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Full Tilt adds muscle with Couture
Gambling, violence, sex: three words that do a lot to rouse the interest of the average male.
The sponsorship marriage between Full Tilt Poker and Randy "The Natural" Couture has at least two of the three covered.
The 45-year-old Couture is a five-time Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) champion, with titles in both the light heavyweight and heavyweight divisions. He is now being called a "friend" of Full Tilt Poker, joining the ranks of other noted UFC fighters such as Mike "Quick" Swick and Matt Hughes.
Couture's new status with Full Tilt appears to be part of a bigger trend which is seeing athletes of all sorts, including NHL hockey great Mats Sundin, take on roles with major online poker rooms.
In 2007, Couture walked away from the UFC in an attempt to get a fight with the man largely considered to be the best heavyweight MMA fighter in the world, Russian Fedor Emelianenko.
"As you all know, we've had problems with Randy over the last few months, but we've got them all worked out now. Randy has always been our heavyweight champion," said UFC President Dana White when Couture rejoined the UFC after a layoff of more than a year.
"I think a lot of compromises were made on both sides," said Couture. "But we're both ready to try and move forward. We've cleared the air and we're both in different places than we were a year ago. Spending the last year in legal fights is not some place that I've had a very good time."
Couture returned to the octagon last Saturday to face former World Wrestling Entertainment heavyweight champion Brock Lesnar.
Watching what was dubbed by some as the biggest fight in Mixed Martial Arts history, fans, many of whom were probably playing poker at the same time, couldn't help but notice that Couture was branded by Full Tilt from head to toe.
Gone are the T-shirts of Couture's former sponsor Affliction; in their place is Full Tilt Poker's ubiquitous inverted triangle. Couture and Affliction are now locked in a bitter dispute that's taken a very personal and now legal tone.
"Randy, if you're listening right now, I hope Lesnar kills you," Affliction CEO Todd Beard told reporters before the Championship fight.
"I really don't understand where Todd Beard's coming from in his attack to me, my wife, and my attorney [...]," said Couture.
"He feels there's this adversarial relationship created and I just don't get it. It's gone beyond kind of the antics of being a promoter, so we'll see how all that unfolds, and where the relationship stands, and where we end up with that down the road. Frankly, it's a bunch of crap and I don't need anymore crap in my life."
All of that conflict opened the door for Full Tilt, and the company appears to be taking advantage of the chance to place itself front and center in what is the fastest-growing spectator sport in the world. Unfortunately, it was a bad beat that was waiting for Couture in his first fight in his new sponsor's duds.
Couture was the victim of Lesnar's toaster-sized fists, finished by the Minnesota Mixed Martial Arts Academy product after being caught behind the ear and then pounded on until the referee wisely stopped the fight.
"I think the thing that surprised me the most and I don't think I was prepared for, which is always an issue with any fighter, is figuring out that range," Couture told Sherdog.com reporters after the fight.
"He's got ten inches of reach on me and I didn't anticipate that. I didn't think of that. I didn't know that little tidbit of information that his reach is what it was."
Couture was also spotted wearing his Full Tilt duds in the lead-up to the fight on mainstream television shows such as The Best Damn Sports Show Period.
This has many fans of both mixed martial arts and poker wondering if the U.S. Department of Justice is finally starting to lay off the multibillion dollar global poker industry. Let's hope so.