One of mixed martial arts’ most beloved and important figures will make his eagerly awaited return to the Octagon this Saturday at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas. Poised to defend his heavyweight title against behemoth Brock Lesnar at UFC 91, Randy Couture will face arguably his most daunting task when he climbs into battle for the 25th time.
Sherdog.com spoke with dozens of experts, from fighters to trainers to analysts, and got their opinions on the Couture/Lesnar showdown.
Nate Marquardt: Tough call. If it was just after Couture fought [Tim] Sylvia, Couture 80 percent. Now I say 60/40 Couture. Couture has the experience and skills to win. Lesnar has the size and power to win. Will Couture have the speed, strength and stamina considering his long layoff and age? Lesnar has one-punch KO power, and, with his college wrestling, has a decent chance of beating anyone in front of him. It’s a gamble, but I say Couture by decision.
Ricardo Liborio: Brock may be too strong, but I think Randy will be too experienced for him. Couture by submission [in the] third round.
Scott Bieri: Brain says, “Lesnar is physically too much for Couture … Lesnar by ground-and-pound in two or three.” Heart says, “Couture uses striking, counter wrestling and the cage to win a decision or TKO in four or five.” Sorry about the non-committal answer; usually not my style. Emotional connection with this one.
Chris Lytle: I see no way Randy can win. He’s too old, too small and [had] too long of a layoff. Lesnar is too massive, athletic and younger. That being said, I think Randy wins.
Stephen Quadros: This is potentially a really bad fight for Randy Couture and not just because of age or size. Lesnar is fired up, athletically the stronger of the two and possesses the combination of heavy hands and superior wrestling that has been a problem for “The Natural” in the past with big guys like Ricco Rodriguez and Josh Barnett. Lesnar has a strong chance of winning inside of three rounds if he puts Couture on his back, keeps him there and smashes away. But, if the fight goes past three, Couture will win.
Shawn Tompkins: Randy Couture will win because he is Randy Couture.
Kevin Burns: Couture wins a decision by dominating the clinch. Lesnar will pose issues with his strength, but Randy will work around it and pound him out.
Rory Markham: I would love to [give a prediction], but I have no idea who takes this one.
Duke Roufus: Randy has heart, experience and abilities to strategize. Lesnar is a beast at heavyweight. Gonna be a great fight. [I’m] going with “Captain America.”
Rich Clementi: My brain says Lesnar, but if Randy can scramble a lot into the later rounds, I have Randy by KO.
Erik Paulson: I’ve worked with Brock for this fight, and I’m friends with Randy. I’m in Brock’s corner. I’ll pass on this one.
Mike Whitehead: Randy by TKO in the third. Brock won’t be able to keep up the pace Randy is going to set.
Guy Mezger: You just can’t bet against Randy.
Kultar Gill: Never count Randy out. Randy by experience.
Ulysses Gomez: I think Lesnar could take this fight. He’s younger, stronger and just a genetic freak. Randy is a smart fighter who always finds a way to prove me wrong when I bet against him. Looking at Randy’s losses against Josh Barnett and Ricco, once he was put on his back, it was hard for him to get out from that position, and that’s where he lost the fight. I think that Lesnar has the ability to put Randy on his back and keep him there. If he can do that, then I think Lesnar will win the fight.
Rick Roufus: Couture will press the action, push him against the fence [and] use dirty boxing. [If it] goes to the ground, Randy can handle himself. Couture wins.
Din Thomas: I think Randy’s got his hands full. Most fight fans don’t want to give Lesnar his props because they see him as a WWE guy. Not me. I see a college wrestling national champ, a big one, a really big one. I trained with a national champ in Ben Askren, and he played with me like Michael Jackson does an 8-year-old. But with Randy’s experience, he will prepare with the right people, and [it] will be easier for him to prepare for Lesnar than it would be for Lesnar to prepare for Randy. I’m just not sure it’ll be enough. I’m gonna go with Lesnar.
Cung Le: Randy by decision.
Ron Frazier: I’m a little biased since I train Randy, but he will win.
Nick Thompson: Brock by being too big for Randy.
