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.
SI.com: Are these final weeks of training the ones you look forward to the most or are they the biggest grind?
Randy Couture: It's kind of a mix of both. I feel everything coming together technically, and the conditioning is peaking. At the same time, I'm kind of sick of training; sick of grinding it out, and want the fight to be here.
SI.com: What sort of tricks have you learned over the years on how to beat back burnout in training?
Couture: I kind of like to use the media. A lot of people shy away and isolate themselves. For me, it passes the time and gets me through the week. Especially the week of the fight. All the hard work is done that week, and you're kind of just watching the clock tick and waiting for Saturday night to get there.
SI.com: Is it a pleasant distraction?
Couture: Most of the time.
SI.com: Are you still shooting The Expendables 2 after this fight?
Couture: We're going to be working on a movie called Hijacked in May, and then Expendables 2 will pick up and start shooting in August.
SI.com: Who have you brought in to be Lyoto Machida in the gym? You're a guy who hires the right people. You could say you're a great casting director in MMA.
Couture: I've had a kid named Cesar Ferreria from Brazil. He's one of (Vitor) Belfort's buddies that mimics Lyoto perfectly. I've also had a kid named Hiroshi Allen, who's a four or five-time Kyokushin world champion in the same style that Lyoto has trained in his whole life. Those two guys have been coming in every week, and I've been sparring with Cesar just about every day. I've spent a lot of time seeing what Lyoto's going to do. How he moves, his body language.
SI.com: When the fight became a reality, did you ask Vitor for advice on how to prepare for Machida?
Couture: Vitor's been training with his gang on two years now, and he brought in a couple of guys to mimic and work with for the Anderson Silva fight. Cesar was one of those guys. He has that kind of motion; he's long and rangy like Anderson, as well. I thought with his style and the way he moves and things he does are a lot like Lyoto. He's a southpaw, and I came to find out he actually trained with Lyoto for about a year.
SI.com: Did he tell you anything about Lyoto off the mat that might be useful?
Couture: It all boils down to what happens in the cage. I've seen Lyoto's comments -- 'Oh, now I'm going to have to beat the judges, too.' That tells me he's concerned about the fight a little bit.
SI.com: You've been open about saying you've got to put him up against the cage and put him on his back.
Couture: I don't think there's any secret about what I'm going to do, and I don't think he's going to change his fighting style wholesale, either, in 10 weeks. It's not going to happen. I think both of us know what to expect. He's going to run away and try to draw me into that range where he likes to be, and I'm going to try to pressure him, and cut him off, and get my hands on him.
SI.com: Is it a positive thing for you that Machida is publicly airing his concerns?
Couture: Yeah, I think it's in his head. He's worried about the fight and how it's going to be for him. Obviously, coming off two losses, his confidence isn't as high as it probably was a year ago.
SI.com: It's been a while since we've seen Lyoto's ground game. Are we going to see it in this fight?
Randy Couture: If things are going my way, yeah.
SI.com: You said before that Mauricio "Shogun" Rua and Machida were the two fights out there that interested you. Are they the most intriguing guys for you in the division?
Couture: Intriguing, certainly. My brain works in a particular way when I watch fighters -- I immediately figure out how I'd match up with them, and I think style-wise, they're interesting fights for me, and those are the kind of fights that I want right now.
SI.com: Is "Shogun" still of interest to you?
Couture: You know, I think this is probably my last fight. I don't think I'm going to fight any more after this. I'm ready to move on. The movie thing is picking up, all the other businesses are firing. I've pushed this as far as anybody's going to push it for a long time. I was happy to get this fight. The camp has been fantastic, but I want to go out on my terms. I don't want to wait until I have an injury, or until I do something in training that's going to force me to take time off. I'm looking forward to this fight, and after that, I think it's time to look at all the other stuff I've got going on.
SI.com: You've said in earlier interviews that people wouldn't believe you if you said you were quitting. Why are you saying it now?
Couture: I'm saying because that's the way it is. I'm not going to make an official statement in the ring, like I did before. I don't think anybody would buy that. I know the UFC too well. I know those guys are going to throw fights at me and try and coerce me into stepping back out there. But right now, I think this is the time for me to move on and enjoy my life for a little bit.