Randy Couture

Chael Sonnen isn’t your typical politician. For one, he actually answered our questions. But more important, the All-American wrestler from Oregon taught us some of the best tricks from his playbook. Despite his reputation as one of the UFC’s loudest stars, he doesn’t have a bad word to say about any martial art or training. We hope you’ll enjoy his interview with Lito Angeles, a Southern California-based police officer, mixed martial artist and author of Fight Night: The Thinking Fan’s Guide to Mixed Martial Arts. —Jon Sattler Lito Angeles: I read that you started wrestling at a very young age. Chael Sonnen: I come from a family of wrestlers—my father, my uncles, my cousins were all very good. I begged my dad to get me into wrestling, but he wanted me to do karate or boxing. Finally, he let me wrestle when I was 9. Angeles: Did you wind up doing any karate or boxing? Sonnen: I got into boxing later, but not then. Angeles: And you stayed with wrestling all the way to the collegiate level, right? Sonnen: Yes. I wrestled through high school and got a scholarship to the University of Oregon. In 2001 I graduated from college and was working out at a gym in the back of a car lot. There was one mat and nothing else, but Randy Couture and Dan Henderson worked out there every day. It was an hour and a half from where I was living, and I made the drive every single day to wrestle with them. We were all trying to make the Olympic team. They let me in, and it was the three of us. After college, I went back to training with them, and they were wearing MMA gloves. I just put on a pair of gloves and continued practicing. Angeles: Does that mean you recommend wrestling as the best foundation for MMA? Sonnen: Well, it has to be some kind of grappling. There’s a statistic: 100 percent of fights start standing up, and 80 percent of them end up on the ground. Jiu-jitsu and wrestling have done really well in MMA, but I don’t know that any form of grappling has been proven to be better. [ti_billboard name="Chael Sonnen 1"] The grass always seems greener—I wish I knew more of other disciplines than wrestling, while other fighters probably wish they knew more wrestling. I wish more judo practitioners participated in MMA. Angeles: Why? Sonnen: Jiu-jitsu and catch wrestling are well-represented. All three styles of wrestling, from collegiate to Greco-Roman to freestyle, are, too. I know judo is a good, competitive sport. I wish there was more judo in MMA so I could see how it stacks up. Angeles: After a student develops a grappling base, do you recommend muay Thai or boxing—or something else? Sonnen: I’d say boxing. Muay Thai is good, bit it’s very hard to practice. There aren’t a lot of muay Thai guys around—it’s not in high schools or colleges or the Olympics—so it’s hard to find guys to practice with. Elbows are effective, but you can’t do them in practice without hurting someone. Same with knees. With boxing, however, you can put on the gear and find a partner, and it seems to do well in MMA. Angeles: But then you give up kicks. … Sonnen: Kicks aren’t as effective in fighting. If you land one, great. You can do good things with it. But kickboxing had to put in a rule that you had to kick a guy three times per round or you’d lose a point. The reason was, guys quit kicking. They just boxed because boxing is more effective. With that said, I spend the majority of my time doing kickboxing and muay Thai. But if I was mentoring a young fighter, I’d tell him to spend more time on boxing. That doesn’t mean I would ignore kickboxing—you still need to learn the defenses—but in stand-up, it’s hard to beat good, solid boxing. Angeles: How is muay Thai boxing different from Western boxing? Sonnen: The big difference is head movement. In muay Thai, there’s not a ton of head movement. You use your foot to get the guy off-line, then you step out and sweep his leg to off-balance him. In boxing, you just shift out of the way and use that momentum to come right in and attack. Head movement is so important, especially when you’ve got those little 4-ounce gloves on. If you just land one shot, you can break the guy’s nose, open a cut or knock him out. Angeles: Does knowing wrestling and boxing cover all the bases with respect to technique, or should a person add other arts like karate or sambo? Sonnen: I would never close the door. Sometimes it’s cool to poke fun at a martial art and say, “That would never work,” but that