Let’s be honest. In this world, it isn’t necessarily what you know, it’s who you know. Having a big last name or connections to someone who is a higher-up will help immensely in this world of ours. I’ve experienced this firsthand in my own life. I received my summer job while I was in college through a connection of mine. There likely were hundreds of people that were more qualified than I was for the job, but I didn’t even have to go in and interview. I was fortunate enough to walk in and have the job given to me. It was a classic case of knowing the right people.

In the world of mixed martial arts, it is really no different. Your last name or your connections will take you a long way. There are names, such as that of the Gracie family, that still resonate. It has been 20 years since Royce Gracie won the first-ever UFC event, but members of his family are still competing at the highest level of the sport. Some of them are legitimate contenders and can hold their own, but some of them have been afforded big opportunities from promotions simply because of their last name.

Even though he was recently released from the UFC, fighter Ryan Couture serves as another great example of this scenario. Couture is the son of the legendary Randy Couture, who has nearly every credential imaginable to his name, including five championships and a UFC Hall of Fame induction, to name a few. Ryan’s entry into the same sport in which his father excelled came as little surprise. The way was more or less paved for him.

His early success in the sport had two major parts to it. First, his name was able to get him in the door, and second, he was winning. For Joe Average on the street to try to drop everything in his life and start training MMA, it would be difficult. For someone like Couture, it meant a phone call to his father and a flight to dad’s Xtreme Couture gym, one of the top gyms in the country. What was dad supposed to do, say no to his son? Tell him he would need to train elsewhere to earn his keep in the gym?

Ryan’s amateur career was a success. He went 5-1-1 in seven fights. Considering he was training at one of the world’s top gyms, it isn’t much of a surprise that he was able to amass a great amateur record, which likely caught the eye of many promotions when it became time for him to turn professional.

It wasn’t shocking that Strikeforce came calling for the prospect. The question at that point was whether it was his amateur record that sent him straight to one of the best promotions at the time, or was it the last name. Randy had been on a streak of his own in the Octagon and was headed into a bout with James Toney as Ryan prepared for his professional debut. Strikeforce CEO Scott Coker surely enjoyed having a strong amateur fighter with a big name on his card.

During his time with the now-defunct promotion, Ryan went 6-1, progressing and defeating stronger and stronger opponents with each victory. He was growing as a fighter and making the most of the opportunity that he was granted. But his last name was in the headlines for different reasons. While his dad was in the Hall of Fame and was a UFC icon, he never had the strongest relationship with the people running the business side of the promotion. “The Natural” had more or less broken all ties with the UFC, signing a deal with Bellator and Viacom to coach on the promotion’s reality television show, Fight Master.

All of a sudden, that last name that helped propel him to the heights that he achieved was a curse. Strikeforce had been purchased by Zuffa, and select fighters from the roster were to be brought over to fight in the Octagon. The rocky relationship between his father and the UFC meant that the fate of the 6-1 fighter that was on a roll as a professional was up in the air. His chance to compete in the Octagon wasn’t guaranteed, and may have even been compromised by the tension between Randy and UFC President Dana White.

Ryan was indeed brought over, but there were stipulations that were in place. Despite being Ryan’s father and a member of the fight team with which Ryan trained, Randy was barred from the backstage areas and not allowed to corner his son. Whether it was the lack of “The Natural’s” presence or that the competition was too stiff, or even that he wilted under the lights of the big show, Ryan went 0-2 with the promotion and was released after his fight in August.

Where the young fighter goes from here is unknown. The best thing he has going for him is that he has options, particularly because of his name. While he was able to turn himself into a solid fighter, his last name will supersede his abilities. Promotions like World Series of Fighting have signed UFC castoffs Jon Fitch, Yushin Okami and Anthony Johnson. Adding the name Couture to its roster would be a move that could catch the eye of the casual fan. Bellator could be a good option for Ryan as well, based on the established relationship his father has with that company.

There is just one thing left for Ryan to do, and that is to continue winning. If he truly wants to move forward and become relevant beyond his last name, he must find continued success inside the cage. He hasn’t done anything to the extent of Paul Daley or Rousimar Palhares to get himself booted and banned from the UFC. Thus far, the door is still open for an eventual return. It would be hard for Dana White and company to not bring him back if he goes off and wins over and over again with other promotions.

Sure, White and “The Natural” have a beef with one another, but that isn’t the issue here. There’s really only one thing Ryan needs to do if he wants to get back to the big show. The formula is easy: Win.

Photo: Ryan Couture (Ryan O’Leary/Sherdog)

About The Author

Brian McKenna
Staff Writer

Brian McKenna was born and raised in the suburbs of Boston, Massachusetts. A sports nut from as long as he can remember, he came to be a fan of Mixed Martial Arts from a roommate watching The Ultimate Fighter while attending Westfield State College. Brian came to writing by starting his own blog, Four Down Territory, which focuses on Boston based sports, life, and of course MMA.