Much of the talk leading up to Randy Couture’s headline bout with Brandon Vera at UFC 105 on Saturday night focused on the possibility of another run at the title for ‘The Natural’ if he won.  Now, after a less than stellar performance and a controversial unanimous decision victory, what’s lies ahead for the UFC hall of famer?

There were times on Saturday night when I finally started to believe that Randy Couture may be showing the signs of age.

To be fair the strategy he employed was much as I had expected, though it was disappointing that he failed to fully implement his trademark dirty boxing until the third round, and he wasn’t able to take the fight to the ground and press home his advantage there.

More worryingly however was what happened during the brief interludes where the fighters exchanged strikes in the center of the octagon.  Though Vera was always going to have the advantage in this department it was surprising how quickly and easily he was able to land damaging blows on the 46 year old veteran.

Brock Lesnar Knocks Down Randy Couture UFC 91
Lesnar Hurt Him With  A Glancing Blow

To my mind it only adds to the evidence that age is finally taking it’s toll on certain aspects of the former champions game such as his damage resistance and reactions.

Other recent examples of his weakness to strikes include his fight against Brock Lesnar late last year where he was felled by a hook that  seemed to clip him rather than land cleanly, and in the Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira fight where he was dropped several times due to strikes.

In his latest fight the most noticeable example happened during the second round when a kick to the mid-section and then a follow up knee from Vera forced Couture to turn his back and crumple to the mat in pain.  He managed to survive but the fight was very close to being stopped.

This must undoubtedly be a major concern for the star, and means he now has to rely even more heavily on his wrestling than before.  To my mind there is now a definite feeling that one more convincing defeat will spell the end of his remarkable career, and that leaves the UFC with an interesting dilemma.

Should they try to put him in big fights now while they still can, or should they protect him with less testing fights that may keep his career from grinding to a sudden halt?

As far as big fights go I believe that an early title shot against the winner of the  Lyoto Machida Vs Shogun Rua rematch will now be put on hold after his last performance.   With many people believing that he lost the fight it will be hard to sell him as the most worthy challenger at this stage. Rumors still persist that he will face Machida at some stage however.

There have also been some talk that a ‘super fight’ between Couture and Anderson Silva could take place, but considering Silva’s speed and knockout power that would appear to be a very bad match-up for Couture that could well end his career.  Will the UFC be willing to risk that at this stage?

If the UFC want’s to continue to promote him as a serious title contender then facing the winner of Rashad Evans Vs Thiago Silva, or perhaps even Antonio Rogerio Nogueira Vs Luiz Cane will be the likely options.

Any of these fighters would provide a stern test for Couture at this stage in his career, particularly someone like Evans who has shown heavy hands in recent fights to back up his solid wrestling credentials.

The other option, which I believe is the most likely to occur, is that they match him up with someone who can provide an interesting and competitive fight, yet is less likely to steamroller him into retirement.

Tito Ortiz Could Be Up Next

Tito Ortiz is a name that stand out from the crowd in this regard.  The two have met once before when Couture emerged the victor back at UFC 44 and the prospect of two legends of the sport fighting would be a highly marketable bout for the UFC.

Of course Ortiz has to successfully navigate past his upcoming  rematch with Forrest Griffin, first which may prove problematic.  Though a Couture Vs Griffin bout would also work on paper, the reality is the two are friends and training partners so it is unlikely they will want to fight.

Two other potential options are Rich Franklin who is currently making his way up to 205lbs after losing to Vitor Belfort in his last fight, and Mark Coleman in what could be billed as a battle of the veterans with Coleman aged 44 and couture 46.

The latter option is about as much of a ‘softball’ as the UFC can throw at Couture at this moment in time.  We should however also take into consideration that Couture is an ambitious fighter who has made it known that at this stage of his career he is only looking for big fights and exciting challenges to keep him motivated.

With this in mind  it is likely that he will be pushing for a major fight rather than opting for a safe option.

I believe that  Tito Ortiz is the best option, with Rich Franklin as a backup plan.  Both are credible fights with former champions that would appear to satisfy the need for the UFC to put on a marketable fight, and for Couture to face a significant challenge, without feeding him to the wolves.

The powers at be may see things differently however, and it will be very interesting to see which route they eventually opt to go down with one of their longest serving, most decorated and beloved fighters.

For the latest developments on Couture’s next opponent click here

Article By RossC

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