isn’t true. I don’t know arts like kung fu and aikido; maybe you’d be very effective if you took one thing from them and added it to your base. Same with karate—maybe you can grab one or two things, and if it works. … Don’t turn your nose up at anything. Angeles: Lyoto Machida is a great example of that. Sonnen: Yes. If I’d told you two years ago that a karate guy was going to be world champion, you’d have told me I was crazy. He took what he believed in and made it work. Angeles: Let’s talk training methods. A lot of fighters claim they train six or eight hours a day, but you’ve said you don’t believe it. Sonnen: Nobody trains for six, seven hours a day. A lot of people don’t know what training is. There’s a big difference between working out and training. A workout is playing a game of basketball or doing something that makes you break a sweat. Training is a whole other level of intensity that few MMA guys understand. I work out for 45 minutes to an hour in the morning, and afternoon practice is from an hour and 15 minutes to an hour and a half. That’s [the norm in] every gym, not just ours. [ti_billboard name="Chael Sonnen 2"] Angeles: What’s the breakdown of your workouts? Sonnen: The morning workout is for strength and conditioning, but it doesn’t have to be. You can grab a partner and work on techniques and drills and stuff like that. I do everything from running to pushing sleds to running with parachutes to pulling things with ropes. We work really hard, then go home and rest up. In the afternoon, I go to Team Quest. That’s hands-on with a partner. We have a coach and a team. We do warm-ups and drills and work on techniques, then go live rounds and finish with some conditioning. Angeles: What do you do for strength? Sonnen: I do a lot of body-weight exercises, usually with a weighted vest on. I do squats while holding a 22-pound medicine ball, plus overheads, slamming and push-passes. I don’t know that it’s more effective than lifting weights. Lifting is my favorite workout; I just don’t do it now. Angeles: Do you recommend any specific exercises for aspiring MMA fighters? Sonnen: I encourage people to do the basics. There are a lot of fancy programs that are popular, but most of them are ways to get around hard work. Put on a pair of running shoes, open your front door and come back an hour later—nothing beats that. Same with a stair stepper. It’s annoying, it’s grueling, it’s effective. There’s a lot of business flipping tires or swinging a sledgehammer, but there’s no science behind a lot of it. You pick up a weight until you get tired, then put it down and go home. There’s something to be said for doing different things out of boredom, though—to break things up and keep workouts from becoming stale. Angeles: For endurance, are you a proponent of running sprints or going long distance? Sonnen: If you run one or two hours at a slow pace—120 beats per minute—they say you can build a better base than if you just do sprints. I tend to do sprints because they’re harder, and I feel like I get more out of them. I try to do three runs a week: a slow one with a partner, where you’re talking the whole time, for an hour or an hour and 20 minutes; a day of sprints; and a day of hills or stairs. But that’s only because somebody told me that would work. Angeles: Do you follow any particular diet, or do you eat whatever you want in moderate amounts? Sonnen: I don’t do anything in moderation. (laughs) If you have a fight coming up and you have to make weight, you have to make sure that your calorie output surpasses your input. There’s nothing more to losing weight than that. It’s calories in vs. calories out. The same stuff they taught your grandparents is what works today. With that said, you should try to get the most bang for your buck, which usually takes you to fruits and vegetables so you can eat more. But you can eat Big Macs if you want to, as long as you make sure they contain fewer calories than you’re putting out. Angeles: Is there anything martial artists should avoid? Sonnen: I’ve never tasted alcohol in my life, but that’s not sports related. I don’t avoid anything. [ti_billboard name="Chael Sonnen 3"] Angeles: When you’re practicing technique, do you separate stand-up, clinch and ground work? Sonnen: I combine them, but that’s just the gym I work out at. When I show up for practice, the only question is, big gloves or little gloves? If it’s little gloves, there’s going to be more emphasis