Randy Couture goes by a few nicknames: The main two, "The Natural" and "Captain America," are well-placed nicknames. Any fan who has been watching Couture for any period of time knows he could easily go by another nickname as well: "The Magician."
That's because Couture has pulled a rabbit out of his hat so many times we're starting to lose count. During this seven-part series leading to his fight with former light-heavyweight champion Lyoto Machida at UFC 129, we'll take a look at all those times Couture has pulled the rabbit out of his hat while becoming one of the most beloved fighters in the history of the sport and ask if he can do it again as he enters yet another fight as a heavy underdog coming up in less than two weeks at Rogers Centre in Toronto, Ontario.
Today, we look at Couture's UFC heavyweight title defense against Gabriel Gonzaga.
The moment: Couture defends title, stops Gonzaga
There were a ton of questions heading into Randy Couture's UFC 74 heavyweight title defense against Gabriel Gonzaga. Would the big man, who just knocked out Mirko Filipovic with a head kick, be too big, too heavy and too good on the ground? Would Father Time finally catch up with Couture? Would this be the end of Couture's career?
Most oddsmakers even had Couture as the underdog, as Gonzaga was riding a six-fight win streak, with four of those coming in the UFC (and all by stoppage). The biggest question was: Can Couture do it again? Gonzaga was 16 years younger and outweighed the champion by 23.5 pounds, but Couture held a three-inch reach advantage.
The two touched gloves and we were underway. Gonzaga wasted no time landing with a right, but Couture popped him back with a jab and then hit him with a left hook and took him down. The fight's biggest moment came with 3:05 remaining in the first round when Couture scooped Gonzaga up and slammed him to the canvas. The force of the takedown brought either Gonzaga's knee into his own face or the two clashed heads. Either way, Gonzaga's nose was smashed. Gonzaga got right back to his feet, but the damage had been done and he started bleeding on Couture's back as the two clinched.
The round would end, but Gonzaga's nose was a mess. A little more than a minute into the second round, the two again clinched and Gonzaga told referee Herb Dean he couldn't see. Dean stopped the fight and asked Gonzaga if he wanted to continue. Gonzaga protested, the doctor wiped the blood out of his eyes and we continued. Couture immediately tried to drag Gonzaga to the mat, but Gonzaga held the fence and was docked a point. Couture landed some big punches against the fence and forced Gonzaga to turn around. Couture would land more flurries as the challenger appeared mortally wounded. The point deduction meant this was a 10-8 round for Couture.
With the nose only worsening, Gonzaga had to know he was running out of time. He fired off a high kick that Couture blocked with his arm. After the two traded, Gonzaga stepped back and ripped off a head kick that landed flush and hurt Couture. To this day, I don't know how Couture took this. Couture's hands came down and he tried to shake out the cobwebs as Gonzaga came rushing in. Couture, though, ducked under and pushed Gonzaga against the fence. The kick would be Gonzaga's last gasp.
Couture landed a trip takedown into half-guard with 3:42 to go and started going to work.
"This could be it." - Joe Rogan
Couture began with lefts and then went with both hands as Dean started telling Gonzaga to fight back. He didn't do that well enough in Dean's eyes and he stopped the fight, giving Couture the TKO win to retain his heavyweight championship — his first successful title defense since nearly six years earlier against Pedro Rizzo. As of now, this stands as Couture's final epic performance in the UFC. Unless he has one more in him on Saturday.
On the next edition of The Magic of Randy Couture: We'll take a look at his return to the UFC after a contract dispute, his fights with Brock Lesnar and Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira and his current three-fight win streak.