Birthday bash: The best moments in the career of 'The Natural' Randy Couture

When you have a career as illustrious as the one Randy Couture had, it seems nearly impossible to whittle it down to a list of accomplishments.

Who is to say that one particular win is more important than another? Or that the second championship meant more than the third? Or fourth?

And of course, the list might not even get made lest one significant moment doesn't make the cut.

Yesterday, 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 at his 14-year career.

This was supposed to be a list of "The Natural's" top five moments in his remarkable career but that seemed a bit disingenuous or rather, inadequate. So here, in chronological order, a list of Couture's biggest accomplishments; increments of five or 10 be damned!

Let's do this.

vs. Tony Halme and Steven Graham, UFC 13

Couture made his MMA debut at this early UFC event, one that likely predates the fandom of many fans today. But not only did he take his first fight in the Octagon that night, he also took his second. A quick submission win over former professional wrestler and boxer Halme put "The Natural" in the finals of the card's heavyweight tournament. A little over three minutes into that bout, Couture was sitting pretty with a record of 2-0.

vs. Vitor Belfort, UFC 15

No other fighter -- save for BJ Penn -- erupted into the UFC quite like Belfort did. But just like Penn ran into a wall in the shape of Jens Pulver, "The Phenom's" meteoric rise came to a crash when he stepped into the cage against Couture. Refusing to wilt while standing in front of the feared striker, "The Natural" forced Belfort to fight longer than he ever had before. A takedown three minutes into the fight spelled the end for the Brazilian as Couture used his grinding top control to earn the technical knockout (TKO) win.

vs. Maurice Smith, UFC Japan

The win over Belfort afforded "The Natural" the opportunity to take on newly crowned heavyweight champion "Mo" Smith. Using his wrestling against the kickboxer, he was able to avoid damage in the stand-up while controlling the action on the ground. Couture gained his first UFC title that night. Here's hoping he planned ahead and bought a big trophy case soon after.

vs. Kevin Randleman, UFC 28

A contract dispute led to Couture vacating his UFC title and making his way to Japan. He finally returned three years later to take back the belt he never lost. Standing in his way was "The Monster," a younger and stronger wrestler who seemed to be the future of the sport. And in the first two rounds, it seemed like that's how the fight would go. But "The Natural's" experience won out over Randleman's youth and Couture became the first two-time UFC champ.

vs. Pedro Rizzo, UFC 31

From History in the Making:

When they announce Couture as the winner, the Atlantic City audience cheers alongside the champion's corner. "The Natural" is a bit more subdued. He may have been the victor but he certainly didn't feel like a winner. Just like Rizzo, who fell short, didn't feel like a loser. Many felt "The Rock" had done enough to wrest the title away from the American and in fact, the two had an immediate rematch at UFC 34, a fight Couture decisively won.

vs. Chuck Liddell, UFC 43

From the Happy birthday, Randy! special:

... Couture beat Liddell to almost every punch. Jabs and snapping hooks found their mark over and over, taking their toll on "The Iceman's" face -- and his will.

No one expected Couture to win. He was supposed to give Liddell a notable win to validate the interim title they were fighting for. Instead, he walked out as the promotion's first two-division champion.

vs. Tito Ortiz, UFC 44

When Liddell was due a title shot, Ortiz was nowhere to be found. But now that "old man" Couture was set to be the next challenger for the light heavyweight strap, "The Huntington Beach Bad Boy" was ready to step into the cage. The fight is known for a chain reaction of three events: five rounds of domination by "Captain America" led to him playfully spanking the younger Ortiz in the last stanza which led to the now former champion visibly crying when they announced Couture as the winner and undisputed king of the 205-pound division.

vs. Tim Sylvia, UFC 68

From the Happy birthday, Randy! special:

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.

My friend literally punched up on my couch when Couture landed "the punch" eight seconds into the fight. It was a completely unbelievable moment made believable only because it was "Captain America."

vs. Gabriel Gonzaga, UFC 74

Gonzaga was the man who destroyed "Cro Cop." When he headkicked Mirko Filipovic in a deliciously brutal piece of irony, he shoved his way to the front of the title contention line. Coming off the shocking upset over Sylvia, many thought Couture's luck would run out against the Brazilian. Once again, "The Natural" proved all the doubters wrong by wearing "Napao" down and finishing him in the third round.

vs. James Toney, UFC 118

Over 100 events after he made his UFC, Couture represented MMA when pro boxer James Toney stepped into the cage. "Captain America" did exactly what he was supposed to do: take the pudgy pugilist down and slap on a submission. While it wasn't the UFC vs. Boxing dream match everyone thought it might be, it was nice to see Couture once again as an ambassador of the sport.

As many of Couture's wins that I listed, I can't help but think that I didn't do him justice. His record seems like a mediocre 19-11 but fans know the truth.

Randy Couture always fought the best and almost always gave us reasons to cheer.

What are your favorite moments from the birthday boy?

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