on grappling, and the strikes will have less of an impact. With bigger gloves, you can strike harder. Angeles: Do you do technique sequences, or is it more improvised? Sonnen: The coach calls it out: “One, two,” which is jab, cross; “one, two, 10,” which is jab, cross, power leg; and so on. Even when we’re on our own doing “flowing” drills, it’s always a sequence: Lead with something, follow up with something and find an exit. Angeles: Is there a theme to each workout—for example, getting out of a triangle choke? Sonnen: There should be. If your coach doesn’t have one, you come up with one yourself. I used to live at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, and every day there was an emphasis written on the board. It’s a good mental drill to do it yourself sometimes. Angeles: Do you have any favorite stand-up techniques that you’d recommend to readers? Sonnen: When I was an amateur wrestler, I had favorite moves—there were only two or three things I scored with. In MMA, I can’t answer. There’s no position in which I go, “OK, good, this is where I wanted to be.” It’s a constant battle. I don’t have any specific things I’m looking for. I assumed that they would come over time, like they did in wrestling, but they haven’t. I don’t have anything I know will work anytime against any opponent. I’m searching for it. Angeles: When it comes to techniques, do you think that less is more? Or do you think that more is better? Sonnen: I like to know a lot of moves because it’s fun to know a lot of stuff. You’ll only score with two or three moves, and those two or three moves will have two or three setups. In competition, you throw everything out and zero in on scoring techniques. But you’re always looking for things to add because if you can increase those two or three moves to four moves, it will be great. Want More? Tap into Lito Angeles' knowledge of MMA and the martial arts with Fight Night! The Thinking Fan’s Guide to Mixed Martial Arts. Structured like an encyclopedia, Fight Night! dissects the anatomy of more than 90 MMA techniques. Starting with the Americana choke and ending with the wrestling clinch, each entry contains a concise description of key characteristics that clearly identify each MMA technique; detailed photo sequences of common applications for easy visual reference and understanding; and entertaining and educational insights, such as common counters and notable executions by famous MMA fighters like Georges St. Pierre, Cung Le and B.J. Penn.
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I had never seen anyone quite like Ken Shamrock, who at 6 feet 1 inch tall and 217 pounds handily dropped opponent after opponent in World Wrestling Entertainment (then World Wrestling Federation) matches. An Ultimate Fighting Championship veteran, Ken Shamrock brought a unique style to the pro-wrestling milieu in 1997, combining wrestling with martial arts acumen to produce a new kind of gladiator—a combatant whose martial arts agility would launch a mini-revolution in the wrestling world. This crossbreeding has produced interesting results and a host of new fighting styles. Sure, the outcome of pro-wrestling matches may be fixed in advance, but to parrot an old aphorism, it’s the journey, not the destination. These days, the average mixed martial arts fight looks more like a traditional wrestling match than what you might see in a Jean-Claude Van Damme flick. And in pro-wrestling contests, you’re just as likely to see a spinning back kick as the more tried-and-true suplex and clothesline. Martial arts and traditional wrestling have more in common than you might guess. In both, the goal is to get your opponent to submit through physical restraint or to knock him to the ground. Both involve grappling and jostling for position to put your foe off-balance. In this way, judo and wrestling could be said to be first cousins. The relationship between wrestling and martial arts actually reaches back to ancient times. In the Book of Genesis, Jacob grappled with God’s angel; he was renamed “Israel,” Hebrew for he who “wrestles (or strives) with God.” And in antiquity, hand-to-hand combat—both wrestling and formalized martial arts—was popular in the Greek, Etruscan and Roman empires as mass entertainment. Fast-forward to 19th-century Europe. Boxers regularly clashed against more traditional wrestlers in fierce, no-holds-barred fights. The largely unsanctioned contests were as vicious and brutal