When he was forced to pull out of a Nov. 2009 matchup with Tito Ortiz with an injury, Mark Coleman figured that he was essentially throwing away the last golden opportunity of his storied mixed martial arts career.
"I didn't foresee being able to top that matchup and I anticipated fighting younger guys, maybe being a gatekeeper," he said recently.
But trading in one legend for another, Coleman got a reprieve when the UFC offered him a chance to face off against the multi-time champion Randy Couture. And win or lose at Saturday's UFC 109 main event, the 45-year-old "Hammer" says he's not yet thinking about hanging up his gloves.
"Barring any career-ending injuries, this won't be my last fight," he said. "If I listened to the critics I would've retired 10 years ago. I'm not going to let someone else determine when I finish. I'll determine it myself.
This won't be the first time Coleman and Couture have competed against each other. Over 20 years ago, the two squared off in a freestyle match at the Olympic Festival, with Coleman winning by a point.
"I remember him being very strong, and kind of in my face," Coleman recalled. "He gave me an accidental headbutt, and after the match, I had to get a few stitches afterward. Maybe I owe him some this match."
Professionally, this is not the first time the two have been paired up. In 1998, they were to meet at UFC 17. That bout, however, was ultimately scrapped when Couture was injured while preparing for an amateur wrestling competition.
Now, clearly in the twilight of their competitive years, the two legends embrace the challenges of competing in the ever-evolving sport and beyond that, making noise as contenders.
But while Couture has seemingly defied age for some time, Coleman (16-9) may have a bit more to prove, and more doubters to win over. He himself admitted that his past dedication to the sport was never quite complete as he opted to keep his camps near his home in Columbus, Ohio so he could stay close to his young daughters.
Only in his recent camps has he left his home, traveling to Las Vegas to train with a large team of pros and coaches surrounding him.
Asked if he had a problem with being the underdog in the fight, Coleman said, "It's just kind of what I deserve. I guess I deserve to be the underdog with some of the performances I've had in the past. I haven't always given 100 percent to the sport. I chose to focus on other things."
In his last fight at UFC 100, Coleman surprised many onlookers by handling Stephan Bonnar en route to a unanimous decision. And while the win was no technical masterpiece, he served notice he could still compete with younger, well-rounded opponents.
While Couture is the only man in the UFC who is not younger than Coleman, he is clearly well-rounded, and Coleman knows that despite the fact they were supposed to meet over a decade ago, the potential rewards of beating him in 2010 could be many.
"It would've been real interesting back then. We're both fierce competitors, and we'd been looking for a win at all costs," he said. "I don't see it any different now. I think there's no way it can't be an exciting fight. I think fans will get their money's worth. We both want this fight really bad."