continued to find a home for that looping right hook while also going back to his bread and butter and efficient takedowns coupled with brutal ground and pound.

Minute by minute, round by round, it became obvious that it wasn't Couture's job to survive the onslaught of the champion. It was Sylvia's goal to survive that of "The Natural."

Fighting with the fervor of a name half his age, the founder of Xtreme Couture took the fight to Sylvia like no one ever had before. He punished the champ in the stand-up using feints and head movement and wore him down on the mat with short punches and grinding elbows.

Although it undoubtedly seemed longer for "The Maine-iac," it took 25 minutes for Couture to wrest control away of the heavyweight title away from Sylvia.

With the win, he became the promotion's only three-time champion in the weight class and further cemented his place on the list of all-time greats.

It was an awe-inspiring performance, the kind that makes you hope that you are half the man Couture was when you're that age. It was the kind of performance that makes you run that extra mile or complete that last circuit.

It was the kind of performance that made you want to be more like "The Natural."

A student of the game, a stalwart competitor, a champion.

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