Randy Couture made his mixed martial arts debut in front of a little over 5,000 fans in Augusta, Georgia. Nearly 14 years later, he will fight for the final time in front of 55,000 in Torontoís Rogers Centre. What a journey itís been for the Hall of Famer, who said during a media teleconference Tuesday that he will retire from active competition following his UFC 129 bout against Lyoto Machida on April 30th.
ďI want to go out on my terms and decide when enough is enough, and I think that time is come,Ē said Couture, whose career began at UFC 13 in 1997 with back-to-back wins over Tony Halme and Steven Graham. ďIíve had a great camp, everything is spot on, I canít wait until next week. Itís a fight Iíve been looking forward to for a long time, and itís finally gonna happen. But itís time to focus on the other things Iíve got going on in my life after this fight.Ē
Couture, the sportís ageless wonder at 47, has done practically everything a fighter could do over the course of his career, winning three heavyweight and two light heavyweight titles while facing a Whoís Who of the sport that includes Chuck Liddell (three times), Vitor Belfort (three times), Kevin Randleman, Maurice Smith, Tim Sylvia, Josh Barnett, Ricco Rodriguez, Pedro Rizzo (twice), Tito Ortiz, Brock Lesnar, Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, Gabriel Gonzaga, and Mark Coleman.
What may be even more amazing though is that after a one year retirement following his 2006 loss to Liddell, Couture returned at the age of 43 to regain the heavyweight title and compile a 5-2 record that includes three consecutive wins over Brandon Vera, Coleman, and James Toney. This time around, Couture says, the circumstances are much different than when he left the sport the first time.
ďI went through an awful divorce and a lot of things stacked up,Ē he said. ďI needed the break to kinda let the dust settle and get back to feeling like me and get back to training and all those other things. Itís a lot different now Ė Iím perfectly content, Iím happy, and my life couldnít be going any better.Ē
And as heís quick to point out, being close to 50 hasnít played into his decision at all.
ďThat was one of the things that I struggled with because I am as healthy as ever,Ē said Couture. ďI feel great and I absolutely have the ability to continue to compete at this level. But I donít want to wait until I have those issues to think about and weigh into training camp or a fight. I donít want to wait until I have that injury and have doctors telling me Ďhey look, you canít fight anymore.íĒ
He will certainly be going out on a high note, as he will finish his storied career with the type of fight he always wants Ė one against a world-class foe with a hard to decipher style. Thatís what heís getting in former light heavyweight champ Machida, and heís prepared accordingly.
ďItís been an interesting camp,Ē said Couture. ďIíve had to learn some new things and he certainly has a complex and unique style. Itís been fun to study that and try to figure out what I think will work and how to get the job done. Heís a tremendous fighter and a tremendous athlete, so hopefully our training camp has been on and weíve got the right answers, and we wonít really know until the 30th.Ē
What we can expect is that the packed house at Rogers Centre will give ďThe NaturalĒ the rousing send-off he deserves, capping a story that we will likely never see written again. And this time, says Couture, win, lose, or draw, this is the final chapter.
ďItís about the journey, itís about the performance, and as long as I have a good performance, Iíll be satisfied and happy.Ē