Review of “Becoming the Natural: My Life in and out of the Cage”

Chapter One of Randy Couture's autobiography sets the mood in the classic action mould. Just as "I am Jackie Chan" it starts with a moment that defines the public view of him. It's Couture's third match against a fighter that the world of mixed martial arts has slated as his arch nemesis, Chuck "The Iceman" Liddell. Back in 2006 this was the decider match with each man having claimed a fight a piece. Couture was also facing other opponents, ones that he had faced through most of his career, his doubters. And this is the thrust of the book. Perhaps key to Randy Couture's appeal – and he is possibly the most popular MMA fighter in the history of the Ultimate Fighting Championship – is his regular casting as the underdog.

Randy Couture's ring nickname "The Natural" is quite ironic when the man considers himself to be anything but a naturally gifted person. He acknowledges certain aspects of his upbringing, being a sporty kid who always enjoyed outdoor activities, but he regularly found that people underestimated him. Couture sees every inch of his success to be down to fighting against the odds and expectations of others, hence the "Becoming" part in the book's title. He lost out four times on not representing his country in the US wrestling team only to accidentally stumble on the newly emerging professional sport of mixed martial arts. However, Couture entered the sport when it seemed the reign of the wrestler was over as better evolved strikers were beginning to dominate. "The Natural" would term expectation on its head as he explained how he evolved his own tactics and methods, which would serve to further develop MMA. As time went on Couture's advancing age would be called into question, especially as he began to lose. And yet he would come back again and again, eventually winning five world titles with the UFC.

The book takes us through all of Couture's life at a medium pace, which will suit the mainstream reader. We get enough depth into his personal life as we do with his fighting methodology, a balance that might be down to the careful steering of his ghost writer, Loretta Hunt. Regardless of who gets the credit for the book's structure, Couture's candour and willingness to admit his own mistakes lifts it above just about any MMA biography I have read to date. However, this alone doesn't make it a compelling read. We are in an age now where celebrities have an entire industry out of laying their personal lives bare and if we want a self-reflective willingness to admit one's own faults we have only to look at some of the better "True Crime" autobiographies. No, what really gives "Becoming the Natural" the edge is the way Couture and Hunt do their best not to use hindsight until after an event has been described. Most crucially when Couture describes his preparation for a fight and takes us through the build-up he gives little indication as to whether or not he will win it, which provides a much more realistic insight into the psyche of a fighter. His mistakes are noted after the event and they are refreshingly free of excuses.

Couture also doesn't seem to pull punches in his appraisal of leading figures in the MMA industry. This is evident both in his discussions about his business relationship with the partners of his first gym and with the likes of Dana White, arguably the saviour of MMA but at times Couture's bitterest opponent outside the cage.

The book is an easy and engaging read without feeling like it lacks much substance given the subject material. "Becoming the Natural" includes an appendix of Randy Couture's fight record both during his time as an amateur wrestler and as a professional fighter.

HNL Publishing really seems to be making some serious mainstream inroads in the fight and health world. I have watched how this small UK publishing house began with martial arts training manuals and quickly began to pick up some big names inside the martial arts world. Today they are picking more and more top names in the sports and leisure industries. They have reproduced an attractive UK edition of Couture's book with good quality paper, including a section of glossy black and white photographs in the book's centre. My only issue – and it is a very small niggle – is with the UK editing. I have been told that it is standard practice, but I don't feel there is much need to change American spelling to English spelling. Colloquial phrases like "arse" instead of "ass", for example, do not need to be changed, given that Couture is an American and it is the way he would pronounce the word. Furthermore, this editing isn't consistent as the American spelling for mum remains the same throughout. To my knowledge only people from Birmingham in the UK spell it "Mom". But, as I said, these are pernickety criticisms and it just goes to show how little I found wrong with this book.

MMA fans will certainly not be let down, but this is a book that offers far more for your buck than the usual boastful alpha male or pseudo-spiritual warrior rubbish that is being regular spewed out down the isles of your local chain newsagent. Couture's book comes across as a refreshing, self-reflective, insightful and honest account of a much loved star of a rapidly growing new sport.

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