Thursday Time Machine: Brandon Vera vs Randy Couture
Rewind to the year 2009, Randy Couture for the third time in his career, is coming off two straight losses. His opponent, Brandon Vera, had just defeated Mike Pratt and Krzysztof Soszynski, earning him another main event slot this time at UFC 105. The fight was dubbed “The Natural” vs “The Truth” and would prove to be a pivotal fight in both of their careers.
Before we get to the fight I think it’s important to point out how Couture likes to fight and some of the techniques he uses. The typical Couture game plan is to:
Close the distance
There are a few ways that Couture would like to do this. The first most fundamental tactic he would use is called the parry. You enter into your opponent’s punching range, wait for him to throw a jab, push that jab to the side then follow the jab back and enter into the clinch.
Another simple tactic he would use is called sticky hands. This is actually a Thai technique and you see it frequently in Muay Thai fights. In a nutshell, you would tuck your chin, extend your arms and touch your opponent’s hands with your own. Basically, you smother your opponent, then follow through into a clinch position.
Couture would also employ a defensive technique called elbow destruction. You set up your elbow by essentially grabbing the back of your head and having the point of your elbow facing towards your opponent. You would then use your elbow as a shield, blocking your face from your opponent’s punches, allowing you to close the distance and getting into clinch range.
Lastly, Couture would want his opponents to stop moving his feet and covering up his head. He would stop him by throwing strikes, allowing him that split second to close the distance to transition to the clinch; typically by throwing power punch at him, a right straight or an overhand right. However, we did not see any of that during this fight.
Get the Clinch
There are three types of clinches: the Muay Thai clinch, the pummel clinch (50/50) and the wrestlers tie up. Couture is a master of the pummel clinch and used it to set up takedowns and dirty box.
Dirty Box from the Clinch
Dirty boxing is Couture’s method of striking from a Greco-Roman clench. It centres around controlling your opponent, dishing out strikes, and taking minimal damage. Generally, it used to refer to throwing short punches from the clinch, particularly when holding the back of your opponents head.
Secure a Takedown
Couture does not discriminate when it came to takedowns; in this fight he had success with an inside trip in the first round and attempted to do both a high single takedown and a slide by takedown while he had Vera against the fence. A slide by is done from the same position as a double leg takedown, but instead of driving through your opponent, you disrupt his balance by moving him sideways instead of trying to move forward.
Ground and Pound
Now that we have an understanding of some of the tactics and techniques that Couture likes to use we can start analyzing the fight.
Vera came out like Couture owed him money and tagged him in the opening seconds of the round, but quickly found himself being clinched and pushed against the fence. From here it’s a battle for position against the fence. Using his superior wrestling skills, Couture controls Vera against the fence, uses head pressure to control Vera’s upper body before attempting a take down. Vera stuffs it, so the fighters reset and Couture lands some small strikes on Vera’s legs. After some shuffling and reversing, referee Marc Godard separates the pair and Couture immediately clinches Vera, pushing him back against the fence. With 2:41 on the clock in the first round, Couture lands an inside trip takedown on Vera, however Vera is able to get back to his feet in a mere 10 seconds. Other than an attempted single leg takedown, the remainder of the round is spent with Couture pushing Vera against the fence and fighting for position.
Couture took the more damaging shots early on, but controlled the majority of the round. It’s hard to tell if Couture’s clinch work wore Vera down like Joe Rogan would have you believe, but nevertheless, Couture had Vera in the position he wanted him in for about 90% of the round.
So, did Vera’s striking win him the first round or did Couture’s four plus minutes of obvious octagon control win him the round? I scored it for Couture.
Even though Couture was fending off Vera’s take downs for the majority of the round, he was put in a defensive position, and Couture was the one that was dictating the pace and position of the fight. You simply cannot win a round by being defensive and this is why Couture won the first round.
