Couture vs. Lesnar hard to pick, which helps explains UFC 91 appeal

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LAS VEGAS - Fights become larger than life when two powerful personalities with vastly different backstories face off. And the interest peaks when fans can't figure out which one's going to win.
That pretty much sums up the main event between heavyweight champion Randy (The Natural) Couture and Brock Lesnar at UFC 91 on Saturday night at the MGM Grand Garden Arena (available on pay-per-view).
"Let me tell you what, everybody is very intrigued by this fight," said a giddy UFC president Dana White, who has been bouncing around this week like a six-year-old who has consumed his body weight in M&M's.
Said Lesnar: "Dana and Zuffa and the UFC, they put on fight that people want to see. And Brock Lesnar versus Randy Couture for the heavyweight title is a fight that people are going to tune in and want to see."
Even the Wall Street Journal has covered the pre-fight buildup. And Las Vegas Review-Journal gossip columnist Norm Clarke speculated Friday that Jack Nicholson might be ringside.
The UFC believes the mixed martial arts matchup will draw 1.2 million pay-per-view buys, a record for the 15-year-old organization. At C$44.99 a shot, that's some $50 million-plus not counting the gate.
There may be a financial meltdown going on worldwide but when two big men with big reputations get in the cage, it seems fight fans are still prepared to dig into their wallet.
The contest pits the 45-year-old Couture, a crafty veteran who has made a career of defying the odds, against the 31-year-old Lesnar, an imposing physical specimen who combines raw power with eye-popping speed and agility.
Stand next to six-foot-two Couture and you feel like you are facing a well put-together athlete who looks younger than his years. Sidle up to the bulky 6-3 Lesnar and it's like meeting a new species.
Couture will be giving up 14 years, at least 50 pounds and some six inches in reach to Lesnar. Plus he has not fought in 15 months due to a contract dispute with the UFC.
Couture weighed in at 220 Friday while Lesnar was at 265, successfully shedding a few pounds to make the UFC heavyweight limit. He expects to weigh 275 Saturday night.
Couture dismisses talk of ring rust or the size difference, saying he has spent the last 10 weeks going up against bigger men than Lesnar in training. He says the layoff won't affect him because he spent those 15 months working out with 28 other top pros at his Xtreme Couture gym.
"Each guy brings different things to the table," Couture said. "It's like going to a giant Thanksgiving dinner, you get to try all sorts of things and you learn all kinds of new stuff. That's always been what's exciting about the sport (of mixed martial arts)."
Couture says he has trained smarter as he got older. He changed his diet when he dropped down to light-heavyweight five years ago. And he is always interested in new ways of maintaining his body. This year, that has included a doctor who regularly does his blood work and then addresses any weaknesses with pharmaceutical-grade supplements.
"I think I've just become keener and listened better to my body," he said. "At 45, my body does want to resist some of the things I've tried to put it through. I've got old injuries that want to flare up here or there, a tendinitis here, an ache or a pain there that I didn't have before. But I think you just stay focused and you keep plugging away."
His body shows wear and tear. His misshapen ears would make an Orc cringe. And the veins on his right calf are contorted like a mess of twisted iron rods on a construction site.
Mentally Couture admits he has also changed.
"As I've become more popular and become more successful, financially and otherwise, I've learned and had to become a lot more guarded than I've ever been used to being," he said. "It seems that everybody has an angle, everybody is pitching things and trying to get things from you.
"I've always been a very open, and kind of accepting person and I'm finding that more and more difficult to do, to be how I want to be as we travel down this road."
Lesnar calls Couture a "tough son of a bitch" and a "world-class athlete regardless of age. But he says he has no concerns about the champion. "None at all."
And he says his size will take its toll in the five-round bout
"I've got to push 230 pounds and Randy's got to push around 275 pounds," he said.
Is there a plus being the smaller man? "Well I have to find a way to make that an advantage," Couture said. "For sure, I think I'm a pretty fair athlete myself."
Couture showed in his last win over Gabriel Gonzaga that size doesn't have to matter. He picked up the 242-pound Brazilian and spiked him into the canvas headfirst. Couture landed on top, with Gonzaga's nose being smashed in the ensuring head-on-head clash, unleashing a torrent of blood.
Couture and Lesnar both have stellar wrestling credentials. Couture (16-8) is a former four-time alternate on the U.S. Olympic Greco-Roman team. Lesnar (2-1) is a former NCAA heavyweight champion who went to become a WWE star and earn a tryout with the NFL Minnesota Vikings.
The bookies have been playing it coy. Couture opened as a slight favourite at -125 (you wager $125 to win $100 profit) while Lesnar was plus-105 (a $100 bet earns a profit of $105). By Friday afternoon, Lesnar was the favourite at -135, while underdog Couture was at plus-115.
Couture's days with the UFC date back to UFC 13 in May 1997. Lesnar, meanwhile, didn't approach the UFC about joining the organization until UFC 74 in August 2007, when Couture made his last appearance in the cage.

Organizations: M&M, Wall Street Journal, U.S. Olympic Greco-Roman NCAA NFL Minnesota Vikings

Geographic location: LAS VEGAS

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