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The Blueprint: Randy Couture

Michael DiSanto, UFC - Randy Couture’s resume speaks for itself. There is no need to get into why he is seen by casual fans as the overwhelming favorite to defeat an opponent with only three professional fights under his belt on Saturday night.

Brock Lesnar, however, is no ordinary “novice” fighter. His deep wrestling roots and freakish combination of size, strength and speed make him more akin to a comic book superhero than a novice fighter.

By Michael DiSanto

Randy Couture’s resume speaks for itself. There is no need to get into why he is seen by casual fans as the overwhelming favorite to defeat an opponent with only three professional fights under his belt on Saturday night.

Brock Lesnar, however, is no ordinary “novice” fighter. His deep wrestling roots and freakish combination of size, strength and speed make him more akin to a comic book superhero than a novice fighter.

Couture is nobody’s fool. He is well aware of Brock’s physical and athletic advantages. He knows that as a 45-year-old champion, he cannot match Lesnar on any physical level. He won’t even attempt to.

Instead, he will step into the Octagon and look to win by relying on superior technique and experience, which makes devising and following an effective game plan even more crucial than normal.

For Couture, the key to winning the fight begins and ends with starts with stopping Lesnar’s takedown attempts.

I don’t care what the challenger is selling during pre-fight interviews. He is going to be full of adrenalin and his nerves will be working overtime when he steps into the Octagon this Saturday night. The best way to get control of his adrenalin and nerves, which is necessary if he wants to efficiently work through his deep gas tank, is to quickly take the fight to the ground.

Couture should expect Lesnar to explode out of his corner in search of a quick takedown. He can counter that by constantly circling to Lesnar’s left, running in that direction if necessary to avoid being bum rushed in the opening seconds.

Circling to Lesnar’s left accomplishes several things. First, it keeps him moving away from Lesnar’s most devastating standup weapon – his right hand. The former NCAA Division I National champion showed against Heath Herring that his right hand is something to be respected, if not feared, by dropping the ‘Texas Crazy Horse’ with his second punch of the fight – a right hand that followed a haphazard jab. Couture needs to be very careful not to walk into one of those bombs.

By circling to Lesnar’s left, Couture keeps his body over his opponent’s left shoulder, which means right hand bombs need to travel just a bit farther in order to land, and that gives Couture a bit more time to slip the shot. The champion is not the most nimble heavyweight out there, but he is extremely good at moving his head and shoulders to dodge incoming fire.

But he should not slip the shot to his own right. If he does so, he runs the risk of miscalculating Lesnar’s reach and getting caught basically moving in the direction that the punch is traveling, which is a classic recipe for a knockdown. Moreover, slipping to his own right keeps him inside Lesnar’s right shoulder, thereby allowing the challenger to follow up by shooting for a takedown because he can keep his momentum going in the same direction.

Couture must, therefore, slip big right hands by changing direction and moving slightly to his left. Moving in that direction puts the champion in the perfect position to fire counter shots, including a jab as he steps to the left and circles completely out of harm’s way, or he can plant and fire an overhand right to try and do some real damage and follow that up with a takedown attempt of his own. It just depends on how fully Lesnar commits to the shot.

Slipping and firing the right hand is the riskier of the two approaches. Nevertheless, it is the best way for Couture to take advantage of Lesnar being temporarily off balance to possibly score a cheap takedown and begin roughing him up on the ground with what might be the game’s best ground-and-pound attack, something that would surely take away the challenger’s confidence.

Whatever option Couture chooses, he needs to be very careful not to stay inside the pocket too long. He may be a Greco Roman expert, but Lesnar is the last person he wants to clinch with. The challenger’s own clinch game, mixed with his tremendous advantage in weight and strength, makes the clinch a very risky position for Couture, particularly if he wants to avoid taking a ride to the canvas.

If he is unable to get a quick takedown, he should circle out and restart the sequence of moving and looking to counter. The longer he is able to keep the action on the feet, the more frustrated Lesnar will become. And frustrated fighters make the kinds of mistakes that champions like Couture take full advantage of, whether that is overextending on wild haymakers, taking ill-advised takedown shots or otherwise opening himself up to being taken down.

Of course, that begs the question of just what is the best way to get a monster wrestler like Lesnar to the ground. Shooting for single- or double-legs is out of the question. Lesnar is too quick for that, and Couture isn’t much of a shot artist anyway. He is much better at taking down guys with high crotches or Greco trips and throws. Attempting a high crotch is extremely risky against a wrestler with Lesnar’s physical attributes, particularly his weight and tremendous balance.

But Greco throws are a different story. If Couture is able to get double underhooks, a Greco-style takedown is extremely likely because he can lean into Lesnar’s chest, effectively nullifying the challenger’s weight and strength advantages en route to taking him to the canvas.

Once on the ground, Couture needs to be very mindful of controlling Lesnar. There is no doubt that the challenger will instantly transition into scrambling mode, working feverishly to try and get back to his feet or catch a quick reverse.

As Lesnar scrambles, there will be plenty of opportunities to look for submissions. Couture should forget about those. Yes, I realize Lesnar tapped to a less than perfect leg lock against Frank Mir. But Couture is no Frank Mir on the ground. He doesn’t instill the same level of fear about breaking limbs or otherwise causing career-threatening injuries with a submission hold, so Lesnar is less likely to panic when caught in a submission hold by Couture. And if a submission fails, Lesnar will either find himself in the top position or back to his feet, either of which spells trouble for Couture.

The exception to that rule is if Couture sees an opportunity to snake around to Lesnar’s back. If that opportunity arises, he should jump all over it, because if he is able to sink in both of his hooks, it is going to be a joyous return to the Octagon for ‘The Natural.’

I don’t care how big and strong a guy is. A novice like Lesnar will be like a fish out of water trying to defend his neck with Couture firmly secured to his back. He won’t have the confidence or the technique to find a way out. Sooner or later, he will expose his neck, and Couture will end the fight.

If Couture finds himself on the receiving end of a takedown, something that seems extremely likely given the matchup, he should take a page out of Chuck Liddell’s fight book and get back to his feet immediately. That means forgetting closing his guard and forgetting searching for arm bars or triangle chokes. He should scramble aggressively to get his legs under his hips and stand up, use the fence to cage walk or pull out any other trick of the trade to work back to his feet.

If Couture learned anything in his losses to Josh Barnett and Ricco Rodriguez, it is that he cannot afford to spend any time resting or fighting from his guard. Lesnar’s weight will quickly deplete his gas tank, particularly at 45 years of age, and that is the last thing Couture needs in a fight where he faces every physical disadvantage imaginable.

I am not going to hide from the fact that in my opinion, this fight has ‘changing of the guard’ written all over it. But Couture has proven me wrong in the past -- more than once, in fact.

The champion is a master at coming up with and executing effective game plans. Will he prove me wrong again? We’ll have to wait and see.

Tickets for UFC 91: Couture vs Lesnar, are still on sale. To order tickets, click here.