as their historical counterparts, with the loser often winding up in the hospital or worse. In England, a style called bartitsu was founded; many consider it the first formalized mixed martial art because it incorporated elements of Japanese and European disciplines. In America, the first fight between a wrestler and boxer probably occurred in 1887 when heavyweight boxing champ John L. Sullivan was bested by his trainer, William Muldoon, a Greco-Roman wrestler, in less than three minutes. Around the same time in the Far East, MMA contests came to be known as merikan, a Japanese word that loosely translates to “American-style fighting.” MMA largely faded from view after World War I, with wrestling diverging into two categories—real or “shoot” matches, and “show” contests, the forefather of scripted bouts. It would take four decades, but eventually the divorce of martial arts and wrestling began to crumble. In 1986 WrestleMania 2 saw Rowdy Roddy Piper and Mr. T duke it out in a boxing match in New York. (Rowdy Roddy Piper lost by disqualification.) Later in the ’80s, Frontier Martial-Arts Wrestling was founded in Japan to showcase more extreme combat, but in 2002, the organization ran into financial troubles and went bankrupt. Despite those false starts, MMA returned solidly with the debut of the UFC in 1993. Boxers, martial artists and wrestlers were all tossed into the ring, with no one style or discipline providing a clear advantage. It wasn’t about training but about how that training was applied against each opponent. As Royce Gracie trounced the competition to become the first champ, there was instant recognition that something very new (or very old) was happening. Since then, MMA has experienced a meteoric rise in the United States, where its popularity often comes close to that of pro wrestling. And for those who favor martial arts over traditional wrestling, take a look at the stats: Wrestlers won five of the first 10 UFCs, while Brazilian jiu-jitsu fighters took three. Even former heavyweight champ Randy Couture competed in collegiate and Greco-Roman wrestling before coming into his own in MMA. As with Ken Shamrock, many MMA fighters eventually leave pro wrestling entirely. Former All-American Brock Lesnar shot to overnight WWE fame and was arguably Vince McMahon’s biggest star for a stretch in 2002 and 2003. After legal battles with the WWE, Brock Lesnar jumped to the UFC. (At the time of this writing, Brock Lesnar was scheduled to fight Randy Couture on November 15, 2008.) So, as in ancient times, wrestling and the martial arts have once again united. No less an authority than Bruce Lee said, “The best fighter is someone who can adapt to any style.” Perhaps that’s why in 2004, UFC President Dana White called Bruce Lee the “father of mixed martial arts.” (Eric Althoff is a freelance writer with 20 years of martial arts experience. He holds a third-degree black belt in isshin-ryu karate and has studied modern arnis.)

November 2003 marked the end of an era for the Ultimate Fighting Championship—and by extension, the mixed martial arts in the United States. Over the course of those 10 years, the sport saw more evolution than Darwin’s notepad. And through it all, despite rumors of banishment, mortality rates, political machinations or simply the laws of attrition, the UFC has stood its ground. You don’t get this far without being persistent—or dramatic. Unlike the stolid world of boxing or the over-dramatized world of professional wrestling, the UFC found its primal appeal in letting the show takes its own course. Feuds fanned their own flames, favorites rushed to the top and plummeted to the bottom, and underdogs made us believe in the impossible. Be it through world-class wrestlers or strikers, or the sheer heart of the pioneers, there is no purer evidence to be found of the warrior’s heart than in the stories of the octagon. Let’s open up the gates:

