PORTLAND, Ore. -- Randy Couture gave his hometown crowd everything he had on Saturday night, and they gave it right back, cheering him with thunderous ovations from the moment he entered the arena until the final horn sounded. But in the end, it wasn't enough.
The 46-year-old Couture was knocked down twice by Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira and narrowly escaped several submission attempts over the course of a thrilling three-round battle in front of a raucous crowd at UFC 102. Though Couture fought his way back from the brink each time, he came up short on the judges' scorecards, losing a unanimous decision to mark his second straight defeat in the Octagon.
"He's a true champion," Nogueira said of Couture after the bout. "He's been champ a couple times. He's one of my idols in the UFC."
The victory proved that the 33-year-old Nogueira still has some life left in his career, at least as long as he's healthy. He acknowledged that a staph infection hurt his performance against Frank Mir in December, but tonight he looked like the "Minotauro" of old when he dropped Couture with a straight right in the third round and nearly finished him with a torrent of hammer-fists before the former champ recovered.
"I was obviously disappointed to lose, but you've got to love this sport," Couture said, adding that he still felt physically and mentally sound and has every intention of continuing on despite back-to-back losses.
Even though he never achieved a truly dominant position in the fight and didn't come close to finishing Nogueira, Couture showed no real signs of age or diminishing skill. Rather, it was Nogueira who seemed to have transformed, as he turned in his best performance since coming to the UFC two years ago. With a victory over a legend like Couture, the fighter known for his resiliency under duress may have resurrected his career. At least for now.
In the light heavyweight division, Thiago Silva rebounded from his loss to Lyoto Machida in January with a brutal knockout of Keith Jardine at 1:35 of round one. A left hook to the jaw dropped Jardine and left him scrambling to defend himself as Silva stood over him raining down blows. It didn't take long before a hard right found Jardine's chin and left him motionless on the mat as Silva taunted him from above.
"The fight was very important for me, because I love fighting too much here," Silva said after the victory. "Fighting is my life."
The much-anticipated clash of styles between top middleweight contenders Nate Marquardt and Demian Maia never had a chance to materialize, as Marquardt knocked Maia out with a single right hand 21 seconds into the first round. Maia left himself wide open as he lunged at Marquardt with a kick and was summarily knocked off his feet with a counter. Marquardt moved in to finish him as he lay prone on the mat, but took one look at his opponent and saw it wasn't necessary.
Afterwards Marquardt made a plea for a second shot at Anderson Silva's UFC middleweight title.
"I want that belt and I don't know who's going to get the next shot, but if you want someone who's going to go in there and kick Anderson Silva's butt, you're going to give the shot to me."
In other action on the night...
• Four-time All-American wrestler Jake Rosholt surprised hometown favorite Chris Leben when he opted to keep things standing in the first round and generally got the best of the exchanges. After surviving a second-round knockdown off a big left hand from Leben, Rosholt locked in an arm-triangle choke and put Leben to sleep at 1:20 of the third round.
• Light heavyweight Brandon Vera outpointed Krzystof Soszynski in what was primarily a strategic striking battle, winning a unanimous decision after three rounds. Neither man was ever close to finishing the fight, though it was Vera who controlled the tempo and inflicted the only significant damage of the fight, even if the fight didn't produce the fireworks many fans expected.
• A knee injury to Ed Herman resulted in a TKO victory for Aaron Simpson at 0:17 of Round 2. Simpson nearly put Herman away with strikes in the first, and appeared to have the bout well in hand when Herman crumpled to the mat holding his knee after attempting a kick to body.
• An inadvertent kick to the groin from Gabriel Gonzaga in the opening seconds almost ended Chris Tuchscherer's UFC debut early. After a brief pause to allow him to recover, the action resumed only to have Gonzaga immediately floor Tuchscherer with a brutal head kick. Though Tuchscherer showed tremendous heart in attempting to battle back, Gonzaga's power proved to be too much as he put him away with strikes on the ground at 2:27 of round one.
• The moments of excitement were few and far between in a heavyweight clash between Mike Russow and Justin McCully, but after controlling his man with takedowns and a perfunctory ground-and-pound attack, Russow got the nod for the unanimous decision victory.
• Heavyweight Todd Duffee won his UFC debut in just seven seconds to notch the fastest knockout in UFC history. Duffee charged across the cage and dropped Tim Hague with his very first punch, a short jab, before finishing off the woozy Hague with a follow-up right hand and crushing left.
• Mark Munoz had his wrestling largely negated by Nick Catone in the early going of their bout, but the tenacious Munoz rode to a decision anyway behind a heavy right hand and superior clinch work to take the split decision after three very close rounds.
• Evan Dunham outstruck and outworked an aging Marcus Aurelio to win a split decision victory after three rounds. Aurelio managed to get the action to the mat several times only to have Dunham get back to his feet and resume the assault that Aurelio could find no answer to.