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Ryan Couture's Big Chance

"Anybody that might still be saying that I’m only in Strikeforce because
of my last name and I don’t belong there and I’m not at that level,
this is my chance to shut them up and prove them wrong." - Ryan Couture

Strikeforce lightweight Ryan CoutureIn the Couture family, Columbus, Ohio’s Nationwide Arena is more than just a fighting venue. March 3rd is a pretty special day as well. How special? Well, we’ll find out on Saturday night, but for the time being, let’s just say that the senior member of the father and son team – UFC Hall of Famer Randy Couture - had a memorable day in that arena on March 3rd, 2007, as he won the heavyweight title for an unprecedented third time by beating Tim Sylvia.

The younger half of the fighting Coutures – Ryan – will return to Nationwide this Saturday night to face the toughest opponent of his young pro career, veteran lightweight Conor Heun. So it’s a place and date with a lot of meaning for the 29-year old.

“I’m excited to be fighting almost five years to the day from when I got to watch my dad in the same arena win the title back from Tim Sylvia,” he said. “That’s really cool, and it will be interesting.”

Has dad, who retired from the sport in 2011, brought up the significance of this coincidence?

“We haven’t really talked about it much,” said Couture. “I’ve been meaning to crack a joke here and there to him about it and bust his chops, but that was one of the most electric crowds I’ve ever been a part of, and I was just blown away. It was really a great experience and it’s gonna be an interesting evolution for me to go from sitting in the stands as a spectator who was just cheering someone on to being in there and being the center of attention.”

Want more eerie coincidences – how about the fact that the elder Couture, one of the greatest fighters to ever put on the gloves, was a significant underdog to Sylvia that night in Ohio? This weekend, the younger Couture will be facing the same kind of odds, and understandably so, because while he has won three of his four fights, showing a strong submission game and a fighter’s heart, Heun has 13 pro bouts and has squared off with well-known opponents such as LC Davis, Jorge Gurgel, KJ Noons, and Magno Almeida. Then again, when Couture was presented with the fight, he took it.

“I figure at this point, with the way things are moving, there’s no more easy fights,” he said. “I think from a technical standpoint I match up fairly well with Conor. I think we’ve got a lot of similar skills we bring to the table. Obviously, I think the biggest thing he brings to the table that no one else really does is his mental toughness. You’ve got to kill him to get him out of there, and I think that presents an interesting puzzle, but I’m really looking forward to trying to solve that puzzle and find a way to come out with the win.”

In a nutshell, the scouting report on Heun is that he will go to remarkable lengths to win a fight, his personal well-being be damned. That was never more evident than in his decision win over Almeida last June, one that saw him caught in a late armbar attempt that he refused to tap out to. He made it to the bell, taking the win and a dislocated elbow. Couture knows that the odds are good that if he wins this one, he’s going to have to go the distance to do it.

“I think I have to expect to fight 15 grueling, hard, miserable minutes, and if the finish comes, great, but I don’t really expect that,” he said. “I know he’s someone who is willing to let me break his arm or choke him unconscious, so that just means I have to be a hundred percent willing to break his arm. If I latch on to something, I just gotta go for it because I know he’s not gonna stop until it’s broken or he gets out. So I might as well not give him the option to get out. I have to have that killer instinct.”

It’s almost weird hearing those words come out of Couture’s mouth, being that he, like his father, see MMA as the ultimate way to test yourself competitively in a combat sports environment. And while there are dangers (as in any contact sport), it is and will remain a sport. Would his family or friends shake their head in disbelief at hearing talk like that?

“I think that would be a tough conversation to have with my mom and have it make sense to her, but I think she’d understand that it’s just kinda getting into the right mindset to know that I’m gonna have to go in there and possibly go to places I’ve never been before to make this happen,” he said. “And at the end of the day, it’s just about getting another win.”

That’s not the way Heun sees it. In a recent blog post, he wrote, “Fighting is not a sport. In fighting, the winner is the guy who walks away able to return to his family with his freedoms intact. In the defense of one’s freedoms and one’s family, the total destruction of one’s enemy is justified. MMA is a sport but it is based on fighting, because of this it is a brutal and savage sport. On March 3rd I will step into the Strikeforce cage across from Ryan Couture because he has agreed to compete against me in the sport of Mixed Martial Arts. On March 3rd in Columbus Ohio I will fight Ryan Couture and I will use everything in my power to destroy him. I will be justified in doing so because I am in a place where he is an oppressor attempting to take my freedom and take the food out of my loved ones’ mouths.”

That’s heavy stuff, and just a portion of what Heun wrote about fighting, his motivations, and his goals. You have to wonder what it’s like to be on the receiving end of something like that, but not surprisingly, Couture took it all with grace and a grain of salt.

“I saw some of the highlights (of Heun’s blog), and none of it really came as a surprise to me,” he said. “It’s kind of his style, and I think a big part of his training and preparation is a lot of meditation to get himself into that state of mind and that’s what he has to do to get in there and get the job done, and obviously he’s been successful using that approach. That’s not the way I operate, that’s not how I look at this sport, and that’s not what I’m in there thinking. That’s not what motivates me, but I have to know that’s how he approaches it, and be ready to deal with it accordingly and deal with the problems that it presents.”

And as far as he’s concerned, having a different kind of fighting philosophy from Heun or any one of his past or future opponents is what makes this interesting for him. In other words, it takes all kinds.

“I think it’s one of the cool things about this sport is that it attracts a wide variety of different personality types, and everybody has to find a different motivation within themselves and get themselves into a different frame of mind in order to do what we do,” said Couture. “It’s really demanding, and physically, mentally, and emotionally, it takes a major toll on you. If that’s what he needs to do to get up to perform at his best, then so be it. I’m doing the things I need to do to prepare and to be ready to deal with him.”

One of the things Couture does, in addition to spending hours and hours per week in the gym, is to get away from the fight game altogether in order to search for whatever concerts are in the Las Vegas area that week. So far this year, Couture has seen Tool, Anthrax, and Strung Out, and it’s his way of unwinding from a hectic training schedule. And yes, that’s probably the first and last time you’ll see the words ‘Anthrax’ and ‘unwinding’ in the same sentence.

“Music’s always been a big part of my life,” he said. “My first job was working in a record store back in the Seattle area. I’ve had multiple family members who worked for that same chain, and it’s almost like a rite of passage in my family that you got a job at the Wherehouse, and we’re kind of a family of music nerds. So that’s something I’ve always done, and probably always will do. I try not to miss a show if there’s a band I like coming to town. It’s something that’s fun for me. It kinda clears my head and it’s something I always have and always will do.”

I hate to say it, but it’s almost as if Ryan Couture is too nice for the fight game, and this isn’t the first or last time you’ll hear that. But on Saturday night, you can rest assured that he will go blow for blow and sub for sub with Conor Heun, because even though Heun is the one talking the loudest about the importance of this fight, it means just as much – for different reasons – for Couture.

“I feel like this is my chance,” he said. “Anybody that might still be saying that I’m only in Strikeforce because of my last name and I don’t belong there and I’m not at that level, this is my chance to shut them up and prove them wrong and prove that I’m at that level, that I belong there, and that I’m gonna make some noise in Strikeforce. I’m looking forward to that.”