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They say no one has invented a time machine, but while watching the UFC 118 in Boston, I was hard-pressed to believe it. I say this because when that old question, “Can a boxer beat a mixed martial artist?” reared its ugly head again courtesy of the co-main event, it felt like I’d traveled into the past by exactly 117 UFCs. After all the hubbub, mixed martial arts legend Randy Couture choked out boxer James Toney in three minutes 19 seconds. Certainly, UFC president Dana White seemed to be experiencing a bit of temporal distortion. “I thought we answered this question back in 1993,” he said. It was answered to the satisfaction of everyone except James Toney, who lobbied Dana White for the better part of a year to let him compete. When Dana White relented—despite years of actively resisting the sideshow appeal of the early UFCs—and matched him with former heavyweight champ Randy Couture, James Toney’s pre-fight hype shifted from surly to obnoxious. Describing the bout as a contest between boxing and MMA, James Toney insisted he’d single-handedly bring boxing back to the forefront of combat sports by easily knocking out Randy Couture. As the current International Boxing Association heavyweight champ, James Toney did come into the match as the most accomplished boxer to ever set foot inside the octagon. He’s won numerous titles in his 22-year career, but that statistic belies the fact that his best days were nearly 20 years ago when he fought at 160 pounds, not the pudgy 237 pounds he slimmed down to for his MMA debut. Of course, Randy Couture, 47, has likewise seen better days, but such details were lost on the public as James Toney cast himself as the UFCs biggest villain and ignited an interest that took many by surprise. Sean Smyth of WBZ-FM said the hype surrounding the UFC’s Boston debut, and especially the Couture-Toney bout, caught some at his station flat-footed. When it became apparent that this was a must-see event, they quickly set up a live 90-minute pre-fight broadcast from the arena. White, a Boston native, said the reception for the UFC in his hometown exceeded all expectations. Besides the Couture-Toney “fight,” he loaded the card with local favorites, including Joe Lauzon, who garnered submission-of-the-night honors by quickly armbarring Gabe Ruediger, and Kenny Florian, who came up short in his bout with Gray Maynard, losing a unanimous decision. The main event was actually a rematch between lightweight champ Frankie Edgar and former titleholder B.J. Penn. Although Frankie Edgar silenced his critics by winning a lopsided decision and making B.J. Penn look old, the Couture-Toney matchup was what had the sellout crowd of more than 14,000 buzzing. Randy Couture entered to a standing ovation, and no one sat back down during the fight, which was less a legitimate MMA contest than a chance for a grappler to school an untrained opponent. Immediately, Randy Couture shot in for an easy single-leg takedown and put James Toney on his back, where he was helpless. “I had to dust off the low single from college,” said the former All-American wrestler, explaining that the more customary double-leg takedown would’ve necessitated a closer approach, putting him inside James Toney’s reach. “I had no illusions about trading punches. You don’t see the low single much in MMA because you have to start from farther away, and a good grappler will just step out of it.” Fortunately for Randy Couture, James Toney was not a good grappler. Despite claims that he’d trained for months to stifle his opponent’s ground game, once he hit the mat, James Toney resembled nothing so much as those strikers from the first UFCs who’d never been downed before. Randy Couture quickly got a full mount and began pounding James Toney, whose only answer was to swat from the bottom, a strategy that was largely discredited 17 years ago. Couture finally secured a side choke along the fence, prompting James Toney to stall with his beefy arms. “The Natural” hit him a couple of times, then flattened him out on the ground. As the raucous crowd chanted, “UFC!” Couture reapplied the side choke, forcing his foe to submit. When asked later whether he’d take on James Toney in a boxing match, Randy Couture responded, “I would respectfully decline such an offer.” Always the gentleman, Randy Couture said that he respected boxing and that a good boxer could make the adjustment to MMA—as he’d done from wrestling—if he put in the time to learn the game. He also pointed out that he’d probably do as well in a boxing match against Toney as Toney had in MMA against him, reiterating that MMA and boxing are two different sports. So who really is better, a boxer or a mixed martial artist? The answer is the same one we came up with 17 years ago. A boxer is better at boxing and a mixed martial artist is better at MMA. We really didn’t need a time machine to tell us that. (Mark Jacobs is a freelance writer and martial artist based in New York.)

