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 return to the UFC after a nearly year-long contract dispute.
The moment: Couture goes to war with Nogueira
Couture returned to the UFC in September 2008 and it was announced he'd defend his UFC heavyweight title against Brock Lesnar. Well, an interim title had already been created and was going to be contested between champion Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira and Frank Mir with the winners meeting to unify the title down the line. With both Couture and Nogueira losing by TKO in their respective fights, it was only natural for the two to meet in the "consolation bracket" of the UFC heavyweight title tournament.
When the two clashed at UFC 102 in Portland, Ore., expectations were not that high. Like usual, many were questioning how much Couture had left in the tank and more so, people were extremely worried about Nogueira after he looked lifeless in the loss to Mir. Many people were looking at this fight as some sort of sad affair between two aging veterans. What it instead turned into was a legitimate Fight of the Year candidate.
The two went back-and-forth but it was Nogueira, the former PRIDE heavyweight champion, who had the better offense, dropping Couture and almost choking him out on multiple occasions. The two battled it out, eventually going to the scorecards where Nogueira won a unanimous decision (30-27x2, 29-28). Both men earned "Fight of the Night" honors for their performances, which could stand as the last great fight in the careers of both men, each of whom have had their fair share of epics.
Stay with us after the jump for another moment ...
The moment: Couture bounces back, wins three straight
Having lost a dream fight at heavyweight, Couture moved back down to the light-heavyweight division for a UFC 105 main event bout with Brandon Vera on a Spike TV show from England.
As our very own Brent Brookhouse wrote at the time:
In a fight that was mostly fought with Brandon Vera's back against the fence Randy Couture was able to pull off a narrow unanimous decision. In the moments where the fight was fought at a distance Vera was able to score with kicks. Vera's best moment came in the second round when he landed a kick to the body and a knee that forced Randy to turn his back and fall to the mat. He wasn't able to finish though and Couture controlled the majority of the final round to secure the judges scorecards.
Having made a successful return to light-heavyweight, Couture remained there for a UFC 109 main event fight with former UFC heavyweight champion Mark Coleman. In a fight dubbed "Age in the Cage," Couture dominated Coleman, eventually taking him down in the second round, mounting and then choking him unconscious when Coleman gave up his back.
In one of the biggest freak show fights the Zuffa-promoted UFC has ever run, Couture moved back to heavyweight for a bout with former boxing heavyweight champion James Toney at UFC 118. The hype for the fight was something else. Would Toney be able to knock out Couture before he got taken down? Leading into the fight, Toney claimed to have choked out "King Mo Mousasi" in practice, so Couture had every reason to be fearful of Toney in all aspects of the game.
Well, Couture came out and landed a hilarious low-single takedown on Toney, shooting from halfway across the cage, and Toney never got off his back again, as Couture landed some ground-and-pound before eliciting the tap with an arm-triangle choke at the 3:19 mark.
The win was Couture's third straight, and at 47 years old no less.
On the next edition of The Magic of Randy Couture: We'll ponder if Couture can pull the rabbit out of his hat one more time when he faces Machida on Saturday at UFC 129. We'll also wrap up the series.
(Couture/Toney photo by James Law/Heavy.com)