The outcome should have been obvious, don't you think? Whom would you expect to win a fight between guys named "Bam Bam" and "Fancy Pants"?
If only it were as simple as that. The guy with the tougher-sounding nickname, Pat Healy, actually had to show off some pretty fancy stuff himself -- his relentless scrambling into bold submission attempts -- in order to halt the ascension of Lyle Beerbohm, topping the previously undefeated lightweight by a close but unanimous decision in the main event of Strikeforce Challengers 14 on Friday night in the Austin suburb of Cedar Park, Texas.
It was a wildly unyielding back-and-forth battle, an intoxicating nightcap to an evening of entertaining fights that featured the attention-grabbing second professional victory by the son of a UFC Hall of Famer.
Ryan Couture and family aside, however, this night was supposed to belong to the 32-year-old Beerbohm. Ever since he took up MMA following a year in prison on a felony drug conviction, the former methamphetamine addict had been on a steady trajectory toward a title shot, having strung together 15 victories. But Healy, who at age 27 already has fought 44 times (26-17, 1 no contest), has sunk too much of himself into this sport to allow himself to be someone else's speed bump.
"I think I outworked him, out-hustled him," said Healy, who was coming in off a loss to former Strikeforce champion Josh Thomson last June but owns wins over Carlos Condit, Paul Daley and Dan Hardy. "I won the exchanges on the feet. That's where I took it."
He didn't take it by much. Beerbohm was on him from the start, and got the better of most exchanges, standing and grappling, throughout the first round. At one point "Fancy Pants" picked up Healy, put him on his shoulder and slammed him emphatically to the mat. But in the second and third rounds Healy seized control, showing superiority -- albeit slim superiority -- wherever the fight was contested, especially in grappling scrambles. Afterward he noted, "I had a couple of real close submissions."
Those sub attempts were no doubt polished by Healy's trip to Hawaii, where he got some sun, learned to surf and, oh yeah, trained with B.J. Penn. "B.J. helped me a ton," said Healy. "A couple of those rear naked-kind of modified things that I had, I learned from him. He taught me how to train like a champ and act like one."
What will he be training for next? Healy wants the winner of the March 5 fight between another unbeaten, Billy Evangelista (11-0, 1 NC), and 20-6 Jorge Masvidal. Those two fighters probably have a bunch of things in common, but Pat Healy is interested in only one: They both beat his twin brother, Ryan. "Being a proud Irishman," he said, "I want that revenge for the family."
Ryan Couture knows all about the importance of protecting the family name. With his dad working his corner in a just-short-of-Brock-Lesnar-thick beard, the 28-year-old controlled but could not dominate Lee Higgins, finally handing the Houston lightweight (2-1) his first loss by sinking in a rear naked choke with just 19 seconds left in the final round.
"Tough as nails," Couture said of Higgins, who fought off submissions in all three rounds. "He was hand-fighting me like crazy. I wore out both of my forearms; I can hardly ball up my fists. But I'm real glad I was finally able to get him there at the end."
For the better part of three rounds, Couture attacked from all angles. He threw punches from orthodox stance. He threw them as a southpaw. He threw more leg kicks in just under 15 minutes than Randy Couture has thrown in a 14-year career. OK, that might be a slight exaggeration, but it's safe to say that Ryan's victory came about, ironically, as a direct result of him doing something Randy surely wouldn't: He made a rookie mistake.
There was about 2½ minutes left in the third round when Couture started to throw a leg kick, saw a counter right hand coming and pulled back the kick by turning away. This left his back exposed, and Higgins seized the advantage. With Higgins having won both of his previous bouts by rear naked choke, this was a dangerous position for Couture to be in. But as they grappled on their feet against the cage, Couture freed himself from his opponent's grip and, rather than pulling away, went on the counterattack. He took Higgins down and ended up in control from behind. Then he spent most of the fight's final two minutes trying to secure the rear naked, with Higgins fending him off until just seconds were left on the clock.
That suited the younger Couture just fine. He'd won his first pro fight in just over a minute, so he didn't mind getting in more work inside the cage. "I just want to continue to pursue a comfort level," said Ryan, the spotlight all his in the aftermath, his famous father keeping to the background. "I think getting almost 15 minutes in here tonight was a big help."