Randy Couture was barely noticed as he made his way toward the octagon for some light sparring on Thursday afternoon at the Direct Energy Centre.
But when this grizzled, chiseled veteran of so many MMA wars makes his way into the cage before 55,000 screaming fans at UFC 129 on Saturday night for his final fight, he'll get more than just a little attention; the Rogers Centre will explode.
And, YES, it will be his final fight.
The man who has meant so much to mixed martial arts and to the UFC, the man they call The Natural, made it very clear Thursday after his workout that, despite the protestations of Dana White, he is definitely hanging up his four-ouncers.
"Nothing has changed. The decision has been made, and I'm pretty comfortable with it," the 47-year-old Couture said. "I think it is the right decision for me. I don't know how Dana feels about it."
Couture has, in the past, said he was going to retire and was lured back into the octagon by the UFC head honcho, but the former heavyweight and light-heavyweight champion said his time has finally come.
"I'm sure they're going to throw something at me, I know those guys too well," said Couture, who still has two fights left on his contract. "I'm sure it probably will be tempting ... But I think there will be plenty of things to fill that void."
It's not that Couture lacks the passion to continue, it's just that he wants to go out on his own terms, not fall into the same trap that so many great athletes do by hanging on just a little too long.
"It's rational thinking," Couture said of his decision. "I've been doing this a long time. I knew that sooner or later enough was going to be enough.
"To be honest, I saw what has been going on this last year with (retired fighter) Chuck (Liddell). Obviously Chuck and I started around the same time, come from the same background. We fought three times and it was real disappointing to see the fans kind of turn on Chuck, everybody chattering about whether he should fight again. To see a guy who was the champ for as long as he was, and as special as he is, be in that situation, I thought, as an athlete, it just kind of sucked.
"I really didn't want to be in that spot. I'm firing on all cylinders and feel fantastic physically. I have all the desire, motivation has never been an issue for me. This is what I love to do, but I don't want to stick around too long, everybody talking behind my back like that. Forcing me to make a decision I don't want to make. I want to go out on my terms. This is my time."
This and That
Couture wasn't the only fighter doing some sparring at the dimly light Direct Energy Centre as workers erected stages and booths all around them for Friday and Saturday's UFC Fan Expo. Jake Shields, Georges St. Pierre, and Lyoto Machida were all there. And so was Canadian Rory MacDonald. "This is exactly what I have dreamed of since I was a little boy," the 21-year-old native of Quesnel, B.C., said of the whirlwind that is UFC 129. MacDonald (10-1) will face Nate Diaz (13-6-0) in what's sure to be a tough welterweight bout. MacDonald says he has learned from his last fight, a third-round TKO at UFC 115 to Carlos (Natural Born Killer) Condit. "I love to be exciting, I love to finish my fights, but I was up two rounds and I went in for the kill in the third when I could have sat back and let him come to me. So I learned to stay composed and be a little more mature in the ring." "¶ Plenty of people are making a big deal of Shields coming into hostile territory to fight Canadian superstar GSP for the welterweight crown. But Shields says that so far people in Toronto have been very friendly to him. "They've been chasing me around getting pictures. Some of them might have some GSP headbands on while there are doing it, but overall the fans have treated me great. I've been here a couple of times before and I really like the Canadian fans. I expect them to boo me fight night though."
Hey, if you need a ticket to UFC 129 on Saturday night, Brazilian jiu-jitsu specialist Mark Boeck (9-3-0), might not be the best place to turn. Sounds like he already has been inundated with requests.
The Toronto native says friends and family have been hitting him up for those coveted pieces of paper and he just keeps passing them off to his manager.
"Everyone's asking me for tickets, but I just say, 'Talk to my manager.' I have a lot of friends here, a lot of family, a lot of support. It's very exciting," Boeck said at the Direct Energy Centre on Thursday.
Boeck, who faces Ben (Smooth) Henderson in a lightweight bout at UFC 129 on Saturday night, says it has always been a dream of his to have a big fight in front of his hometown supporters.
"The dream has stayed with me for a very long time," he said. "There's definitely a lot more distractions here, but it's nice and refreshing to be able to sleep in my bed for once, kind of get away from everything and not have to sit in a hotel room with nothing to do."
-- Dave Hilson