Randy Couture isn't used to having people root against him. During his 10-year career in the UFC the man nicknamed "The Natural" and "Captain America" has been one of the biggest fan favorites in mixed martial arts. It's one of the reasons Couture took on the role of Sargon, the villain in The Scorpion King 2: Rise Of A Warrior, which is being released on DVD Aug. 19 and is the prequel to the 2002 film The Scorpian King starring Dwyane "The Rock" Johnson.
"It's odd but I like it, that's why I did this," said Couture, who is still the UFC heavyweight champion despite resigning from the company while filming the movie in South Africa last year. "I could take the little fight roles with my eyes closed but I was interested in doing more interesting characters and doing stuff that wasn't just me."
I recently caught up with Couture to talk about his acting career, his ongoing battle with the UFC and the chances of him stepping into the ring with Fedor Emelianenko by the end of the year.
SI.com: You've done some acting before in mostly bit parts, but this is your first lead role in a film. How did that come about and how did you prepare for the part?
Couture: I originally read for a much smaller role but I then got to read Sargon. A lead character in a Universal picture was really exciting for me. I was excited to get the opportunity to move up. I felt like I got stronger as we went along. Getting dressed up in the costumes and being on the set and learning to swing the big axe around helped to put me in the right frame of mind. At some level you have to find that character inside yourself. I've been around mean, nasty people plenty of times in my life and seen that first hand, so somewhere you have to find it inside yourself to relate to the character and hopefully that allows you to tell the truth to a certain degree and stay true to the role.
SI.com: Did you channel any of the opponents you've faced in the Octagon to get in character?
Couture: Nobody specifically. I had an idea of the story and an idea of the character and what he would do and I would just try to visualize and imagine myself as that person.
SI.com: I would imagine you were able to take some of the physical skills you learned in the Octagon onto the set, but do you think you'll take any of this villain character with you when you get back in the ring? Maybe you could become a bad guy like Sgt. Slaughter was for a little bit back in the day.
Couture: No, I don't think so. I definitely see the transfer from the physicality of fighting into films and having a physical presence in the movie with the fight scenes and swinging the weapons around. I'd probably have a leg up in that regard. I don't know that it will transfer back the other way. Being in front of the camera and commentating during the Ultimate Fighter made me feel comfortable. I don't get nervous about that sort of thing at all. As long as I get into the character and know my lines, I feel pretty comfortable acting and doing it in front of anybody. I don't think I'll take anything from the movie back with me the other way. Unfortunately, they don't let me swing an axe around in the Octagon.
SI.com: What did you think when you saw the movie poster? I know it was a lead role, but you're front and center and the only name on this thing.
Couture: That was really cool. It was interesting to see that they fixed my ears. I thought that was interesting. They're probably sending me a message. If I want to get bigger and better character parts I probably need think about cleaning up the ears and straightening the nose.
SI.com: You resigned from the UFC while you were filming. How did that come about?
Couture: I was in South Africa and resigned on October 11 and left my employment contract and relinquished the heavyweight title at that point. I heard that Fedor didn't sign with UFC but signed with a different organization and I had made it clear to Zuffa that the Fedor fight was the one fight that I wanted to make happen. So aside from the other differences that we had, that was the most important thing to me so that's what I'm trying to purse at this point. It wasn't as easy decision. It was something I deliberated over for a while.
SI.com: Where do you think you stand right now in terms of your MMA career?
Couture: Well, the language in [my UFC] contract is pretty clear. It's 18 months or four fights and the 18 months expired on July 19, so we're in a 30-day grace period for negotiating or re-negotiating with the UFC. If they find a way to make the Fedor fight happen, I'll be all over it, but I don't really see that happening realistically. The non-compete clause expires on Oct. 10, a year from when I resigned, and so I'll be able to go back to work commentating and working with the other promotions and getting back into the business of MMA.
SI.com: How anxious are you to get this over with and just continue with your career, whether it be with Affliction, HDNet or elsewhere?
Couture: At times it's frustrating but for the most part things work out the way they're supposed to work out. If it's supposed to be settled it will be settled. My entire life has been that way. Things have a tendency to work out exactly the way they're supposed to work out so I just have to be patient.
