On Aug. 29, 2009, ahead of their meeting at UFC 102, Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira and Randy Couture were two of the top five or six heavyweights in the world, at the moment as well as in terms of all-time accomplishment. While both were past their competitive peak, they were still very much in the Ultimate Fighting Championship title picture: Couture had lost the belt to Brock Lesnar in his last outing, while “Minotauro” had most recently been punched out by Frank Mir for the interim title that Lesnar and Mir went on to unify at UFC 100.
Nonetheless, there was a definite sense that UFC 102 was a prove-it moment, a chance for either the ageless 46-year-old “Natural” or the prematurely weathered 33-year-old Nogueira to certify his continued relevance as a UFC heavyweight contender. The odds opened up with the Brazilian a slight favorite, but swung hard the other way, and Couture was a 2-to-1 favorite on many sports books by fight night. By the time the main event rolled around, UFC 102 had offered up seven- and 21-second knockouts, courtesy of Nate Marquardt and Todd Duffee, one of the most memorably heinous groin shots in UFC history—thanks to Gabriel Gonzaga, condolences to Chris Tuchscherer—and the grim visual of Chris Leben being choked all the way unconscious by Jake Rosholt.
Nogueira and Couture would have been hard pressed to match the sheer sensationalism of the rest of the card, but they certainly gave it their best shot. Nogueira-Couture was a prime example of that relative rarity, a fight that felt competitive even as one fighter won every round. It offered a little of everything: the first round alone brought a near-finish, as Couture fought his way out of a tight brabo choke, followed by an uncharacteristically wild slugfest. The Brazilian was the more effective fighter throughout, and was gaining momentum as the fight wore on, but Couture had his moments in every round. After three rounds, Nogueira was awarded three unanimous, unsurprising and well-deserved 30-27 scorecards.
As it turned out, neither man was long for the heavyweight title picture. Nogueira was crushed by Cain Velasquez in his next outing, kicking off a 2-5 finishing run that included the first two submission losses of his legendary career. Couture dropped back down to light heavyweight, where he would stay—other than for the one-off farce with James Toney—and went on a three-fight win streak before being absolutely posterized by Lyoto Machida in his final fight.
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