Mark La Monica is the deputy sports editor for cross media at Newsday and writes about mixed martial
That Couture fought competitively for this long deserves some praise. That he began at age 33, and continued to 47 deserves more.
A five-time UFC champion in two divisions, Couture brought an end to his career last night after being knocked out in the second round by Lyoto Machida at UFC 129 at the Rogers Centre in Toronto. It was the 30th pro fight for the UFC Hall-of-Famer.
"It's been an ongoing transition for me," Couture said in the days leading up to his final fight. "I kind of want to go out on my own terms and decide when enough is enough, and I think that time has come."
With MMA still a rather nascent sport, names still draw fans. Put a past-his-prime champion such as former UFC champion Tim Sylvia on the card of a smaller, regional promotion and it will attract enough of a crowd.
That never happened with Couture. It never needed to. Even when former heavyweight boxing champion James Toney campaigned for an MMA fight (and paycheck), Couture approached it with the same discipline as any other fight, and he won by TKO in the first round last August at UFC 118. "To be a guy that was picked to represent mixed martial arts was all an honor for me," Couture said.
And how did Couture choose to end his career? With a fight against Machida, a former light heavyweight champion with a karate-based fighting style that has confused many an opponent.
"I've pushed it pretty far," Couture said. "I don't think anybody is going to probably push it as far as I have the last 14 years."
Pause for longevity context: Couture's first bout was at UFC 13. Attendance that night was 5,100. Attendance Saturday night -- 55,000.
Couture won the UFC heavyweight title for a third time in 2007 when he beat Sylvia. He is also a two-time light heavyweight champion, making him the first of only two fighters in UFC history to win a championship in two weight classes, B.J. Penn being the other. Yes, "Captain America" deserves respect and admiration as he exits the sport for a second time. He retired in 2006 but returned a year later. This time, Couture says he's done.
His final six six fights were against Machida, Toney, Mark Coleman, Brandon Vera, Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira and Brock Lesnar. Or, to explain that in numbers, they were against men ages 32, 42, 46, 32, 33 and 31. He went 3-3 in those fights, and was competitive in all six.
"I want to go out on my own terms, not after one or two or three losses and have everybody else telling you you should be retiring," said Couture, a former Oklahoma State wrestler and Olympic alternate in Greco-Roman wrestling. "I want to do it when I want to do it."
Couture said he may dabble in broadcasting next, or perhaps join the political fight to get MMA legalized all across the world. "Certainly New York State comes to mind," Couture said. MMA has been illegal in New York since 1997.
First up, though, is Couture's acting career. He is set to start work on two movies this summer, including "The Expendables 2," a sequel to the surprisingly successful action film of last summer with Sylvester Stallone and a bunch of other old-school action heroes.
Couture may be an expendable in a movie script, but his character in the history of mixed martial arts and the UFC is anything but.