Johny Hendricks: I think Randy is one of the smartest fighters, and he has a plan. I think he will put it into action. But Brock is strong and one of the strongest Randy has faced, so if Randy can force his way in the first round, he will beat him. I think Randy wins [in the] third round.
Luigi Fioravanti: Randy will gas him out and get the decision.
Spencer Fisher: Lesnar. [He’s] too big.
Jens Pulver: Well, I am very excited to see Randy take on Goliath. All accounts would give Brock the edge just on size and wrestling. But, hey, it’s Randy, and he is unreal.
Frank Shamrock: Randy by TKO in four rounds. I love Randy.
Eric Pele: I think whoever gets top position wins. Being an old fart myself, I’ll be rooting for “The Natural.”
David Loiseau: Randy always finds a way to win. I don’t know how, but he will.
Eddy Millis: I got Couture. Randy wins by TKO in the second round.
Jason Lambert: Couture [via] TKO.
Chael Sonnen: I’ll bet 25 percent of Paulo [Filho]’s purse on “The Natural.”
Jake Shields: I think it will be a good fight in the beginning, but I think Randy has too much experience, and, after a round or two, it will show with Randy winning by TKO.
Leonard Garcia: I think Couture wins, because he always finds a way when everyone thinks he can’t.
Stephane Vigneault: I believe Brock has all the tools to beat Couture, and that’s what I think [is] gonna happen. Brock is so big, tall, strong -- and [he’s an] incredible wrestler -- but my heart is with Randy. You can’t bet against Randy because when we think he’s gonna get beat, he destroys his opponent. I think Brock Lesnar [will] beat Randy and become UFC heavyweight champion after four fights; [it’s] gonna be ridiculous and very bad for the sport. Pro wrestling fans [are] gonna think all pro wrestlers would beat real MMA fighters, but [the] UFC sees the [money] with Lesnar. Anyway, if that happens, I see [Antonio Rodrigo] “Minotauro” [Nogueira] or Fedor [Emelianenko] beating him and saving MMA’s reputation.
Jeff Monson: Lesnar by decision. [He’s] too strong, athletic and a bad match for Randy. Only way Randy wins is to survive and [try to see if] Lesnar gasses.
Zac George: Randy recovers an early F-5 to TKO Brock [in the] third.
Pete Sell: Couture all the way. Too much experience dealing with adversity. His technique and pressure will break Lesnar’s power down.
James Thompson: This is a really interesting match on so many levels. Randy, in the past, hasn’t done well against bigger guys and has also been inactive for a bit. But this is only Brock’s fourth fight. [When] all [is] said and done, I see Randy winning by surviving the early [rounds], tiring Brock out and finishing strong in the later rounds. I’ll go Randy [by] TKO [in] round five.
James Zikic: Randy’s experience, heart and conditioning will overcome the athleticism, size and power of Brock. I predict after a couple of rocky moments during the fight that Randy will find a way to secure a submission or TKO in the fourth round.
Cyrille Diabaté: Too many factors I’m not sure of to give an accurate opinion. If it’s Randy at his top we see against Brock, Randy should win, even though Brock is so big and powerful. Experience and skills are, most of the time, better than just size and power. But Randy has been away from the sport a long time, while Brock has been in there evolving as a fighter. Has Randy lost his game and fighting skills? That’s the question.
John Lober: Randy will need to land some hard punches to outwrestle Brock.
CB Dollaway: If the fight’s ended quick, I think it would be Lesnar that does it. If the fight goes to a decision, I gotta give it to Randy. Should be a great fight. Can’t wait to watch.
Jess Liaudin: Randy had a problem with bigger guys that can wrestle -- Josh and Ricco -- in the past. But both those guys were very well-rounded and conditioned MMA fighters and not just bigger fighters. Randy’s awkward punching skill and his great head movement make him a dangerous fighter to trade [with] for anybody, and I don’t see Lesnar catching him. Brock may get some takedowns, but “Captain America’s” scrambling and cardio will allow him to stand back up over and over again, which should tire Lesnar and give Randy the upper hand in the later rounds. Randy via TKO in round three.
The Final Tallies
Pros who picked Couture: 28
Pros who picked Lesnar: 6
No pick: 10