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Smack Daddy

• Randy Couture earns fame and funds as an Ultimate Fighting icon

When 7-month-old Caden Couture grows up, he will always have something over the bullies in the schoolyard.

'My dad can beat up your dad,' he can say.

Few people in the world can beat up his papa, Randy Couture.

Not that Couture, an icon in the Ultimate Fighting Championship game, boasts about being one of the world's toughest humans. The Damascus resident doesn't bother wondering who would win if he were to take on The Rock, or Konishiki, or Mike Tyson, or Jackie Chan, or Jean-Claude Van Damme.

'I don't think in those terms,' Couture says. 'But I certainly think in this sport and of guys in my weight class, there's nobody in the world I can't go with and win.'

Couture, who recently turned 40, has never been better. He beat Tito Ortiz on Sept. 27 in Las Vegas to claim the undisputed light heavyweight title in Ultimate Fighting.

One of Ultimate Fighting's all-time greats, Couture will defend his title Jan. 31 against purported Brazilian phenom Vitor Belfort at the Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas. Couture beat Belfort, a fierce puncher, in his second bout within Ultimate Fighting's octagon cage.

If you think an athlete such as Couture just does UFC for kicks, punches and submission holds, guess again.

The company that runs UFC, Zuffa, will pay Couture $120,000 just to show up and another $80,000 if he beats Belfort in the third fight on his three-fight contract. Couture won the first two, beating Ortiz and Chuck Lidell, and all told the contract could be worth $525,000.

One more contract, if he decides to continue fighting, could be the last one for Couture, his wife, Tricia, and their young son.

'For the last seven years, since I started fighting, I've been able to make a living and take care of my family,' he says. 'And I've been trying to set up some investments for retirement and things like that. I have an idea in a couple years I'll retire.

'But I want to get paid while the sun's still shining, the body's holding up, the training's holding up. It doesn't make a lot of sense not to compete. My family prefers that I retire, but I have some goals competitive-wise and investment-wise.'

Hard-earned cash

If he retains his title, Couture figures his next contract could pay him more than $600,000. Zuffa and Pride, an organization that runs similar fights in Japan, have talked about teaming up for unification bouts. If so, bigger paydays may lie ahead for Couture, a three-time All-American collegiate wrestler at Oklahoma State and alternate Olympian wrestler.

'It's more money than I've ever made in my life, coming from wrestling,' he says.

Years ago, Couture left an assistant coaching job with Oregon State's wrestling program when head coach Joe Wells took issue with Couture's competing for cash in the brutal sport of UFC.

Couture has been an assistant wrestling coach at Centennial High, and he conducts martial arts and wrestling clinics around the country.

He and other UFC competitors, including former Olympic silver medalist wrestler Matt Lindland, practice nearly every day in a building behind USA Auto at Southeast 182nd Avenue and Stark Street. Lindland and another Portland wrestler, Evan Tanner, each won UFC bouts last weekend in Connecticut.

The Ultimate Fighting Championship Ñ best described as a mix of boxing, martial arts and wrestling Ñ has been around since the 1980s and has become extremely popular on pay-per-view TV. The sport has gone somewhat mainstream, especially with appearances by fighters on shows such as Fox Sports Net's 'Best Damn Sports Show Period.'

Couture and Ortiz went on the show to hype their fight. Ortiz displayed his cocky, brash character, and the mild-mannered Couture kept his cool.

'They were worried about putting me on the show, because they didn't think I'd be entertaining,' Couture says. 'I just didn't want to sound like a jackass.'

Many in the fight game never gave Couture a chance to win, but he dominated all five rounds against Ortiz, pummeling him with sharp strikes and corralling him with quick takedowns. He won by unanimous decision.

Ortiz could not do anything against the older man, who UFC publicist Jack Taylor said used 'a crushing ground-and-pound offense.' At the conclusion, Couture slapped Ortiz on the butt. Ortiz sobbed in defeat and said, 'Randy was a lot stronger than I expected.'

Clean and natural

Couture is known as The Natural, and that's not because he came into the world swinging, kicking and clutching. Insiders say enhanced competitors have taken over the sport, but Couture isn't one who relies on steroids to bulk up.

A former UFC heavyweight champ, Couture had to go down in weight after taking punishment from Josh Barnett and Ricco Rodriguez.

'Guys at heavyweight were getting too big,' says the 6-1 Couture, who has gone from nearly 230 to 205. 'I was basically winning those fights for three or four rounds, but the size difference wore me out. It made sense to go down and compete.

'When I started, they were just big guys who didn't know how to fight. Now they're good fighters, and when you give up 20 to 30 pounds, it makes it tough to compete.'

Adversity was nothing new to Couture. He had lost in the Olympic Trials and NCAA finals as an amateur wrestler. 'You couldn't be discouraged and quit after losing two fights,' he says.

At light heavyweight, Couture beat Lidell to set up his title bout.

'Couture made a tremendous impression with that fight,' Taylor says. 'Chuck Lidell is one of the top kickboxing artists in the world. Randy handled him with ease. He executed a couple of hard body slams, and a third one made Lidell woozy. Randy was on top hitting him and Chuck couldn't defend himself.'

The result: TKO, third round.

Ortiz refused to fight Lidell, and UFC created an interim title for Couture.

Ortiz 'called my title a joke,' Couture says.

Then he made a joke of Ortiz.

Couture's pro career hasn't been limited to the padded octagon. He has appeared in Nike commercials Ñ the cauliflower ear they showed was his Ñ and in the HBO series 'Oz' and the Jet Li film 'Cradle 2 the Grave.'

At 40, he understands that his career as an athlete will end soon, but not before he cashes in on another contract.

'I think I'm actually a little more mature and wiser,' he says. 'I've learned some things about training and taking care of my body, and learning how to peak.'

Couture, who has two grown children, and Tricia recently moved to rural Damascus after living in Gresham for years. They enjoy spending time with young Caden. 'We take shifts taking care of him,' Couture says.

Caden is a chip off the ol' block, his father says. 'He's cutting his teeth and drooling all over the place.'

Contact Jason Vondersmith at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .