When Randy Couture tells you he's probably hanging up his gloves after his next fight, you want to say, "Sure, Captain America. Let me know how that turns out."
You are, after all, informed by history. Couture is not a guy who sits well on the bench. He's retired once before, and it didn't take. Challenges remain in the light-heavyweight division. He just can't ... quit.
But when he says it again, and the inflection in his voice changes from the practiced tone of a talking point to that of an earnest, resolute declaration, you can't help but believe him -- despite everything you've seen and heard over the course of his gravity-defying career.
It seems as though the 47-year-old Couture is, finally, acknowledging physics. He's taken fights one at a time for 14 years, longer than anyone would have imagined -- himself included. But he can't compete forever, nor does he want to. He's got a burgeoning film career and a host of businesses that require his attention, and he doesn't need the money anymore. There's no reason, other than a consuming need for competitive glory, that he put his body on the line.
If only that need didn't make you and the rest of the MMA world more than a little skeptical about Couture riding into that sunset. The image doesn't want to stick. Now more than ever, he has nothing to prove, and his prime is in the rearview mirror. But since when has that stopped him?
Couture won his first MMA title at 33 and had a belt fastened around his waist nine times after that. The last time came 11 years after the first, and he's 3-2 since then. The caliber of his competition has decreased in his two most recent performances -- he beat up an already-expired Mark Coleman and the in-over-his-head boxer James Toney -- but that's about to change in a big way. In fact, his maybe-last opponent could rank among the most difficult he's encountered.
At UFC 129, he'll face one-time light-heavyweight champion Lyoto Machida before a record crowd of 55,000 fans at Toronto's Rogers Centre in his 24th appearance inside the octagon. Per the usual, he's facing a younger, faster fighter who, with a Kyokushin karate-based style, has confounded traditional ideas of success, just as he's done with longevity. Despite back-to-back losses against Mauricio "Shogun" Rua and Quinton Jackson, Couture feels the enigma surrounding Machida holds, and that's why he took the fight after announcing in December that he would continue no mas.
The UFC Hall of Famer is all too aware that he's cried wolf, and the only way out of the fight game at this point is to fade away rather than make a public declaration. Some won't believe that he's actually hanging it up, like his employer, who will probably continue to offer him fights. And he might not, because there's always another challenge on the horizon.
But it sure sounds like he will.
SI.com spoke with Couture about his preparation for Machida, his busy schedule, and reaching the end of his career.