With the release of the "EA Sports MMA" video game, the hype and polygonal pageantry of mixed martial arts are striking the mainstream with a lot of force. But cover athlete Randy Couture remembers a different time for MMA. A time when you could have seen the biggest stars in UFC hanging out at the Holiday Inn.
"My first fight was UFC 13 back in 1997, and we had weigh-ins inside the lobby of the Holiday Inn in Augusta, Georgia," Couture says with a laugh. "It was just the fighters and their seconds standing around the lobby of the hotel. Now we have 6,000 people showing up to the arena just for the weigh-ins. There were only 1,500 people at my first UFC fight. That's how much things have changed since I've been fighting."
And with the fans and attention comes the release of not one, but two MMA games in the same year as EA Sports steps up to try to take down THQ's UFC franchise.
To celebrate the release with EA Sports, Couture is even going to dust off his video game skills to go head to head in the game against co-cover star Fedor Emelianenko.
"I got the chance to play the game last night," Couture says. "EA Sports was giving me a lesson on how to play. I remember back when I played Atari and 'Pong.' Now there are so many buttons involved â€¦ holy crap.
"I doubt Fedor and I will ever be able to fight for real. He's tied up where he's tied up, and I think the likelihood is pretty minimal. But you can play it in the video game right now, so this is it."
did happen, how do you envision things going down?
Randy Couture: He poses some interesting problems as an athlete and a competitor. I'm not sure what my approach would be. I think I'd do what I try to do to everybody, and that's tie him up on the cage, wear him out, beat him up there, then put him on the ground. Then I'd try to impose my will there.
Jon Robinson: You're on the cover of the "EA Sports MMA" game, not the UFC game. Is Dana White still mad that you're helping the competition?
Randy Couture: I think it's water under the bridge now. We've come a long way and get along great, and their game has done well and will continue to do well. There is certainly enough space in the market for two games, so I think they're over it at this point.
Jon Robinson: Do you think an MMA game without the UFC license can be successful, or is that like trying to make a football game without the NFL?
Randy Couture: I think if anybody else but EA was doing it, it would be questionable, but I think this game is going to be hugely successful. It's tremendous, it's accurate in the way it encompasses the sport and it has a ton of great athletes in it, so I think it's going to be good.
Jon Robinson: How do you think your character looks in the game?
Randy Couture: I like it. Obviously, I threw them a little curveball there at the end by getting a tattoo in the last stages of the development of the game. I got my first tattoo like four months ago on my arm, and then my last few fights have been submission wins, which is a little bit of a novelty for me. I only had two submissions in my whole career up to this last year, so I don't know if my character incorporates the submission skill that I had but just didn't use throughout my career.
Jon Robinson: So are these submission wins a sign of you continuing to evolve as a fighter or is it just you taking what's given to you in the fight?
Randy Couture: Both things are true. I focused more this past year with catch wrestling and finding submission positions in my ground game, and I think the opponents I faced gave me those opportunities as well.
Jon Robinson: That's one of the cool things about the video game, how you can train your character to learn different techniques and skills. What's the one aspect of training that you go through in real life that the average fan might not realize?
Randy Couture: I think the game captures the reality of our sport in that you have to sharpen different tools for each opponent. Every opponent you face is different -- they're stronger in different areas -- so you have to prepare differently for every opponent. The game allows you to do that. You can have two different Randy Couture characters in the game, and depending on how you train and what you sharpen for that particular matchup, one or the other is going to win even though both of those foundations are my character. I think that is a really interesting part of the game.
Jon Robinson: The game also features hype videos where I can talk trash and challenge gamers online. I was just wondering what some of your opponents have tried to say or do to get under your skin before a fight.
Randy Couture: For my last fight, James Toney tried to instigate some emotion from me, and I think he did it so I would stand up with him and try to knock him out. Obviously, it wasn't effective. I wasn't going to buy into all of that. The only other guy who really tried to push the envelope was Tito [Ortiz]. He is notorious for those types of tactics and trying to elicit some sort of emotional response.
Jon Robinson: Did anything Tito say ever really get to you?
Randy Couture: I think Tito was actually really surprised that I gave it back to him. He came out on "The Best Damn Sports Show" with a cane and talking about my age and all of that. But then I responded that he was just jealous because his wife really liked my ears. He didn't really know what to do.
Jon Robinson: So if I turn on "EA Sports MMA" right now and fight as your character, do you have any advice for me on how to win?
Randy Couture: I spent a couple of hours with the game last night, and I didn't really see any weaknesses. I think they built the character with good conditioning and stamina, which has been one of my trademarks, then with the training, you can go in and sharpen what you need to sharpen and make me a better fighter.
Jon Robinson: How about if I decide to fight against you?
Randy Couture: Good luck. Have fun with that. [laughs]