"As real as it gets." Often used as the tag line for the Ultimate Fighting Championship, it refers to the fact that the event's bouts are as close to a real fight as the law and the fighters' safety permit. The catchphrase also refers to Spike TV's reality show, The Ultimate Fighter. In this classic interview, former UFC champ Randy Couture talks about what it takes to mold someone into a MMA fighter. Black Belt: How do you start training someone who wants to be an MMA fighter? Randy Couture: The first thing you need to find out is if he has a background in wrestling or judo or some other combative sport. You can play off that and develop other skills. The person's basic fitness level is also important. You have to teach the kind of fitness needed for MMA competition through cardiovascular training, anaerobic training and inner-strength training. Black Belt: What kind of athletic background besides combat sports would be an advantage? Football, sprinting, long-distance running? Randy Couture: All those sports bring a particular foundation, at least at a fitness level, that you can play off, but I'm not sure any of them offers a distinct advantage in MMA. However, it’s important that the person has competed in something and has a competitive spirit. Black Belt: Is competitive spirit something a person either has or doesn't have? Or can it be taught? Randy Couture: You can certainly test it. There are so many innate qualities that a person either has or doesn't have, but you can still educate him, push him and see how far he can go. And you can constantly push that wall back until he can go further and further. Most people can go a lot further than they think. Black Belt: Once you evaluate the person and learn about his background, where do you go from there? Randy Couture: Being at the top level in this sport, I've developed some tools and techniques for conditioning a fighter’s body the way it needs to be conditioned and for developing the skill sets he needs to be well-rounded. So the next step is to set a training regimen that builds conditioning through sprinting, running, biking, weightlifting and circuit training. It also includes time on the mat, light sparring, mitt work, ground training and wrestling. The goal is to develop skills and tools he can rely on when he needs to. Black Belt: Do you agree with those martial artists who insist you can get all the strength and endurance you need from doing your art, as long as you do it enough? Randy Couture: To some extent that can be true. There are plenty of examples of people who don't do any of that extra stuff. But when you get to the higher levels and want be the top dog, you have to do the extra stuff that will distinguish you from the others. You have to do those extras like increasing your foot speed and improving your dynamic, explosive power. Black Belt: What comes next for the budding MMA fighter? Randy Couture: Light sparring and putting him in different situations. You have to ensure he has an open mind and checks his ego at the door. He has to believe that he's always going to learn something, and he has to put himself out there. He has to risk being tapped out, risk losing-not only in training but also in fights that will challenge him. Black Belt: Say you're training a grappler who's got some decent skills. Do you try to perfect his grappling techniques, or do you focus on striking because it's his weakness? Randy Couture: I would spend more time-and this is the perspective I have as a wrestler who'd never been in a striking sport-on striking. Weaknesses have to be made into strengths. But the second you neglect one area of his training, somebody will point it out to him in competition. With a grappler, I would spend a lot of time on his hands and his ability to stop takedowns. Black Belt: For the grappling portion of his training, which arts would you draw from? Randy Couture: Certainly wrestling and jujutsu would be big components. I've also learned some things from judo players that I've found applicable. Wrestling is great because of the mat sense and intensity it brings, as well as the ability to take opponents down and control them from the top position. Jujutsu will teach him how to be on the bottom, how to fight on his butt and back, and how to find ways to not only submit his opponent but also to sweep and change positions. I would couple that with Greco-Roman wrestling, especially the clinch position, because in mixed martial arts, a fighter's posture is so much more upright than in most grappling sports. It applies very well for infighting and being able to take an opponent down while controlling him. Black Belt: What about for striking? Randy Couture: Western boxing and kickboxing are the most effective striking arts for this combative sport. Black Belt: Why not Thai boxing? Randy Couture: I think Thai boxing fits with what Greco-Roman and clinch fighting do best: infighting. The elbows and knees are very effective tools at close range. Black Belt: What are the essential skills and martial arts techniques you would cover? Randy Couture: The fighter needs good balance and footwork. He has to be able to defend himself, use his hands and elbows to cover his head, parry punches, and slip punches, kicks and knees. He also needs to be able to throw a proper punch and execute good combinations of kicks and knees. From there, he should move into clinch range, where he works inside control, neck wrestling, trapping and ways to not only strike but also take his opponent off his feet. He has to meld wrestling with striking, especially from the open position. He can't just go out with the intention of setting up his opponent and taking him down. It's too obvious to work, too easy to counter. Black Belt: Is that because fighters these days are too smart to fall into the traps that might have worked during the early days of the UFC? Randy