PORTLAND, Ore. – Randy Couture signed a six-fight contract extension early Saturday afternoon, so he's clearly not going anywhere despite his 46 years and his loss to Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira in the main event of UFC 102 at the Rose Garden.
And Nogueira, who seemed much older than his 33 years in December when he was walloped by Frank Mir, made a statement of his own.
Nogueira was a little bit better than Couture in every aspect on Saturday, pounding out a unanimous decision in a rousing battle that was chosen as the show's Fight of the Night. It was the second consecutive loss for Couture, but his age clearly wasn't an issue. He was beaten on this night by a guy who was highly motivated to quiet his critics.
"I never worked in my life for a fight like I did for this one," Nogueira said. "I have a lot of respect for Randy. He's been around for 12 years and fighting everyone and that's why I trained a lot, so I could make a good show."
Nogueira looked like a beginner in his loss to Mir at UFC 92. He suffered from a staph infection and spent seven days in the hospital less than a month before the fight. On the day he got out, he tore the meniscus in his left knee.
The reason Nogueira is one of the most popular fighters in the history of mixed martial arts is that he’s the type of person who said nothing to anyone about his condition and came out and slugged with Mir as long as he was able to do so.
"He's a very game, very durable guy," Couture said of Nogueira. "He has a great jab and he followed it with some pretty good right hands. I'm not terribly surprised he fought the way he did."
Nogueira knocked Couture down about two minutes into the fight and then spent about a half-minute with a choke, trying for the submission. It was a pattern that would repeat itself throughout the fight.
The former UFC and PRIDE titleholder would get Couture in a compromising position, Couture would make a heroic escape to bring the crowd to its feet and then they'd go toe-to-toe for a while before the cycle started over.
Nogueira had to fight the inclination to get frustrated when nothing he was doing would result in a finish.
"I'd just try something else, a different submission, something different," Nogueira said. "I knew he was prepared to have a good fight. I knew it wouldn't be easy to fight Randy. When I got his back, he escaped. When I got the triangle, he escaped. He threw some very tough elbows. I knew it was a tough fight and I was prepared for that."
Couture is going to have a lot of them ahead of him. UFC president Dana White pretty much gave him carte blanche to fight where he wanted – at light heavyweight or heavyweight.
Couture has had three stints as heavyweight champion and two as the light heavyweight champion. Despite the defeat, he proved he can still compete at a high level at heavyweight, but he has some physical advantages at 205 pounds that might make sense for him to drop to that weight class.
"He can do whatever he wants to do," White said.
Couture's contract, which is for six fights or 28 months, will take him within six months of his 49th birthday, if he fulfills it.
He may not be the fighter he was at his peak, but he's still not far off of it.
"I didn't have any illusions I won the fight, but I knew it was a damn good fight," Couture said. "Going out and doing what you trained to do is what it's all about. Of course you'd like to win, but if you do what you trained to do, you can't ask for more than that.
"As far as staying at heavyweight or going to light heavyweight, I'm interested in interesting fights," he said. "There are a lot of guys in both divisions who would be interesting fights for me. We'll see what the Grand Poobah over here wants to do."
If White had his preference, Couture would drop to 205 pounds, where potential fights against the likes of middleweight champion Anderson Silva and light heavyweight champion Lyoto Machida could be made.
Nobody was ready to commit to anything just minutes after a fast-paced, back-and-forth battle. Couture's performance on Saturday keeps another ace in White's deck and sets the stage for a few more big fights.
A fight against Silva would do big business at the box office and on pay-per-view, but White casually dropped Lesnar's name as well.
"There are a lot of logical opponents for him," White said. "There's a lot of young blood in our heavyweight division and there could be some fun fights for Randy there if that's what he wants to do. The point is, he looked great. Even in losing, he looked good."
Nogueira looked great in winning and Couture look good in losing.
For a promoter, it doesn't get any better.
And it doesn't get much better for a fight fan, either. Two of the game's greats are going to be around a while longer. There's nothing to complain about there.
- Randy Couture
- Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira