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Randy Couture hasn’t stepped in the Octagon since his retirement more than a decade ago, yet still remains one of MMA’s most recognizable faces. His Hall of Fame achievements include his legendary battles with icons Chuck Liddell and Tito Ortiz, becoming the first UFC fighter to win both the light-heavyweight and heavyweight championships, and leading the charge to usher in a 205-pound division, to name just a few.
“I was working out at Unbreakable [Performance Center], and finishing the workout and feeling like crap,” Couture said on a recent episode of Reps. “I just couldn’t stop sweating and had this weird ache. I’ve popped my ribs before, so I thought I popped a rib somehow in the workout.”
Couture immediately did what came, well, natural to him—he tried foam-rolling out the pain. After heading home and downing a recovery drink, he immediately vomited. That was the warning sign he needed, and he and his girlfriend quickly walked to the hospital. Once he was hooked up to an EKG, he says, “All hell broke loose.” It was confirmed he was having a heart attack.
“Damn, it’s a bitch getting old, ain’t it?” Couture first thought. “I’m like, on a foam roller trying to roll out my rib and I’m having a heart attack.”
It was soon discovered Couture had a blood clot in his diagonal artery. They were able to clear it out and place a stint to keep the artery open, but doctors informed him that had he arrived a half an hour later, he would’ve died.
“Sometimes, until something breaks or happens, you don’t really know that you need to pay more attention,” he says. “So obviously I have to stay on top of this blood thing. I also had a car accident, or altercation back in ’94 in Oregon and I fractured some ribs and punctured a lung and they think I probably did some damage to that main artery. So there’s some scar tissue and plaque there.”
Having gone through the scare, Couture is a lot smarter these days when it comes to training, focusing mainly on strength and conditioning while mixing in some light sparring.
He’s remained connected to professional fighting, providing his expertise as a color commentator for the Professional Fighters League (PFL), whose PFL Championship will be held New Year’s Eve at Madison Square Garden. Couture is also a fan of the league’s business model as it pits the best fighters against one another, and requires some to win two playoff bouts in one night to compete for the championship.
“You kind of get to follow a fighter through this journey in these five fights and see who wins the championship,” he says. “And you get to know them, whether you’re cheering for them or rooting against them, you still kind of get to know these guys.”
That’s not all Couture has going on — he also expects to begin shooting in the spring for the fourth installment of The Expendables series. His adrenaline-packed days of competing professionally are over, but shooting for the series does give him a chance to mix it up.
“He’s a big, tall guy. Long, rangy,” Couture said. “[You] better figure out how to get past that range of exchanges and see if he could stop a double leg in a hurry. Or he’s going to pose some very significant problems for you. There may be stitches in your near future.”
While most things on set are controlled, trying to choreograph a former professional fighter’s instinct can be as difficult as being in the ring with them.
“I ran Jet Li over in Cradle 2 the Grave, Couture says. “In our one fight scene, I literally mowed him over. He didn’t get out of the way. I thought the director was going to lose his mind that I just ran over the star of his movie but he’s like, ‘Oh, I’m not a fighter. I’m a martial artist.'”
Outside of his day-to-day work, Couture is seeking more opportunities to showcase himself outside of just his physicality. Platforms such as Dancing with the Stars, Lip Sync Battle and Whose Line is it Anyway have afforded him those opportunities and has helped him reach new fan bases. But as his nature was during his professional career, he wants more.
“Most people don’t know I write poetry,” he says. “Most people don’t know I have a degree in foreign language and literature. All they know is that guy that walked up in the cage and punched people in the face. So developing more fans, a bigger fan base, letting people see those other sides of you.”