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Randy Couture calls Lesnar-Velasquez an even matchup at UFC 121

October 22, 2010 |  3:34 pm

Picking a winner for Saturday’s UFC 121 heavyweight title bout between champion Brock Lesnar and Cain Velasquez has split experts firmly down the middle.

Six-time UFC champion Randy Couture is also on the fence. Couture, known for his astute observations and predictions, calls the matchup between Division I wrestlers a dead heat.

“This fight could go either way,” said Couture, 47, who will attend Saturday’s event at the Honda Center in Anaheim. “Velasquez has shown some tremendous tools. He doesn’t seem to get tired. For a big guy, he’s very quick and agile.”

Couture noted that Velasquez’s wrestling pedigree -- the 28-year-old San Jose resident was a two-time All-American for Arizona State University -- could negate, or at least slow down, Lesnar’s strong-suit takedowns.

Lesnar also earned top-eight status two times for the University of Minnesota and was a 2000 NCAA heavyweight champion.

“In my own experience, when I faced other wrestlers, it’s always been a tough fight,” said the four-time Olympic wrestling alternate.

Support for Velasquez has also swelled because Lesnar, 33, had issues with opponent Shane Carwin’s striking at UFC 116 last July in Las Vegas. Carwin grounded Lesnar with punches and seemed on his way to a first-round TKO stoppage, but the one-time WWE superstar weathered through and earned a second-round submission to unify the promotion’s heavyweight titles.  

Still, fans and media alike are wondering how the champion will handle the undefeated Velasquez’s standup attack.

“I think now after surviving that and finding a way to win the fight he’s made friends with it, because I don’t think he’s too keen to get punched in the face,” said Couture. “How you respond to that is key, and he didn’t respond very well to it in that first round. Velasquez is a much more refined striker, a much more refined athlete [than Carwin]. I think Brock will have his hands full.”

However, Lesnar’s physicality cannot be ignored. Though he’s leaned out slightly from a healthier diet brought on by his battle with diverticulitis last year, Lesnar’s wide 6-foot-3, 265-pound frame will give him a reach and size advantage over Velasquez, who weighed in at 244 pounds on Friday. And as the biggest athlete to grace that division, Lesnar still moves with uncharacteristic speed.

“Brock’s a big, strong athlete. I think early on, he’s going to be very dangerous,” said Couture, who lost his title to Lesnar at UFC 91 in November 2008 and has been one of a select few to train with him in Alexandria, Minn. “He has the ability to take Velasquez down and get on top of him and damage him.”

But Couture said the later the bout goes, the more the scales could tip in Velasquez’s favor.

“I think that’s going to be the key for Velasquez –- trying to make Lesnar expend energy, kick him and choose his opportunities to score and get it into the later rounds,” Couture said. “It will be interesting to see if Lesnar will be able to keep up with the pace that Velasquez tries to set.”

-- Loretta Hunt