SI.com: You were at the Affliction show where Fedor beat Tim Sylvia in 36 seconds. You went the distance with Sylvia to win the UFC heavyweight title last year. How surprised were you with how dominant Fedor was?
Couture: Well, yeah, obviously I didn't beat Sylvia in 36 seconds. I did have a flashback when he knocked him down and got on his back. I was like, oh this looks oddly familiar. He was able to finish the choke and get the tap. He was very impressive. He's very explosive and very quick and once he had Tim hurt he jumped on him fast. So, I'm excited to see how I do. I think it looks good. Sooner or later we're going to make it happen. In some way, shape or form, in some production somewhere. I know there are obviously a lot of people that would be interested in participating in that fight, the UFC included. We'll see how it all pans out. I'm confident we'll get it done.
SI.com: Another one of the problems you had with the UFC was the compensation that the fighters get in relation to the record-breaking gates and pay-per-view buys that have made them the dominant MMA organization. Do you ever see that divide getting resolved?
Couture: I think its one of the main issues in our sport. We aren't compensated the way other professional athletes are in other sports. We are in a sport that is very, very popular and bringing in a lot of money. The fact that the UFC made $250 million last year and they paid out probably $17 million to all the fighters that fought in all the pay-per-views, that's an issue in my mind. I think there are some other issues like independent rankings, regardless of promotion or production, and loosening up the exclusivity so that the top fighters can fight each other regardless of what promotion they're signed with. That's a huge issue for me because otherwise we risk being fragmented like boxing where everybody is claiming to have the world champion. I think and am hopeful that WAMMA (World Alliance of Mixed Martial Arts) is able to pull the fighters together and create some of these things that we need as a sport.
SI.com:Tito Ortiz has also brought up the problems he has with the compensation that fighters get. Do you think having guys like you and Tito leave the UFC and talk about this will make them change their ways?
Couture: The UFC at some point will see the wisdom. I think right now the UFC sees themselves as the tip of the spear and a lot of ways rightly so. They have done a lot of things to get the sport to where it is and now it seems to them a lot of people are trying to cash in on the hard work that they've put in, but as fighters we need that competition, we need other options, we need other places we can go and fight and continue to make a living. If you can't get a fair shake from the UFC maybe one of the other organizations wants to see you compete and put you on their card. That's only going to continue to force people to pay fighters better for what they do. I think it all works out in the end. I agree with a lot of the things Tito [Ortiz] has told Dana [White]. Obviously he and Dana have a long-standing personal history and some of the valid points Tito makes get lost in the gray matter in the personal dialogue between the two of them, but I agree with a lot of the things he says.
SI.com: How much longer would you want to fight? Would this possible Fedor fight be your last fight?
Couture: I don't know. I can't place a limit on myself. I entered this thing 11 years ago taking it one fight at a time and its gotten me this far. I'm just going to take this thing one fight at a time and evaluate my performance and training and how I feel physically as I go along. Could there be more? I certainly hope there's more because I love to fight, but I'm just going to look to make the Fedor fight happen and then we'll evaluate how that goes and how I feel and what all the options are after and see what happens.
SI.com: One of your good friends, Quentin "Rampage" Jackson, was hospitalized for a mental health evaluation after being arrested on charges of felony evading, reckless driving and hit-and run last month. Have you talked to him since the incident?
Couture: I haven't talked to him and I was very surprised about that whole thing. I want to be as supportive as I can for him. At the same time I know he has a lot of people clamoring over him and on him and I want to give him his space. I think he knows that there are a few of us here that will be here for him regardless of what happens. We'll always support him and we have his back. I just hope everything turns out well and we get him on the right path and healthy and fighting again because at heart he's a warrior.
SI.com: Finally, you've been on a book tour for your autobiography, Becoming the Natural. How is that going and how has the book done so far?
Couture: It's been interesting. It wasn't something I really planned; it was just an opportunity that came along. It's doing well. I just got word that it's the No. 8 autobiography on the market right now in all genres. I guess we're just ahead of Tiger Woods. I'm sure I can't beat him at golf but maybe I can in this endeavor.