PORTLAND, Ore. — Randy (The Natural) Couture had an ugly mouse under his left eye, fresh stitches adorning his right eye and welts all over his forehead.
The 46-year-old UFC Hall of Famer looked like he had been in a car crash following his loss via decision to Brazilian heavyweight Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira at UFC 102 on Saturday night before 16,088 at the Rose Garden Arena.
“It was a tough fight, it was a great fight,” said Couture.
Couture (16-10) may not have won, but he demonstrated once again that he remains relevant in mixed martial arts.
Couture, whose 27-year-old son is just six years younger than Nogueira, showed great courage and resiliency in escaping one bad position after another, often turning the tables on the former Pride champion. But Nogueira did more and won a 30-27, 30-27, 29-28 decision that earned both men a US$60,000 bonus for fight of the night.
“Even in losing Couture looked good,” UFC president Dana White said.
Good enough to sign the veteran to a new 28-month, six-fight contract earlier in the day. In a burgeoning sport that is attracting bigger, faster men by the day, Couture has combined his smarts with intelligent training and a body that defies age to remain competitive.
Plus he is a fan favourite. Couture has retired once already and sat out over a contact dispute, but he is still a rock star in the MMA world. The arena was rocking Saturday night.
“That was like concert-loud. My ears were still ringing after that one,” said White. “It was really cool.”
Couture, a native of Washington state who coached wrestling at Oregon State, was a natural draw in the UFC’s debut visit to the Pacific Northwest. And many fans had waited a long time to see the former UFC champion take on the former Pride title-holder.
Couture took his lumps from Nogueira at times but made like Houdini whenever he found himself under duress, escaping mount several times as well as an arm triangle.
“I thought he was done 10 times . . . There were so many times I thought he was done but he wasn’t,” White said. “That was a great fight. That fight lived up to the hype and Couture again, at 46 years old, he’s so tough and so good and has such a well-rounded game.”
Said Couture: “I never felt like I was close to being done. I definitely got knocked on my ass a couple of times. . . . But it was tough. He came out with guns ablazing tonight. He was definitely spot on.”
Couture, who got the nod in the first round from one judge, had not complaints with the scoring.
“I didn’t have any illusions that I had won the fight but I knew it was a damn good fight,” he said.
“Going out and doing what you trained to do is what it’s all about. You may not always win but if you did what you trained to do, you can’t ask for any more than that.”
Nogueira (32-5-1 with one no contest) was coming off a sluggish loss to Frank Mir, admitting Saturday that he had spent time in hospital in the leadup to that bout with a staph infection — and then tore his meniscus as soon as he was released.
Healthy again, Nogueira trained three months to get ready for Couture, turning his body into a lean, chiselled weapon.
“He’s a true champ. He’s been around 12 years fighting,” Nogueira said in English. “So I have a lot of respect for him. That’s why I trained a lot, to make a good show.”
Canadian fighters went 0-2 on the night with Edmonton heavyweight Tim (The Thrashing Machine) Hague knocked out in a UFC-record seven seconds by newcomer Todd Duffee. The previous mark was eight seconds, held jointly by James (The Sandman) Irvin and Don Frye.
Winnipeg light-heavyweight Krzysztof (The Polish Experiment) Soszynski lost by decision to Brandon (The Truth) Vera in a dull contest that drew boos. It was Soszynski’s first loss in the UFC after three wins.
In the co-main event, Brazilian light-heavyweight Thiago Silva knocked out Keith (The Dean of Mean) Jardine at 1:35 of the first round. Silva floored Jardine with a counter left as Jardine moved towards him, exposing a defensive weakness that has saddled Jardine with a 2-4 record in recent fights.
In a key middleweight matchup, Nate (The Great) Marquardt pressed his championship claims by knocking out unbeaten jiu-jitsu ace Demian Maia in 21 seconds. Marquardt and Dan Henderson are both jockeying for a second shot at middleweight title-holder Anderson Silva.