MMA: Yarovoy stuns Couture

THE BELLINGHAM HERALDMarch 27, 2009 

Chris Vonweller is punched by Tom Stewart during a mixed martial art fight hosted by Fight Night Entertainment and the West Coast Fight Club at the Bellingham Sportsplex on Friday, March 27, 2009. Stewart won the bout by referee stopage.

KATIE BARNES — THE BELLINGHAM HERALD

BELLINGHAM - Before Ryan Couture became the future prince of Mixed-Martial-Arts fighting he was a bank teller in Bellingham with a math degree from Western Washington University, a world-famous father and a sense that something was missing from his life.

It seems that when you grow up a Couture, working a white-collar job just isn't very satisfying when you could be throwing a reverse choke hold on somebody and wringing the life out of them in front of few thousand people.

"I was working at a bank and I just decided I wanted to do something different," said the soft-spoken Couture on Thursday, March 26, while munching on a protein bar at West Coast Fight Club in Bellingham. "I had been training here (in Bellingham) and my dad had opened some gyms in Las Vegas that were just blowing up and they needed some help so I moved out there to help him and try MMA. As far as the fighting goes, it hasn't hurt that my last name is Couture."

Couture's bright future in the sport might have dimmed a little on Friday, March 27. Couture lost his first career MMA amateur bout, falling to Bellingham's Elisey Yarovoy by decision in the 155-pound main event bout at "Fight Night 2" at the Bellingham Sportsplex in from of more than 1,000 fans.

Yarovoy, Couture's former training and sparring partner, won two of the three rounds and landed several heavy blows with both his fists and his feet in the win. Yarovoy improved to 2-1 with the victory and picked up Fight Night Entertainment's lightweight title.

Couture's fight against Yarovoy was one of 11 held at the Sportsplex on Friday. The fight card included fighters from Whatcom County, Skagit County, California, Nevada and British Columbia. Other fighters from the area winning their bouts included West Coast Fight Club members Jimmy Sorrentino, Tom Stewart, Will Byars and John Keay. Ricky Perez of Ferndale's Double Action Training Academy also won his fight.

In the event's other main event, WCFC's Harrison Bevens pushed his amateur record to 3-0 with a decision over Jason Crawford of Kalahi Martial Arts Academy of Mount Vernon.

The impact of an early loss like this will have on Couture's career is tough to say, but it likely won't slow his rise through the MMA ranks. Couture, 26, made his amateur debut five months ago at the first "Fight Night" in Bellingham in November and won his second fight in February in Las Vegas, a little more than a year after leaving Whatcom County.

If all goes well in the next few months, Couture plans to pick up five or six more amateur bouts and then turn professional sometime early next year. In the meantime he's a manager at Extreme Couture, a gym in Las Vegas where he trains with some of the best in the sport. His father, Randy Couture, a multiple-time Ultimate Fighting Championship heavyweight title holder and widely considered the most well-known figure in the world of MMA, was also at the fight on Friday.

"Training with the best in the sport like I do in Las Vegas has certainly helped me have the success I've had so far," Couture said. "More than anything it gives me confidence when I get in there because I know that I've been learning from people who are at the top of the sport. I know it's an opportunity that not everybody has. I'm sure there are some people trying to come up in the sport who resent me for that, but it's something I never take for granted."

Couture moved frequently in his youth before settling in the Seattle area in the sixth grade. In high school he wrestled for Woodinville, but was never the dominant force that some might expect from someone whose father was an Olympic caliber wrestler before turning to MMA. Couture's highest finish at the state wrestling tournament was a third-place medal as a senior in the 135-pound class.

Having a father who helped make MMA a billion-dollar industry and one of the fastest rising sports in the nation doesn't necessarily mean Couture was raised for the sport. His father didn't push sports on him as a youth, he said. Nor did he play a big role in steering him to MMA now.

"My dad never pushed it on me," Couture said. "He didn't want to be that kind of guy. He let me know he was there to help if I wanted it. Even now his schedule is so busy we don't train together that often. I sparred with him for the first time about a month ago and that was kind of fun because the whole gym stopped to watch. We were kickboxing. I did OK. I think I held my own. I just tried to cover up and not take anything too big."

At 5-foot-10 and slightly more than 150 pounds, Ryan Couture hardly has the cartoonish physique of his father, Randy, who stands 6-foot-1 and fights at around 220 pounds. To this point, though, Ryan's lanky build has been a benefit to him in the ring. In MMA, fighters are paired as close to their own weights as possible, similar to boxing.

"I'm pretty lean and lanky," Couture said. "So far I've had a height advantage in my fights because there are not a lot of guys who are my height fighting at my weight. It's something that I think really helped in my first fight because I had a pretty big reach advantage."

Though Couture won his first two fights with choke holds, he has been working in recent months to improve his kickboxing skills. He is still more comfortable with the wrestling aspects of the sport at this stage in his career, but becoming a more complete fighter is something he knows he has to do if he is going to be successful as a professional.

In MMA all types of martial arts are legal during a fight and the participants train in everything from Greco-Roman style wrestling, to Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, to kickboxing, and anything else in between. The sport was nearly derailed in the 1990s because of regulation issues at the federal and state levels, but better safety standards have been put into place since then and the sport has exploded in popularity over the last decade.

"I think when MMA was just starting, there were fighters who were very skilled at a particular way of fighting and they could get away with it and have success," Couture said. "That's changing now. Those guys are starting to get phased out of the sport. If you don't have some ability in every style you're not going to last very long."

Couture has seen the changes the sport has endured first hand. When his father started in 1997 it was a fringe sport at best that was viewed by many as too violent and dangerous. It still has its detractors, but most experts agree that it has surpassed boxing in popularity and it continues to grow in the U.S. and abroad.

"It has been strange seeing how it's changed," Couture said. "When my dad started, nobody really knew him or anything about MMA and now he's a household name. He can't walk down the street now without getting recognized and being mobbed by people."

Ryan Couture caught a small taste of that level of fame when his second fight was held in Las Vegas, one of the epicenters of the sport. Like his other fights, Couture's bout was the main event, but unlike his more low-key debut in Bellingham, posters with his face were put up around the city and he drew the attention of the major media that follows MMA. For those who want to see that bout it can be found on YouTube.

"It was kind of weird seeing my face on posters," Couture said. "I know they were just using my name to promote the event, and I kind of knew what to expect because my step-mom does MMA and she went through it when she fought in Las Vegas, but it's still different to deal with. I did a lot of interviews before that fight. I'm still getting used to it. I'm just trying to treat it all like practice for the next level if I'm able to have that kind of success in my career."

As for reaching his dad's level of fame in the sport, Ryan Couture is skeptical. Of course he wants success, but achieving it on the same level as his famous father isn't really why he got into MMA in the first place.

"Of course I want to make a name for myself," Couture said. "But it's not like I'm all about getting out of my dad's shadow. I'm proud of what he's done in this sport. He's accomplished so much I don't even think it's really possible for me to get out from under that shadow. I just want to do well and put on a good show."

Reach Joe Sunnen at joe.sunnen@bellinghamherald.com or 756-2862.

Reach JOE SUNNEN at joe.sunnen@bellinghamherald.com or call 756-2862.

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