Couture-Nogueira an ageless battle

Randy (The Natural) Couture stops Gabriel Gonzaga with strikes at UFC 74. At UFC 102, he is set to...

Randy (The Natural) Couture stops Gabriel Gonzaga with strikes at UFC 74. At UFC 102, he is set to face former PRIDE and UFC interim heavyweight champion Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira.

NEIL SPRINGER -- SLAM! Sports

, Last Updated: 12:25 PM ET

If the sport of mixed martial arts has earned itself one cliché over the years, it's Randy (The Natural) Couture's ability to continually overcome the odds.

For the better part of a decade, the 46-year-old fighter has routinely silenced critics who have questioned whether he can remain competitive in what should be the twilight of his career. He's done the impossible so many times, it's a wonder why anyone doubts him these days.

So it shouldn't be a shock that Couture (16-9) has tired of being asked when he'll finally hang up the five-ounce gloves.

"Geez, I've never been asked an age question before -- holy cow," Couture said sarcastically when the subject came up during a media conference call to promote UFC 102 on Aug. 29 in Portland, Ore.

"I think I haven't slowed down," he added on a more serious note. "I'm realistic in the sense that I know at some point I will. I'm paying attention to that. I think I'll know when the right time to step out is and I'll be ready to move on.

"I've got a lot of other things going on and I'm not too concerned about it, but I don't think that time has come yet."

Though the former UFC light-heavyweight and heavyweight champion still looks to be in great shape and continues to develop as a fighter, talk of retirement is bound to follow him for the rest of his career. However, it's rare that he's set to face an opponent who is being bombarded by the same questions.

Though he's only 33 years old, speculation is rampant that Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, Couture's opponent in the UFC 102 main event, will soon call it quits.

Unlike Couture, speculation over Nogueira's retirement doesn't revolve around his age. It's more about the physical toll the former PRIDE heavyweight and UFC interim heavyweight champion's body has endured over the years.

In 37 professional fights, Nogueira (31-5-1, with one no contest) had never been submitted or knocked out, though he has endured incredible amounts of punishment -- including getting slammed on his head by Bob Sapp.

Nogueira almost always rallies back to earn a submission victory but his fighting style isn't exactly the kind that lends itself to longevity.

Rumours of Nogueira's retirement began to circulate soon after he suffered a TKO loss to Frank Mir at UFC 92. However, before the fight with Mir he suffered a knee injury, as well as a staph infection, which could explain his lacklustre performance.

For the bout with Couture, Nogueira says he's in his best physical condition since 2005.

"I'm still young, I'm still healthy," Nogueira said. "I still feel my body wants to fight, I'm very competitive, I love this sport.

"I've had three fights in the UFC and I haven't shown my best performance yet. I think I'm getting there and getting back into good shape. I still have a lot to show. That's why I've been training so hard."

Both fighters are coming off loses. Couture was knocked out by Brock Lesnar at UFC 91, while Nogueira, who has never lost two fights in a row, lost to Mir.

"I'm not feeling a lot of pressure," Couture said. "I feel like I had a good performance against Lesnar. I feel like I was doing all the right things, all the things I was trained to do. Things were going my way and I just got caught.

"I don't think either of us are in that situation where after two loses we're going to get dropped (by UFC). We're both experienced, we have big followings and we've made names and reputations for ourselves. I don't think we've found ourselves under that kind of scrutiny or under the gun. So I don't feel any pressure in that sense."

Though both men indicated they wanted to square off against each other for years, their mutual respect guarantees that all fireworks will be saved for inside the octagon.

"When you respect a guy, it forces you to train seriously," Nogueira said.

Since they are similar in size, Couture feels the more technical fighter will emerge victorious.

"Nogueira's probably only about 10 pounds bigger than I am, so size isn't really the issue," Couture said. "The physicality of this fight is different -- it's more of a technical issue. I have staff people and Jiu Jitsu people in place, so I didn't really need to go out and find special opponents to come in and emulate Nogueira."


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