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The Blueprint: Brock Lesnar

Michael DiSanto, UFC - There is much more to Couture-Lesnar than just their respective MMA resumes. It is about old versus young. Skill versus sheer size and power. Experience versus freakish athleticism.

Most importantly, this fight is about matchups. It is the quintessential example of the old adage ‘styles make fights’, making Couture-Lesnar one of the most interesting heavyweight bouts of the year.

By Michael DiSanto

On Saturday night, Randy Couture defends his UFC Heavyweight Championship against first-time title challenger Brock Lesnar.

At first blush, the bout seems like a mismatch, considering that Couture is the most decorated fighter in mixed martial arts history: three-time UFC Heavyweight Champion, former two-time UFC Light Heavyweight Champion, the first man to ever win titles in two different UFC weight divisions (B.J. Penn has since matched that feat), UFC Hall of Fame inductee and the oldest champion in the history of the sport. His list of victims includes Chuck Liddell, Gabriel Gonzaga, Tim Sylvia, Tito Ortiz, Vitor Belfort, Pedro Rizzo, Mike Van Arsdale and Kevin Randleman, among others.

Lesnar, by contrast, is a bright green novice. The former NCAA Division I National Champion in wrestling turned WWE champion turned mixed martial artist sports a resume with only three professional fights, no amateur bouts and a ho-hum 2-1 record, scoring an impressive win against top veteran Heath Herring and completely obliterating the unheralded Min Soo Kim.

If that were the end of the story, I would agree that UFC 91 is nothing more than freebie designed to ease Couture back into action after almost 15 months on the sidelines. But there is much more to Couture-Lesnar than just their respective MMA resumes. It is about old versus young. Skill versus sheer size and power. Experience versus freakish athleticism.

Most importantly, this fight is about matchups. It is the quintessential example of the old adage ‘styles make fights’, making Couture-Lesnar one of the most interesting heavyweight bouts of the year.

Of course, this bout may turn out to be a very one-sided affair. But take heed of this prediction: Lesnar might lose on the cards; he might struggle from a technique standpoint; but there is no way that he will be physically dominated once the Octagon door closes.

I’ll actually take the prognostication one step farther. If Lesnar is able to take down Couture early in the first round and remain calm in his ground-and-pound, he will not only leave the MGM Grand Garden Arena with UFC gold strapped around his waist, he will do so in completely dominant fashion.

I realize that prediction flies off the reservation of conventional thinking. I know it is never a good idea to bet against Couture—history has undoubtedly taught us that much.

I don’t care. Lesnar is the prototype fighter to beat Couture. He is a guy that Couture cannot outwrestle and cannot bully. He is a guy that can take down the champion and keep him on his back for as long as he wants. That is the type of fighter that Couture struggles to defeat.

Lesnar’s blueprint to victory, therefore, is a simple one: 1) avoid catching a big punch on the chops early, a la Couture versus Sylvia, 2) shoot for takedowns early and often, and 3) use his exceptional size, strength and speed advantage to remind Couture that he is 45 years old by keeping him on his back. If he does those three things, he is going to win the fight.

Let’s start with avoiding a big right hand from Couture early in the fight. Couture certainly isn’t a knockout puncher. In fact, he is below-average puncher – power-wise - for a heavyweight, so there is little chance that he will stop a fresh, fully charged Lesnar with any single strike or combination of strikes on the feet, at least in the first half of the fight.

So why does Lesnar need to worry about Couture’s right hand, the only real shot that the champion throws with any consequence? If Couture is able to land a big overhand right early in the opening round, it will remind Lesnar that he is in a fight, not a wrestling match. And Couture is unbelievably difficult to beat in a fight.

Lesnar knows all of that – at least, his camp should know it. Couture used an overhand right at the opening bell to completely dictate the outcome of the fight against Sylvia. So, it shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone if Couture comes out and throws an inside left leg kick followed by an immediate overhand right, just like he did against Sylvia. The combination is extremely effective because the leg kick causes his opponent to focus his eyes on the kick, which helps open the door for the overhand right.

Lesnar can avoid getting caught with that particular combination in one of two ways: fire the right hand or smother Couture right from the opening bell.