Couture: Yeah. Everybody's cross-training, learning wrestling skills, learning to counter takedowns. A fighter's got to be prepared and understand that his opponent is going to know what's coming. And then he's got to work at being adept on the ground-whether he's on the top or bottom. He's got to be able to scramble, sweep and get back to a neutral position-and find in those transitions opportunities to submit his opponent. Or if he gets his opponent down, he's got to be able to keep him at a disadvantage so he can chip away at him. Black Belt: Would you also teach him how to use the environment—the fence and the mats—of the octagon? Randy Couture: There are definitely tactics for fighting in a ring and a cage. There are things he has to watch out for and things he can take advantage of. Black Belt: How do you approach strategy? Is there one you always teach, or are there four or five ways you would introduce? Randy Couture: It varies from opponent to opponent. Obviously it's more difficult training younger fighters because you don't have a lot of experience with them and their capabilities, and you generally don't know much about their opponents. But as a fighter moves into the higher ranks, you get the opportunity to see a lot of tape of his opponents. You notice their tendencies and how their strengths and weaknesses will match up with your fighter's strengths and weaknesses, then you figure out ways to win. They have to be willing to break themselves down and be honest about [their abilities]-and then go to the gym and do what it takes to execute that game plan. Black Belt: Did you encounter any special challenges while filming The Ultimate Fighter? Randy Couture: There were a lot of challenges for the athletes that created some challenges for me. Guys came in with different levels of conditioning. Some were really prepared and ready to go, and others had no idea what they were getting themselves into and consequently suffered physically, which made it difficult for me to push them. Some guys had better skill sets in some areas versus others. If I tried to focus on their weaknesses without singling out individuals, I couldn't spend the proper amount of time with others who didn't need that extra training. In general, I put them through a peaking phase as if, at the end of this, they were going to have a big fight. I tried to get them physically in the same kind of shape I get in for a fight. Black Belt: What have I left out? Randy Couture: The biggest piece that guys miss is the mental skill it takes not only to get through a training camp, but also to deal with the adversity of competition. They have to deal with the negative self-talk, and the jitters and the pressures of going out and performing in front of a bunch of people. They have to relax enough to do what they're trained to do. Black Belt: At the beginning of the UFC, it seemed like it was average guy against average guy, art against art. But now it's Superman against Superman, and everybody knows every relevant art. Seeing how much the whole sport has progressed, are you limited with respect to how good you can make an average person who might weigh 170 pounds and have done 10 years of karate? Randy Couture: It depends on the individual. We're all blessed with certain gifts and abilities, and that average guy has those things, too. Maybe he just hasn't tapped into them yet, and for some people, it's going to take longer than others. There are so many variables that play into making a good fighter; mind-set is probably the most important. What does he think his limitations are? Is he willing to do the work to get where he wants to go? It's almost more important than any physical gift he has. Black Belt: What's the optimal age to attend a training camp like the one shown in The Ultimate Fighter? If you're a champ when you're 40, that's one thing. But if you start when you're 40, that might be totally different. Randy Couture: Again, it depends on your background: What did you do in that 40 years? I'm 41, but I've spent my entire life since I was 10 competing in sports. To take a 40-year-old guy who's never competed in anything and get him up to speed physically and mentally for this combative sport is a big challenge, but it could be done. Will he be a world champion in a year? Probably not. Will he be able to compete within a year? He probably could. Black Belt: What advice would you give to people who will read this article and aspire to compete in the UFC? Randy Couture: The environment is a huge factor, so they should find a place where they're comfortable and where they're going to be exposed to all the pieces of the mixed-martial arts fight game. They should find a group of guys they can trust, guys who are going to teach them things and help them progress as a person and a fighter. You're only as good as your workout partners. Black Belt: What about advice for people who aren't quite ready to move into a training camp? What about that 16-year-old in Kansas who thinks, "When I'm 20, I really want to be a fighter; but now I'm living at home and training three days a week"? Randy Couture: It's not too early at 16; he still has to find that right place, and hopefully it'll be fairly close to home. It'll be a little more accessible when he turns 18 because he can go his own way. If he has a wrestling program in his school, that's a good place to start because it's an organized sport, and most programs are pretty good at developing at least one piece of the game. Black Belt: What about other options like going to the YMCA and doing boxing two days a week? Or lifting weights at home? Randy Couture: Those are all pieces of the puzzle. If all he can work on where he's at now is striking, then he should go to town on that and look for a different situation to add the other skills down the road.

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