LYNNWOOD – As a boy growing up in Lynnwood, Randy Couture was expected to follow a few family rules.
For one, he was not allowed to hang out with buddies at the Alderwood Mall. His mother Sharan, who knew that loitering sometimes leads to mischief, preferred that he have friends over to the house, where they organized impromptu and highly spirited foosball tournaments in the downstairs rec room.
The other no-no? Boxing.
That decree came down the day Sharan discovered her son had been sneaking off to the Lynnwood Elks Club, which had a successful youth boxing program at the time.
Remembers Randy: “She told me, ‘You can play football or whatever, but you’re not boxing.’ Of course, now she just laughs and says, ‘I should have let you do it back then so you would have got all this out of your system.’”
Randy Couture, as you may know, is doing a little boxing these days. Also, some kickboxing, wrestling and a few other forms of combat that are part of what is called mixed martial arts. To the sport’s many enthusiasts – and it has an international following – he is Randy “The Natural” Couture, the heavyweight champion of the Ultimate Fighting Championship and the only five-time champ in the organization’s history.
In the UFC, he’s about as big as it gets.
Think Babe Ruth, Michael Jordan, Joe Montana or Arnold Palmer, and you have Randy Couture. His stature in ultimate fighting is perhaps unmatched, both for his accomplishments in the ring and for his many ambassadorial efforts to promote the sport.
Look around and you’ll see him other places, too. Couture has a clothing line (Xtreme Couture), a line of nutritional supplements (Couture Nutrition), a handful of workout clubs (Xtreme Couture Fitness and Mixed Martial Arts Training Facilities), and, certainly not least, a budding acting career that could well be his post-UFC vocation.
Yet through it all, Couture remains a son of Lynnwood. Nostalgia comes easily to him, as it did the day he visited the restaurant owned by his mother and stepfather Sharan and Marco Courounes – Marco’s, on Highway 99 in north Lynnwood – to greet a few hundred family, friends and just plain well-wishers.
Couture, you see, has no trouble tracing his roots. He remembers his PE teacher and wrestling coach at Alderwood Junior High School, a man named John Casebeer, who imparted his passion for the sport to the eager youngster.
“To this day, I still remember phrases that he used to say, like ‘When in doubt, get out,’” Couture said. “And I really think that’s where it started, though I never would have said, in junior high or high school, that this is what I’m going to do.”
Couture went on to Lynnwood High School, where he won a state wrestling championship at 168 pounds as a senior in 1981. He briefly attended Washington State University, but left to spend six years in the Army, during which he trained and competed with the All-Army wrestling team.
Then it was on to Oklahoma State University, where he was a three-time All-American and, later, a three-time U.S. Olympic team alternate.
Eventually, Couture became an assistant wrestling coach at Oregon State University, and then an early competitor in ultimate fighting.
Back then, it was a sport just getting started which meant it was a sport still looking for heroes, and Couture was one of the first. He began in 1997 and won his first heavyweight title that same year.
Over the next decade, there were other wins and a few losses. Couture retired in February of 2006 after losing to Chuck Liddell, but a few months later felt the itch to get back in. In March of this year, he returned to defeat Tim Sylvia for his third heavyweight title to go with two earlier titles as a light heavyweight.
Next up for Couture, who turns 44 on June 22, is Gabriel Gonzaga. That title bout is slated for August, probably the 25th.
There is, he said, nothing quite like the adrenalin-fueled excitement of a fight night.
“It’s really hard to put into words what it feels like to prepare for something and to have that clock ticking, getting down into the last week, and the tension is growing,” he said. “And then to actually be there on fight night, getting your hands wrapped and preparing to walk out, with a crowd of between 16,000 and 20,000 people out there, all of them anticipating what’s going to happen.
“And then when you hear the music and you start to walk out, I think you feel every hair on your body at that moment. It’s a very, very unique experience. There’s nothing quite like it.”
Though fame has brought plenty of rewards – including, of course, financial – there are times when Couture, who lives today in Las Vegas, is a reluctant celebrity. Restaurant dinners with his wife, for example, are often interrupted by autograph seekers and picture takers. And during a recent visit to a Home Depot store, there was “an entourage of people following me around. … Sometimes people’s sense of your personal time and space isn’t there, and it can be a little overwhelming at times.”
Which may explain why he eschews the after-fight parties of the glamorous well-to-do. Though he would certainly be welcomed, he instead seeks the company of family and longtime friends.
“The fights,” he said, “kind of turn out to be an old-home week for me. I see a bunch of my old college buddies and my old Army buddies, and all of my family comes, too. I just like to get together with those folks that have come to support me, and have supported me and known me since I was little. That’s really fun for me.”
Though Couture remains in great shape physically and is still very much a UFC fan favorite, he knows his fight career is in its waning days.
From this point on, he said, “it’ll be one fight at a time, I’m sure. But it’s basically up to me. I have certain standards, certain benchmarks, that I expect to be able to meet, and those get a little harder each year to maintain.
“But as long as I keep progressing and meeting those benchmarks, this is what I love to do. I love to fight, I love to compete.”