If he chooses the former, Lesnar should focus his attention on Couture’s upper chest. The minute his peripheral vision notices Couture drop his left hand or take a slight shuffle step forward– something he does when he throws a left leg kick – he should fire a counter right. He can also lead with the right the moment Couture steps inside Lesnar’s left shoulder. The latter is the better option because Lesnar won’t have to time Couture, and it will be easier to land the shot because he can fire it when Couture believes he is still a safe distance away from his foe.

As we saw when Lesnar dropped Heath Herring, he has very real dynamite in that massive sledgehammer he calls a right hand. But more importantly, his wingspan is so expansive that he can land punches from remarkable distances. The punch fired at Herring certainly found the bull’s-eye, but the look of shock in Herring’s eyes was more due to the fact that Lesnar was able to land it from such a far distance, something that is very difficult to prepare for in training.

Lesnar right hand will cause tremendous damage if it finds its mark. But that isn’t the easiest way for him to avoid getting caught by a Couture right hand. Lesnar would be better served to simply eliminate the chance of Couture landing any significant strikes by bum rushing him the minute the referee signals for the action to begin. He should literally run across the Octagon and immediately shoot for the takedown, much like he did against Kim in his MMA debut.

By quickly closing the gap, Lesnar takes strikes out of the equation, so it becomes a question of takedowns and a clinch game. In other words, it turns the MMA contest largely into a wrestling match. And that is precisely where Lesnar wants to be with Couture.

Granted, Couture has a tremendous amateur wrestling resume: three-time Olympic alternate, three-time NCAA Division I All American, and two-time NCAA Division I runner-up while wrestling at Oklahoma State. Those accomplishments, however, came at 190 lbs, not against 280-lb NCAA National Champions with freakish strength and speed.

I know, I know. MMA is not wrestling. It typically takes more than just wrestling to beat a top UFC fighter. But this isn’t a typical situation. Couture dominates foes with his wrestling. Neutralize that and he becomes ordinary very quickly.

The perfect illustration of the point is Couture’s bout against Ricco Rodriguez at UFC 39. Rodriguez, who is a skilled grappler in his own right, was the bigger, stronger man. His grappling skills not only neutralized Couture’s wrestling, he was able to put Couture on his back and keep him there en route to a stunning upset victory.

Lesnar can accomplish the same feat by closing the distance quickly and using his size, strength and explosiveness to take Couture down, and then rely on a conservative ground-and-pound attack and his excellent hips to keep Couture on the ground.

There is little doubt that Couture’s jiu jitsu game is vastly improved compared to 2002. But he will be the first to admit that he cannot fight from his guard against big, strong heavyweights and hope to win. He is no Frank Mir from his back. He isn’t going to catch Lesnar in a leg lock or a quick arm bar. But what he can do is scramble back to his feet, if Lesnar gets careless with his ground control.

Once on the ground, Lesnar should spend a lot of time forcing Couture to support his 280-lb frame, just like he did against Herring. Forget posturing up and firing crazy hammerfists. He should keep his weight down on Couture’s chest and his base wide, grinding away with short punches and elbows. Doing that reduces the odds of Couture scrambling to his feet or catching a submission from an overextended limb. It also forces Couture to expend a ton of energy defending, and that is when age comes into play.

Let’s face it, Couture is 45 years old. More precisely, he will be 45 years, four months and 24 days old when he steps into the Octagon on Saturday night. Nobody in the history of the sport has ever competed at a championship level at that age. Age causes reflexes to dull, speed begins to diminish and gas tanks no longer carry the same capacity. The latter will be a very real factor in the bout if Lesnar puts Couture on the ground early in each round and keeps him there.

Remember, Couture was absolutely exhausted after fighting five rounds with Rodriguez back in 2002. He was equally gassed trying to push around Josh Barnett for two rounds six months earlier. Couture lost both of those fights. After each of them, he remarked about how difficult it was to deal with the size and weight of big heavies. And that isn’t getting any easier as Couture grows longer in the tooth.

Lesnar is the first man with the size, strength and skills to put Couture on his back and keep him there since the champion faced Rodriguez. If he does that, Couture will age before our very eyes, and Lesnar will usher in a new era of UFC heavyweights.

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