UNIVERSAL CITY, Calif. — Randy Couture and Fedor Emelianenko have finally met in the octagon. They just did it with Xbox controllers in their fists.
Two of the biggest stars in mixed martial arts actually doubt they’ll ever get the chance to trade blows outside of their new video game.
Couture and Emelianenko made a rare joint appearance Tuesday to promote EA Sports’ first MMA game, duelling in pixels under a tent on a rainy day at Universal CityWalk. For the record, Emelianenko won their virtual showdown, stopping Couture early in the first round with a slick takedown and a ground-and-pound finish.
“My son beats me at video games, my girlfriend beats me, and now Fedor beats me,” Couture said with a laugh. “Either I need to take this more seriously or stop doing it.”
Both veteran MMA stars still hold a bit of hope they’ll someday get in the octagon to face each other in perhaps the sport’s biggest what-if? fight, but that hope fades weekly. The 47-year-old Couture has tried for years to land a bout with the former Russian soldier who was essentially undefeated until his upset loss to Fabricio Werdum in June.
Couture even attempted to leave the UFC in 2007 and then returned to the sport’s dominant promotion, both times figuring his moves gave him a better chance of facing Emelianenko. The Russian has fought for seemingly every promotion except the UFC, which won’t agree to his management’s demands to co-promote his bouts.
Couture could only chuckle at the idea his only fight with Emelianenko might be a video-game battle in the middle of a gaudy outdoor shopping mall next to a theme park.
“It’s very American, very capitalistic,” Couture said.
“I came to terms with it a few years back that we might never get over these obstacles. Fedor is just such a good guy, though. I love being around him. I would love to test myself against him in the cage, but I can’t afford to sit around waiting for what might have been. Not at my age.”
Emelianenko also would love to land a fight with Couture, an MMA pioneer and the UFC’s first two-division champion.
“Since we can’t face each other in a real fight, we’ll do it for now in a game,” Emelianenko said through a translator.
Although his acting career increasingly is overtaking his MMA aspirations, Couture is still associated with the UFC, most recently embarrassing boxer James Toney in August. Couture’s decision to be the cover boy for EA Sports’ game can’t please UFC president Dana White, who has been sharply critical of EA Sports over the years.
Couture relishes the role, since he has repeatedly taken stands against the UFC for fighters’ rights over the past decade — all while maintaining an amicable relationship with White and the UFC, which sued him in 2008 for talking about his desire to fight Emelianenko.
“As much as the UFC has done for our sport, this is still a sport beyond them,” Couture said. “The UFC isn’t the be-all, end-all. I think it’s important to have other promotions that are successful and working, because there are a lot of great fighters out there who need somewhere to fight.”
EA Sports also is bucking years of video game history in building a sports-based title without holding a license on that sport’s industry-leading brand. The UFC has its own game, UFC Undisputed, published by THQ.
EA Sports spent nearly three years in development on its game, which has similarities to Fight Night, its successful boxing series.
“There are so many great fighters around, and we think the sport can certainly support two games,” said Dale Jackson, EA Sports MMA’s executive producer. “We’re fans, too, so we wanted to showcase the great fighters at all levels of MMA.”
Emelianenko is still smarting from his stunning loss to Werdum last June in his second bout with the Strikeforce promotion. Werdum finished Emelianenko in just 69 seconds, ending his 28-match winning streak.
When asked what he learned from the loss, Emelianenko grimaces and stares into space for a full 15 seconds before replying in short, clipped Russian: “Don’t hurry. Take your time.”
Neither Emelianenko nor Couture currently have future opponents lined up. Emelianenko is back in training and hoping to fight in late January for Strikeforce, while Couture would need a game plan from White quickly if he’s going to fight again before going off to film the sequel to Sylvester Stallone’s “The Expendables,” starting in March.
“I’m sure (the UFC) has got its agenda, and I’m open to whatever they say,” Couture said. “Right now, I’m more focused on acting, my gym, my clothing line, my supplements. I don’t have time to think about what might have been with Fedor or anybody else.”