Randy Couture said he was never more certain about retirement than when he exited Toronto's Rogers Centre Arena as a professional fighter for the 30th and final time at UFC 129 on Saturday.
"There wasn't a sentimentality about it. There was kind of a sense of relief," said Couture, who took his final bow in the Octagon after former champion Lyoto Machida knocked him out with a rarely seen crane kick in the second round. "I felt like it was the right decision long before this and I felt more secure walking out that this is the right time and the right thing for me to be doing. There was no doubt in my head."
Couture, who turns 48 in June, built a storied career on triumphing over younger, faster opposition during his 14-year career. On Saturday, the 32-year-old Machida, himself coming off his only two career losses, proved too nimble for the four-time Olympic Greco-Roman wrestling alternate.
"It looked like he started to throw a front kick with his left leg and kind of jumped into that crane kick thing, which comes purely from karate," said Couture. "It wasn't anything I'd seen in practice ever. I don't think anyone's seen someone do that in an MMA fight."
The kick landed flush on Couture's mouth, dislodging a crown from his bridge.
"I thought it was a punch," said Couture, who described a "flash" knockdown, but no loss of consciousness. "With his front kick, he'll follow up with a punch almost at the same time. We were prepared for that, so I thought I'd missed that [combination]."
Even in defeat, Couture, who won six UFC championships in a record 15 title appearances, received a thunderous ovation from the reported 55,724 fans in attendance -- a North American record for the sport since its U.S. debut with UFC 1 in November 1993.
While touched by the heartfelt reaction he got -- which began when he heard his name being chanted as he waited to enter the arena -- Couture said it wouldn't sway his decision to walk away from competition.
"Definitely, it's the last fight," he said from Toronto on Sunday. "I know they're going to try to throw me something and get me to come back, but it's not going to happen."
Couture even shrugged off the notion of facing former No. 1 heavyweight Fedor Emelianenko in a still-anticipated blockbuster bout that motivated the Washington-born fighter to leave the promotion in 2007 to try to secure his contractual freedom.
"I'm kind of over that now," he said. "I just feel like I'm in a different place and I think that he probably feels like he is too."
Though he said there's no immediate plans mapped out yet, Couture looks to remain a fixture with the promotion. "I turned down a couple of fights before they threw Lyoto at me and we'd opened a door to discussing post-retirement activities and how I'd be involved in the company and what that might look like," Couture said. "It's apparent that they 100 percent want to incorporate me into what's going on in this next year and the coming years."
Last December, Zuffa LLC, the promotion's parent company, hired retired former champion Chuck Liddell, who shared a promotion-building trilogy with Couture that spanned from 2005 to 2006, as the UFC's vice-president of business development.
Couture voiced a personal interest in becoming involved in Zuffa's regulatory efforts outside the 46 states that have already greenlit the sport.
"Certainly we're running up against some serious roadblocks in the state of New York," said Couture, who'd been asked to speak in front of state athletic commissions and was earmarked to assist UFC regulatory vice-president, Marc Ratner, after his first retirement in 2006. "Having MMA sanctioned in that last bastion hold-up state and being able to have an event in Madison Square Garden, which is a historical venue for combative sports in general, is a pretty big deal."
Couture, whose friction with Zuffa over his ancillary and contract rights has been well documented in the past, has also been pressed recently to comment on fighter advocacy in a sport currently devoid of any union or association for its athletes.
"It's a hot-button topic with the [(March] acquisition of Strikeforce, the only other viable competitor to the UFC in the American marketplace," said Couture, "which some people see as a downside for athletes who maybe couldn't really get a fair shake from the UFC and now they don't have that option to go to Strikeforce or anywhere else to make that kind of living through fighting. I suppose there's some truth to that."
Though hesitant to outright embrace a fighter's union, Couture said he'd be willing to work for change in that arena.
"I think we definitely still have some fighter issues, most importantly some sort of health insurance or health plan that covers us out of competition and some sort of retirement options or at least some kind of education process for fighters so they know what to do with their money, because it's a short window where they can make this type of living.
"We haven't gotten to a point where I'm in a position to start bringing up those things, but I know [Zuffa's] paying attention," added Couture. "There're things that have already been discussed, not necessarily with me directly sitting down at a table with them yet, but there have been discussions."
In the interim, Couture, marveled at the progress the sport has made since he first stepped on the scales at the UFC 13 weigh-ins held in a Holiday Inn lobby in Augusta, Ga., in 1997.
"The fact that we sold out at a 60,000-seat stadium with our sport -- it's just an indication of one, the Canadian fan base, who I think, in a lot of ways, got and embraced this sport a lot sooner than the American market did, and two, just how far we've come in the sport."
With UFC 129, Couture believes he, once again, partook in history.
"I think this is going to be a benchmark moment for the sport, not just in attendance, but in the type of shows were going to see or at least what everything's going to be measured by going forward," said Couture.