Randy Couture will forever be one of the all-time faces of MMA, and now as the full-time voice for Professional Fighters League, or PFL, “The Natural” is hoping he can find the next combat superstar to pass the torch when the league begins next month.
Call it a case of MMA overload, but so far, even Couture admits it’s been a slight challenge to determine the face of the new wave of MMA fighters, even after it’s been eight years since he last entered the Octagon.
It’s also nearing two decades since his first UFC battle with Chuck Liddell helped shift mixed martial arts from niche sport to one of the most popular sports in the U.S.
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“It’s hard to come up with one or two names,” Couture says. “I’ll admit [MMA’s] a little watered down. There are a lot of leagues out there, and it’s hard [for fans] to keep up with all the fighters, especially when there’s a different event a few times each weekend.”
The PFL, unique to other MMA organizations, conducts a six-week “league schedule” like pro sports teams.
Weeks 1-3 will be held at Long Island’s NYCB Live (tickets are already on sale at ticketmaster.com) and the next three weeks in Atlantic City, capped with a $1 million winner-take-all championship for all six weight classes on New Year’s Eve in New York City.
Another big boost for the PFL this season is that it will be televised on ESPN beginning with its May 9 fight card.
Couture, however, hopes the PFL’s blend of up-and-coming fighters and seasoned veterans will keep fans watching. Two to look out for are a pair Long Island natives and 2018 PFL semifinalists.
Lightweight Chris Wade, who lost to eventual champion Natan Schulte (who will also be returning in 2019), and featherweight Andre Harrison, the 2017 champion (when it was the World Series of Fighting) who was 20-0 prior to his upset loss to eventual champion Lance Palmer, are faces to watch. “These are guys fans should have on their radar,” Couture says.
Another name: 2012 and 2016 U.S. Olympic judo gold medalist Kayla Harrison, who will headline the PFL’s women’s lightweight division, a first this year. “It’s amazing to have Kayla fighting with us in this tournament,” Couture says. “Kayla’s definitely a fighter worth watching.”
Another MMA star?
Who you won’t see making his PFL or MMA debut anytime soon is Chris Pratt, although if you follow the actor on social media you’ll regularly see him sparring and posing with Couture at Los Angeles MMA hot spot Unbreakable Performance.
Social media went crazy this week after one of Unbreakable’s founders, “NFL on Fox” star that Pratt hits harder than the former UFC champion. Even with the verbal jabs, Couture says grappling with Pratt on the mats has been a fun experience
“It’s been a lot of fun training with Chris,” Couture, also a three-time All-America wrestler at Oklahoma State, says. “He’s a tough dude who takes [wrestling] really seriously. And coming from a wrestling background [Pratt was a high school wrestler], I don’t normally get to work with another wrestler. Hopefully Chris remembers that when he’s casting his next movie.
Off the mat, Couture is also keeping busy in the weight room, staying in fighting shape for another battle on the big screen. Playing “Toll Road” in the “Expendables” franchise, Couture looks like the small guy on a set which features Hollywood heavyweights Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Terry Crews and Jason Statham.
“I mostly do free weights now,” Couture says. “Having to keep up with Sly [Stallone] on the set, I need all the strength I can get.”