Randy Couture is the poster boy for refusing to age gracefully. He craves competition, and the world doesn’t contain a 46-year-old man that could handle The Natural easily, without the use of a Taser and the element of surprise. But Couture was fighting a 33-year-old man, in Antonio “Minotauro” Nogueira, in the main event of UFC 102 in Portland, Oregon’s Rose Garden, and sometimes, it’s sad to concede, age matters. Couture offered a commendable challenge to Nogueira, but the Brazilian was too strong, and too powerful for Couture. He dropped Couture twice, and nearly had him tapping out twice as well. After three rounds, the judges gave Nogueira the nod, by scores of 30-27, 30-27, 29-28. TSS saw it three rounds to zip for Nog.
“He’s one of my idols in the UFC,” said the classy Nog afterwards. “I want a title belt, if you guys give me a chance to fight Brock Lesnar, it would be my pleasure.” Couture, afterwards, offered no hints that he was contemplating exiting the Octagon for good: “I was disappointed to lose but you got to love this sport. Guys come out here in every single fight tonight and put it on the line. What keeps me going is guys like Noguiera, interesting fights.” He said he’d take a week, see what UFC wants to do, and “I’m here, I’m ready to fight, I feel the best I’ve ever felt.” This Nogueira, totally in shape, injury free, with that rock for a beard, would give Lesnar a spirited test.
Former Oregonian Couture (lives in Las Vegas; 16-9 entering) weighed 220 pounds, while Nog (from Brazil; 31-5-1-1 NC entering) weighed 231 pounds on Friday. Both men were coming off defeats; the five-time ex UFC champion Couture got beat down by Brock Lesnar at UFC 91 last November, and former Pride champion and UFC interim heavyweight champ Nog was coming off a loss to Frank Mir at UFC 92 last December. He was battling a staph infection a mere five weeks before that clash, so he deserves some leeway there. Both mean were noticeably more cut than in their previous outings, so presumably both felt the pressure to perform in Oregon.
In the first, Couture’s boxing looked sharp. Nog dropped down and wanted to grapple but The Natural wanted no part of that. Nog dropped Couture with a four punch combo, and worked for a D’Arce choke. Randy held off from tapping, and Nog released it, so as not to expend all his energy. Nog’s right eye was cut, but both men were landing bombs. In center cage, Nat cracked with lefts, and backed Nog up against the cage for a dirty boxing lesson. Best round of the night, to this point. Couture had a welt under his left eye, above his cheek, and Nog’s corner closed up his cut. Damage had been done in one. In the second, Randy was buzzed from a left. Couture got atop Nog, but the man underneath is sinister in guard, and Couture had to be mindful not to get caught. Nog rolled him, and then mounted Couture. At half guard, Couture defended calmly. But Nog latched on an arm triangle. Again, Couture stayed calm, and broke free. Standing again, with a minute to go, Nog’s hands looked heavier. Then Couture banged him with two vicious left hooks, though Nog didn’t even quiver from the contact. Another pleasing, dramatic round, another round in the bag for Nog. In the third, Couture was dropped, but fended off hammers on his back. Nog got side control, then, and smushed Nat against the cage. He ate up time, and then Nog hopped on Randy’s back. Couture slithered out, but was caught in a tight Nog guard. No miracles on this night for the old man. We’d go to the cards.
Keith Jardine fought Thiago Silva in a light heavyweight matchup. The Dean of Mean grabbed his left nipple right before the first round started, and twisted it, which if you were not aware has been a pre-fight ritual for a bunch of UFCers since Georges St-Pierre did it last year before handling Jon Fitch. The ritual did not work; Silva nailed him with a left hook, dropped him, and rained down three shots, forcing the ref to stop it at 1:35 of the first. Good stop, the Dean was dazed. A solid win for Silva, who tasted a quick stop in his last fight, a first-round KO loss to Lyoto Machida at UFC 94. For the Dean who knows where he goes. This is his third stoppage loss in the last 27 months.
Brandon Vera, who has officially peaked as a mixed martial artist, and will likely not ever be able to summon the finishing instinct to reach the upper reaches of the division, took a unanimous decision from Kryzstof Sosynszki in the TV opener. Vera is a good athlete, and his kickboxing was too sharp for the loser, who stepped in at the 11th hour for injured Matt Hamill, in the light heavyweight battle.
Nate Marquardt and Demian Maia met in a middleweight test. Nate the Great stopped Maia with a single shot, a crushing right to the chin as the loser launching a kick. Nate stepped away from Maia when he realized that he was out of it. The time of the ending was 21 seconds of the first. Maia went down like that proverbial sack of potatoes; he was an immobile object. Nate called out Anderson Silva, pegging himself as someone who can “kick Silva’s butt.”
Oregon native Chris Leben, in his first fight back after being suspended for steroids following his Oct. 2008 loss to Michael Bisping, warred with ex NCAA wrestling stud Jake Rosholt in a middleweight beef. Leben fought smart, and his years of experience in the game showed. He looked to land his mammoth left, and did so in the second hard enough to score a knockdown. Rosholt took Leben down a few times, and in the third, he showed he’s excelled in the art of the submission. He got Chris’ back, isolated his arm, and tightened on an arm triangle. Leben tapped, the ref went in to stop it, but then backed off. Leben was rendered totally unconscious, and his legs twitched while he lay on his back. But he woke up, happily, after his carotid was briefly choked off. This is a heavy-duty win for the ex wrestler, who has only been in MMA for two years.