Round two starts with Couture attempting a switch inside leg kick, but instead lands (as far as I know) the first ever eye poke/low blow in UFC history. After a brief pause they continue and Couture lands a knee to the body. This will be a theme in the second round. Couture attempts to clinch up, but eats another body shot for his efforts, this time a kick, but closes the distance and gets Vera against the fence at 4:20 in the second round. It’s more of the same action that we saw in the first round, Couture bullying him up against the fence and attempting the same inside trip.. The fighters exchange position, knees and body shots until referee Goddard separates them with 2:36 left in the round. This is where things get interesting for Vera. Vera throws a head kick, which Couture blocks, but follows up with a hard switch kick to Couture’s body and that hurts him. Couture tries to disguise that he’s hurt, but simply cannot. Vera senses this and clinches him, then he lands a hard knee that sends Couture to the mat. Vera follows up with a few hard shots from Couture’s guard; but Vera puts his head on Couture’s chest and is able to control his posture until the referee stands them up with 1:27 left in the round. Then Couture gets the clinch and pushes Vera against the fence while and landing a few hard shots. This is where the fighters remain for the remainder of the round.
No one disputes that Vera won the second.
Round 3: (The Swing Round)
This time the round starts off with a quick leg kick from Vera. Couture responds by swarming him with shots and forcing Vera to back into the cage, where he lands more shots on Vera, goes for a takedown and much like the previous two rounds, the fighters end up back in the clinch position. This time, however, Couture creates some distance and lands a few shots on Vera before attempting a takedown. Couture is showing much more aggression this round, making a concerted effort to throw more strikes to Vera’s head. This continues until Goddard separates them with 2:12 left in the third and final round.
This is where things get very interesting.
Vera lands a hard body kick, followed by a head kick (which was blocked) and then another hard body kick to Couture. Some shots are exchanged as the fighters clinch up and Couture lands a knee, fighting for position while in the clinch. They break up and Couture throws some shots at Vera, but Vera pushes Couture against the cage and muscles him down to the ground with 45 seconds left in the round. He obtains mount position but not before landing two shots to Couture’s face. Vera, with 20 seconds left in the round, attempts to take Couture’s back but loses position and Couture is able to get back to his feet. The fighters exchange knees and punches with neither man getting the better of the exchanges until the final bell rings.
Since this is another round in question let’s take a look at the stats. Vera landed a total of 12 strikes, two of them being crushing shots to the body. He took Couture down to the ground, mounted him and held a dominant position for 30 seconds. Unfortunately for Vera, he was not able to do anything with the position – no strikes landed and no submissions were attempted. While Couture was more aggressive and landed a total of 32 strikes, he was always pressing forward with punches and looking for the clinch. Once Couture had the clinch, he would push Vera against the cage, strike him and attempt takedowns. Couture spent a total of 2 minutes and 15 seconds in this position. The judges cage side obviously saw this as octagon control and Vera’s late takedown was not enough to sway the decision in his favor.
The aftermath saw Vera going 1-3-1 in the UFC losing to Jon Jones, Shogun Rua, and Ben Rothwell. The no contest was against Thiago Silva, who originally won a one-sided unanimous decision, but was overturned because Thaigo used a urine adulterant to alter the results of his drug test with the intent to cover up a banned substance he injected into his spine for pain. Vera’s sole win in the UFC after the Couture fight was against the now retired Eliot “The Fire” Marshall. Vera was released from the UFC has now signed with Asian Promotion ONE Fighting Championship as a heavyweight, and picked up a TKO win against Igor Subora.
Couture, on the other hand, went on to beat both Mark Coleman and former boxing champion James Toney in rather one sided affairs before being knocked out in highlight reel fashion by Lyoyo Machida. Sadly, that would be the last time we would see Captain America in the octagon; he announced that he said he was “finally done fighting” in his post-fight interview. Couture would go on to do a little bit of commentary work for FOX during UFC broadcasts, but eventually signed with Bellator and was a coach on Fightmaster, their version of The Ultimate Fighter.
In conclusion, I believe the judges got this decision correct. As I recall, the majority of the viewership believed that Couture would steamroll Vera. He did not, and because of that people over valued what Vera did in that fight. They call that contender bias and defiantly not a robbery as we would be lead to believe.