He’s 44, which is a good age, when you’ve made some bucks and built a few businesses, to oversee your empire, and enjoy bruise-free living.

Randy Couture, MMA legend, the John Wayne of the mixed martial arts scene, is instead an example for every pot-bellied soccer dad who revels in his All-County glory days from the mullet era.

Couture steps into the Octagon on Saturday night to take on 28-year-old Brazilian Gabriel Gonzaga, a Brazilian ju-jitsu black belt who is favored by oddsmakers to snatch the UFC heavyweight belt away from the balding badass.

You can wager $100 to win $110 on the underdog Couture, because the experts think that this style matchup won’t be to his advantage.

Couture (15-8) is a ground ‘n pounder, a freestyle and Greco Roman wrestling specialist who’ll lock a foe up, toss him to the mat and proceed to whale away on his face til he reaches a state of unconsciousness. Problem is, Gonzaga (9-1) is at home on the ground, and can spot an armbar finish in an instant. He has a completely respectable standup game, which was nudged up a notch or ten when he unleashed a right leg roundhouse to the side of Cro Cop’s head that sent the Croatian to the floor, unconscious, back in April at UFC 70. He bettered Cro Cop at his own game, as there is no one in the sport who inspires peeing-in-the-pants when he lifts his leg to deliver a Thighmaster blaster as Filipovic.

Couture, who by the way just turned 44 on June 22, so he’s a YOUNG 44, weighed in on Gonzaga’s breakout KO.

“I think obviously his last victory was very impressive,” he said. “I don’t think anybody expected him to kick Cro Cop in the head and end the night. That was a pretty impressive performance under a lot of pressure and perform the way he did was very impressive. I think overall he’s a very well rounded fighter, and he’s a very game fighter, and I’ve got to bring my A game for sure.”

Yes, as always, Couture will be the elder in the Octagon. Gonzaga is 28, and he’ll have a 20-pounds plus weight advantage come lock up time. But Couture was the senior when he met up with 31-year-old Tim Sylvia in March, and he gave away six inches and 30 pounds then. We all know what happened-—he shocked the MMA world, if not himself, by chipping away at the Mainiac, and leaving the arena in Ohio with the UFC heavyweight title. He’d been off for 12 months, on a mini-retirement spell, which he quickly junked when he felt the urge to tangle again.

If we’re searching for reasons why Couture could confound the oddsmakers again, we could mention that he’s “only” been in MMA since 1997. He’s had 23 MMA bouts, so it’s not like there’s as much wear ‘n tear on The Natural’s body as one might expect.

The most glaring reason I wouldn’t bet the down payment on Gonzaga is, well, let’s let Gonzaga go there himself.

“I think Randy’s heart, the heart is the best part of Randy,” Gonzaga said.

“The age thing” is up front in Couture’s mind—-it’s not like he’s trying to block it out, with a “if I don’t mind, it don’t matter” mindset.

“I’ve looked past Gabe,” Couture said, “what happens after, and we’re just taking this one fight at a time, and I have no illusions at 44, some point, you know, Father Time is going to catch up to my ass, but so far he hasn’t.”

In fact, Couture believes that the longer the fight goes, the better shape he’ll be in.

“I see it as a potential advantage for me that I’ve been in a lot of five round brawls and gone all five rounds and had to kind of gut it out in that championship territory. That is a potential advantage for me in those later rounds.”

Only five of Gonzaga’s 10 official fight have gone past the first round, so as goofy as his theory may sound coming from a middle aged man, he’s spot on.

Come Saturday, when the lungs are burning, and he’s had to weather a ground ‘n pound session or three, Couture may well wish he was at the office, tending to his gyms and his nutritional supplement line. But that’s doubtful; he feels most alive when he’s locked in a cage with a younger, larger man intent on doing what Father Time hasn’t—-send him into retirement, for good.
OCTAGONAL ODDS AND ENDS I asked Dana White for a prediction on Couture/Gonzaga. Here’s his answer: “Randy is the master of the gameplan. I won’t doubt him winning. I don’t know if he beats Gabe, but if he does they should put up a statue for him.”

–White said there was no thought of feeding Couture a gimme, a green rook who he could dominate. “We give the fights the fans want to see, we’ll make ‘em happen,” he said. “That’s a difference between us and boxing, in boxing it happens three years late or not at all. I don’t want to bust on either Roy or Tito, but this fight is five years too late!”

–White says a UFC show will run on HBO before the year is out. He blames himself, and his hard-headedness, for the deal not having gone down. White is hardline when it comes to having his guys call the shows—-he doesn’t want an MMA neophyte being unable to differentiate different armbars and such.

–I’m leaning (actually, what’s the term for leaning really, really heavily, lunging?) towards GSP over Josh Koschek on Saturday. St-Pierre is totally ramped up to avenge the shocking loss to Matt Serra at UFC 69. He’s dumped his old training crew, brought in a Muay Thai guy, a jiu-jitsu guy, a new strength coach, and even enlisted a sports psycholgist, to insure that his head is as fit as his body come fight time. GSP is too polite to say, but he stuck with his boys, the Quebec gang, even after it became apparent that he was stuck in neutral instead of progressing with an A level training team. He realizes that his window for wins and money isn’t infinite, and made the cruel cut to the gang.