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Couture says fight was stopped fairly

Pugmire is a Times staff writer.

Brock Lesnar’s second-round technical knockout Saturday of Ultimate Fighting Championship veteran Randy Couture delivered the widely seen adrenaline shot that organization executives anticipated.

But as Couture fell to the canvas, some casual fans of mixed martial arts may have wondered why Lesnar was allowed to pounce atop Couture, hold him down and then deliver more than 30 punches to the 45-year-old’s head before being awarded a technical knockout.

While MMA has made significant strides in attracting a growing audience and adopting safety rules that have put the sport under regulation in states including Nevada, California, Illinois and New Jersey, there remains lingering criticism of the sport’s violent edges years after boxing fan Sen. John McCain dismissed MMA as “human cockfighting.”

McCain’s home state, Arizona, didn’t permit professional MMA fights until September, and New York still bans the sport.

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“When I see stuff like that, it looks like nothing more than a tough man contest,” said Todd duBoef, president of boxing promotion company Top Rank, who attended the Lesnar-Couture fight. “There’s no way it’s safer than boxing.”

UFC President Dana White said referee Mario Yamasaki’s handling of the punishment in the Lesnar-Couture fight neared the “fine line” that allows a proud champion time to rally without suffering potential neurological damage. White said he worried Yamasaki had “crossed that line” when Couture first tried to get up after the TKO and sank briefly downward.

Couture, reached by telephone Monday, said he “felt a little dizzy and wanted to wait a minute” in the ring after suffering the loss.

But he defended Yamasaki and said the referee handled the knockdown appropriately. Couture wondered “what the big deal is . . . I’ve seen worse things. In my first fight with Pedro Rizzo, I hit him for over a minute, pretty solid, I punched myself out when I realized the ref wasn’t going to stop it. The ref [John McCarthy] was right, Rizzo won the next round.”

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Couture said as he absorbed Lesnar’s blows Saturday night he was trying to position for a submission hold, but had no answer for the former World Wrestling Entertainment star’s 45-pound advantage.

“The rules of engagement allow you to punch your opponent when you’re on the ground, and nothing Brock did on the ground was that dramatic. I don’t have a stitch on my face, all my bruises are gone, I wasn’t unconscious. I was doing my best to recover. . . . Mario did exactly what he should have,” Couture said.

Nevada State Athletic Commission Executive Officer Keith Kizer, who sat ringside, said he thought the bout was handled properly.

“When these guys are on the ground, they don’t have the leverage to really punch as hard as when they’re upright,” Kizer said. “It doesn’t mean those punches don’t cause damage, but I saw Mario was right there watching. He can hear any grunts or groans, or heavy breathing that would indicate a guy’s in real trouble, and he can watch the eyes.”

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Lesnar said he did wonder when Yamasaki was going to call off the fight, but kept punching because Couture had twice earlier escaped underneath his grasp that night.

“You have to give a guy like Randy more of the benefit of doubt,” Kizer said. “He’s been around long enough to know that if he was in real trouble he would’ve tapped. This sport is not anything goes anymore. Mario was observant, and he stopped it when he should have.”

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lance.pugmire@latimes.com

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