Randy Couture might think his fight with Lyoto Machida at UFC 129 is his last, but Dana White isn't buying it. At Wednesday's news conference in Toronto, the UFC president made it very clear that when it comes to the 47-year-old Couture's emotional farewells from the sport, he's seen and heard it all too many times to take it seriously now.
"I think he feels disrespected for not being ranked in the top 10 at 205 pounds," White said. "He's absolutely, 100 percent a top 10 light heavyweight fighter."
In other words, Randy, you're loved and appreciated. So how about sticking around for one or two more?
But Couture's standing strong, at least for now. He swears the Machida fight is his last, though he has dropped a hint or two about a potential return if -- and only if -- the UFC were to offer him something appealing at the right price.
In an interview with Yahoo! Sports' Steve Cofield earlier this week, he mentioned that the UFC would have to really "step up" to get him back in the cage. And when asked by MMAFighting.com's Ariel Helwani whether "Manny Pacquiao money" would do the trick, well, Couture's only human, so he didn't shoot it down.
And so we find ourselves at an impasse. White thinks Couture will quickly get sick of the retired life and end up carrying on more or less as usual, while the would-be actor Couture thinks he'll abscond to Hollywood unless the UFC decides to offer him an obscene amount of cash.
So who's right? As usually happens when two very stubborn men have staked out opposing positions, they're both at least a little bit wrong.
For starters, take Couture's professed belief that his future is in the movies. True, Hollywood is much kinder to aging men than women, and if you fail in that industry at least you don't put your health at risk. But at the same time, how many leading men can you name who didn't take up acting until their 40s? And of those, how many have ears that look like spoiled hams?
I don't want to shred Couture's dreams, but from what we've seen of him on the screen, he's not exactly "The Natural" when it comes to delivering lines. He's decent. On the athlete-to-actor scale, he's better than Shaquille O'Neal but well below Jim Brown. He might get a few roles like the one he played in
Then again, that might be what we want for Couture, and not what he wants for himself. He seems to prefer a career in front of the camera, and it's his choice to make, whether there's much of a future in it or not.
But OK, maybe he's not trying to be Paul Newman. Maybe he just wants something to keep him busy in retirement, the way other retirees might work at a golf course 10 hours a week. Only, according to White, that won't be enough for a guy like Couture. Sooner or later, the UFC president says, he'll spy some up-and-comer whom he thinks he can still beat, and he won't be able to resist the urge to come back for just one more go-round. Then maybe one more. And one more after that.
For a man who's seen the sport from White's perspective, that reasoning makes sense. You don't become Randy Couture by being a quitter. The fighters who make it to that level and stay there for that long do so because they have something in them that other people don't. The problem is that this special something doesn't evaporate with age. The physical tools tend to go first, while the desire hangs around just long enough to make you do some things you shouldn't. Just look at what White went through trying to get Chuck Liddell to call it a career.
It's rational for White to doubt that Couture can walk away for good this time. Honestly, it's a little hard for anyone who's followed his prolific career to believe that the end will ever come, at least as long as Couture is above ground.
And yet, it has to, eventually. It might seem odd for a guy who has been up and down so many times to call it quits after a fairly meaningless fight against a fellow former champ, but then again, maybe that's how it works in real life. In the movies, a guy like Couture might win one last championship, or at least face one last battle to save the family farm or something. It would take some major event, either good or bad, to make him stop.
But in reality? Maybe the decision washes over you slowly. Maybe you edge toward the door without needing to be thrown out all at once. Maybe you don't ride off into the sunset to become a movie star, either. Maybe you just go. Maybe you spend your later years doing what you can for younger fighters, making sure they don't have to endure some of the struggles that you did. And maybe that's enough.