Randy Couture is a former UFC heavyweight and light-heavyweight champion who made history by becoming the first fighter to hold two belts in two different weight classes.
Three Zoom calls, two mobile phones and one laptop later, a smiling Couture wrestled with a dodgy Wi-Fi connection to sit down with GIVEMESPORT in one of his most wide-ranging interviews to date.
A U.S. army veteran, the fourth inductee to the UFC Hall of Fame founded Xtreme Couture MMA in 2006, home to fellow UFC alumni Francis Ngannou, Miesha Tate, and Vitor Belfort.
Ngannou, 34, knocked out Stipe Miocic to claim the UFC heavyweight championship at UFC 260 at the UFC Apex in Las Vegas.
The 265-pound “Predator” floored the former champion twice early in the second round before following up with punches to finish his fallen opponent.
Asked to share some thoughts on the first UFC heavyweight champion from Africa, Couture exclusively told GIVEMESPORT: “Francis [Ngannou] is a great guy, he’s got an amazing story; I mean, he’s a big, lovable teddy bear – honestly, don’t tell anybody!
“But I think his diligence and work ethic is what stands out to me. We made sure the gym was open for him every day because he wasn’t sure when he was going to get the nod to step in the cage.
“And he was there every single day, working on his wrestling very diligently to go with that amazing power and athleticism that he brings to the cage. He’s a beast, an absolute beast.”
Ohio firefighter Miocic neutralised Ngannou’s hellish power for the best part of five rounds in the first fight, dominating the French-Cameroonian on the ground with his grappling en route to a unanimous decision victory at UFC 220 in Boston, Massachusetts.
However, in their second fight, Ngannou demonstrated just how much he has learned in the wrestling department under the guidance of head coach Eric Nicksick and UFC welterweight champion Kamaru Usman, stuffing an early takedown attempt and demonstrating a new-found ability on the mat.
“I think that first takedown attempt set the tone for the rest of the fight,” Couture continued. “Obviously that was the difference in the first fight, I think Francis got taken down four times over the course of that fight, and had no answer for the wrestling at all.
“And so he went back to the drawing board, he went to work with Eric [Nicksick], he started figuring out how to sprawl, figuring out how to scramble and put in a pretty good, pretty good double leg together for himself as well.
“I think [Ngannou] stuffing that first takedown, taking Stipe’s back and landing some big shots from there really set the tone for how the rest of the fight unfolded. And I think Stipe knew then he was dealing with a completely different animal. It wasn’t the same guy that he fought the first time.”
A rematch between Ngannou and long-time rival Derrick Lewis is close to being agreed, according to UFC president Dana White, after failing to reach an agreement with former UFC light-heavyweight champion Jon Jones due to an ongoing dispute over fighter pay.
And former Olympic wrestler Couture reckons “The Black Beast” will face an almighty task trying to knock Ngannou off of his pedestal.
“Derrick [Lewis] is a huge slugger and a very interesting guy. But I think Francis is really stepping into his prime right now. I think we’re gonna see him at the top of that heap for a long time, I don’t have any doubt about that.
“I was kind of hoping that the UFC would find a way to make the Jon Jones fight happen next, you know, but it doesn’t seem like that’s going to happen.
“So I don’t know. We’ll see. If it’s Derrick, I’m sure Francis will be happy to get back in there and do that again.”
Of course, we couldn’t interview the famous Hollywood actor without asking about the future of The Expendables.
After retiring from mixed martial arts in 2011, Couture turned his hand to acting and has had supporting roles in a number of films, including appearing in all three of The Expendables films.
“Absolutely, there’s been a lot of talk about Expendables 4 over the last three year,” he admitted. “Toll Road is still alive!
“I’ve been told that there is a script and we’re going to start filming sometime this fall. Hopefully it stays on schedule.
“It’ll be great to get back together with the gang and get another one of those movies made. It was a lot of fun.”