Randy Couture: Contender Track, Or Retirement Tour?

A few months ago, it looked as if Dana White and the rest of the UFC brass were trying to once again push Randy Couture toward a title shot. At the present time, it is unclear whether the UFC is trying to market Couture as a contender, or if Couture is simply on a retirement tour.
Over Couture's last two fights, Dana White has tried to play the "disrespecting a legend" card on many occasions, while attempting to make fans buy the idea that Couture is still a relevant contender in the light-heavyweight division.
UFC commentator Joe Rogan made a very strong attempt at a hard sell of Couture by frequently announcing Couture as one of the best light-heavyweights in the world, who might receive a title shot after defeating Mark Coleman.
If Couture is still a contender in the UFC light-heavyweight division, one would imagine that the UFC would match him up with another contender so that he could progress towards a title shot.  After all, at 45 years old, Couture doesn't exactly have a lot of time to waste if he wants another shot.
The UFC brass could always throw Couture in a title situation anyway, but it seems clear now that they have little interest in actually making him prove that he's still a relevant contender.
Over the past few months there have been three rumored opponents for Couture, those being James Toney, Rich Franklin, and Chuck Liddell. I am not opposed to any of these fights, but none of them really does anything to put Couture into the title mix.
After the UFC signed Toney, Couture tweeted that he was interested in fighting the highly decorated boxer. The fact that Couture chose to call out Toney rather than a UFC contender tells me that Couture doesn't really see himself as a contender anymore, but it also makes me wonder if the UFC doesn't as well.
According to what I've heard on the the Sherdog radio network, the UFC originally pursued Toney directly as an opponent for Couture, and Couture's tweet might have been planned and suggested by the UFC brass in an attempt to put feelers out for that potential fight.
In any case, if Couture does fight Toney, the outcome will be rather perfunctory, and although it might get some mainstream coverage, it will do little to convince hardcore fans of Couture's continued relevance.
A fight with Franklin that was suggested by Dana White is an interesting fight, and I would have enjoyed seeing it, but since Franklin is coming off a loss and doesn't really have much in the way of light-heavyweight credentials, it's still another match that doesn't really put Couture in the heavyweight mix.
Earlier this week, Heavy.com reported that the UFC is now considering a third rematch between Couture and old nemesis Chuck Liddell. Recent news suggests that Heavy.com may be wrong on this one, and although I think the UFC might just be leaking this rumor to distract from the more accurate rumors of a Liddell vs. Franklin matchup, it's worth analyzing the rumor at face value.
A third rematch isn't entirely undesirable. Many fans I've spoken with have been receptive to the idea since they enjoyed the previous three encounters. That being said, the fight doesn't really do anything for either fighter.
Liddell is coming off a year-long layoff and back to back losses, and while Couture is coming off a win, it was over Mark Coleman, and Couture didn't look super-impressive against Brandon Vera.
If Liddell beats Couture, all he does is show the world he has Couture's number.
If Couture beats Liddell, he evens the series at a time when the series no longer matters.
Yet despite the fact that hardcore fans like me won't be impressed with a win in either case, I can see why the UFC might like this matchup.
The winner of this fight will add the illusion of a relevant win, while the loser is preserved.
If Couture loses, the UFC can preserve him because, "Oh well, Liddell just has Couture's number."
If Liddell loses, things don't look so good, then the UFC gets to say Liddell only lost to "one of the best light-heavyweights in the world."
In fact, the Tito Ortiz vs. Chuck Liddell fight served roughly the same purpose.  Ortiz was supposed to lose, but when he did, the UFC could still pretend he is relevant because a loss to Liddell just proves Liddell has his number.
Anyway, back to Couture.
If Dana White really believes that Couture is still a light-heavyweight contender, then he should be giving Couture a chance to prove it inside the Octagon. None of the three fights mentioned above allow that to happen.
Many people have cited the idea that the reason why the UFC isn't doing that is because the rest of the contenders are busy, but that's not quite true.
Jon Jones is coming off a decisive beatdown of Vera, and looks fairly close to a title shot. A Couture vs. Jones fight would have a very marketable angle, and if Couture was able to beat Jones, he would silence his critics and put himself right back into title contention.
On the other hand, it's fine if the UFC doesn't want to push Couture toward a title shot.
If Randy Couture was a rock band, he'd be the Rolling Stones. He's past his prime, but he's probably making more money than ever, and people still want to see him perform. Because of that, I'm fine if the UFC wants to put him in main events even if he's not challenging for a belt.
The only thing I want, is for the UFC to decide what they're doing with Couture, because it's confusing to look at the kind of matchups they're giving him, and then hear the UFC commentators talking about another title shot.
It's not like the UFC needs to disrespect Couture by going out and announcing Couture's exit from the title picture. The blueprint for handling such situations is already out there in the way the UFC is handling Matt Hughes.
The fact that Matt Hughes is no longer a contender should be obvious from the way he is being matched up. Instead of giving Hughes a fight against a contender, the UFC has instead placed him opposite Renzo Gracie.
The fight with Gracie is a fight that is interesting in it's own right, and doesn't need any title ramifications. Such a fight allows Hughes to keep fighting interesting matchups, and the UFC never needed to tell fans that Hughes isn't going to be a title contender, even though such a match implies that fact.
Matching Couture up against Toney, Franklin, or Liddell should do the same thing for Couture, as long as Dana White and Joe Rogan stop trying to hard sell Couture as a possible title challenger.
by Darren Wong

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