Natural comeback

JOSE RODRIGUEZ

, Last Updated: 9:21 AM ET

Cage rust? What cage rust?

Nearly 15 months have passed since Randy "The Natural" Couture was in a real fight.

The question of what effect such a long absence has had on the 45-year-old MMA legend is as unavoidable as daylight at noon.

But Couture says he'll have less cobwebs to shake than most people think.

"I've been very active with Forrest (Griffin) and some of the other guys at Xtreme Couture," says Couture, who takes on Brock Lesnar for the heavyweight crown next Saturday at UFC 91 in Las Vegas.

"The sparring that we do and the training that we do is just about as real the fight."

Couture abruptly quit the UFC in October 2007, citing a lack of respect, pay and the fight club's inability to sign Russian Fedor Emelianenko -- then considered by Couture the only opponent that made sense for him.

Couture came back to the UFC two months ago, saying the disagreement was water under the bridge, though he still covets a fight with Emelianenko. UFC brass have said they will do their best to bring in the Russian.

Before that, Couture must get through Lesnar, who has been explosive in his two Octagon outings.

Couture last fought in August 2007, but has cornered many of his fighters -- including light heavyweight champ Griffin -- and has prepared numerous other fighters.

Despite being the first man to hold titles in two weight classes, Couture returns to the Octagon as the underdog -- something he's not concerned about.

"I'm not a gambler," says Couture. "None of that stuff means anything to me."

DEFIED THE ODDS

In any case, Couture has defied oddsmakers throughout his 12-year MMA career. Couture was never supposed to beat the likes of Vitor Belfort, Chuck Liddell and Tim Sylvia.

Even Lesnar says there's no way Couture is a long shot.

"I wouldn't consider Randy an underdog," says the former pro wrestler. "Randy's a world-class athlete."

But Lesnar also says that Couture has never faced anyone like him.

"I don't feel threatened," says the behemoth Lesnar, who cut weight to make the 265-lb. heavyweight max.

If the fight goes into the late rounds, Lesnar says his conditioning will eclipse Couture's.

"I've got to push around 230 pounds and Randy has to push around 270 pounds."

Couture says he's brought in a few freaks of nature to emulate Lesnar's size for training and he's no stranger to facing off against larger opponents.

"I've fought with plenty of guys with Brock's size," says Couture. "Both my last two fights (against Sylvia and Gabriel Gonzaga) have been with guys that were bigger than me by at least 25 pounds."

Lesnar says there's no comparison: "Tim and Gonzaga aren't half the athlete I am."

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ON THE CARD

FUTURE FIGHTS AND EVENTS

- UFC 91 goes next Saturday from the MGM Grand in Las Vegas featuring Randy Couture defending his heavyweight belt against Brock Lesnar. Available on pay-per-view.

- UFC Fight Night 16: Fight for the Troops goes Dec. 10 from the Fort Bragg Military Base in Fayetteville, N.C. Main events feature Josh Koscheck taking on Yoshiyuki Yoshida and Jonathan Goulet vs. Mike Swick. Will be broadcast on Spike TV.

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IN THIS CORNER

ANTONIO RODRIGO NOGUEIRA, MIXED MARTIAL ARTS

Takes a lickin' and keeps 'em submittin' (has 19 among his 31 wins) ... Known for taking a pounding for rounds only to isolate a limb and pull off a submission, this Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt is the interim UFC heavyweight champ ... First made his mark in Pride Fighting Championship ... Has beaten the likes of Crocop, Josh Barnett and Dan Henderson, and been called the best ground fighter in the world ... Currently a coach of Season 8 of The Ultimate Fighter and will take on opposing coach, Frank Mir, next month.


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