In the toughest fight of his career to date, Xtreme Couture MMA fighter Ryan Couture (3-1 MMA, 3-1 SF) got a visceral taste of Eddie Bravo’s grappling system three years ago as an amateur.
Couture’s next opponent, Conor Heun (9-4 MMA, 1-2 SF), is one of Bravo’s prized students and should be an even bigger threat on the mat.
But the Strikeforce welterweight is nothing like he was in his early days and looks forward to testing his skills against his more experienced opponent.
Couture and Heun meet on the preliminary card of “Strikeforce: Tate vs. Rousey,” which takes place Saturday at Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio. The fight airs live on Showtime Extreme while main-card bouts air on Showtime.
“He’s somebody I’ve had a lot of respect for for a long time,” Couture said of Heun. “He shows up to fight every time; he’s as tough as they come. It’s a good step for me and a good opportunity to prove that I belong in Strikeforce.'”
Couture did just that in his most recent performance, which came after the first professional loss of his career. Three months after Matt Ricehouse outpointed him at Strikeforce Challengers 16, he defeated Maka Watson at Strikeforce Challengers 19, which halted a further slide.
No stranger to the submission game, Couture has forced a tap from seven of his 11 amateur and professional opponents.
Heun, however, represents a steep upswing in competition for the 29-year-old son of UFC Hall of Famer Randy Couture. Despite his championship pedigree, Ryan Couture has built up his resume against competitors with a comparable number of fights. Heun, who’s a black belt under Bravo, not only has more fights on his resume but more high-profile appearances and high-profile opponents.
Add to that a preternaturally tough disposition in the cage – in his most recent fight, Heun’s arm was gruesomely twisted by submission artist Mango Almeida, but he refused to tap – and you have a challenge that many might say is premature.
Heun also hasn’t been shy about his desire to “destroy” Couture in competition. The laid-back Couture hasn’t paid too much attention to his opponent’s public musings, though he did catch one interview.
“He was pretty much what I expected of him,” Couture said. “He’s real intense, and I know what his approach is to the game. So I’m looking forward to getting in the cage and seeing what it’s like face to face.”
Three years ago, Couture was choked out at the conclusion of a second round in a fight with Bravo student Sean Bollinger at a Tuff-N-Uff event in Las Vegas. He somehow rebounded and fought his way to a draw, but the experience taught him a valuable lesson in letting his guard down.
But it also may come in handy against Heun.
“I think that experience gave me some insight into their system and how they’re going to try and play me if I do end up in Connor’s guard,” Couture said. “I feel like I have a little better idea of what to expect.
“But you can’t take too much from that. Connor is a completely different fighter than Shawn is, and I’m a completely different fighter than I was three years ago.”
Thus far, Couture said he’s been winging it when it comes to his long-term career aspirations. A deep love for the sport has kept him in the game long enough to dispel notions that he’s piggybacking off his father’s success. Now it’s about how he continues to evolve and how far he can go.
After his radio appearance, Couture was off to practice to rehearse scenarios he might encounter in the fight. It’s a sure bet that training partners locked him up in Bravo’s rubber guard.
That may not be what he encounters, but it’s best to be prepared, anyway.
When he steps into Nationwide Arena, it will be almost three years to the day since his father Randy Couture beat Tim Sylvia to recapture the heavyweight title at UFC 68. Back then, the younger Couture was just having his first grappling match with the challenges inherent to the sport. On Saturday, he’ll enter the cage a far more seasoned competitor.
But make no mistake about it – this challenge may be his toughest.
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