TORONTO -- At some point, every professional athlete has to retire. If you're lucky enough to stay active, for most, the questions about it begin in your mid-30s. That was when Randy Couture began
his career. We've always wondered how long he can go. And yet now that he's found his limit, we're not quite ready for him to leave. In the midst of a three-fight win streak, the timing of Couture's retirement announcement took many by surprise. Even at 47 years old, it seems, strangely, almost premature.
Not surprisingly, it's been one of the main subjects of UFC 129
fight week, just as big a subject as the UFC's first-ever stadium show hosting 55,000 people, or either of the two championship fights anchoring it.
Couture's explained bits and pieces of his decision over the last few days. On Wednesday afternoon, he admitted that watching the final fighting days of his contemporary Chuck Liddell, and how the public called for his retirement, spurred him towards his ultimate decision to call it quits.
"To see a guy who was the champ for as long as he was the champ to be in that situation, I thought as an athlete it kind of sucked," he said. "And I didn't want to be in that spot."
Couture, who made his MMA debut at UFC 13 in 1997 before 5,100 people, will have 10 times that number watching his possible swan song in a matchup with former light-heavyweight champion Lyoto Machida
. And while he says that he physically feels fine and remains as motivated as ever, the desire to avoid any embarrassing moments in his final days played a role in his thinking.
"This is what I love to do," he said. "But I don't want to stick around too long and have everybody talking behind my back like that and forcing me to make a decision that I really don't want to make. I want to go out on my terms. I've got a lot of things going on in my life, and this is the right time for me."
Couture will still have two more fights to go on his contract, a seven-fight deal signed in August 2009. At the time, it seemed impossible that he could fight beyond it, but he might have gotten closer to fulfilling the terms than most would have expected. There are many voices out there who believe Couture will fight again. Even people in his camp don't necessarily believe he's done. It seems par for the course for Couture, who has faced this "will he or won't he" retirement question for several years now.
Now that we have our answer, Couture might just receive the biggest ovation of the night. Even though Couture said the fans influenced his decision, there is no anger about the situation. It is the fans that gave him this forum in the first place, that made him famous, and that will move him into the next chapter of his life with what is sure to be MMA's most memorable sendoff.
"The fans have been fantastic," he said. "Fans are funny. For 10 years now, I've been hearing, 'How much longer can you keep going? When are you going to be done?' And then you finally make the decision to be done and they're like, 'You can't do it. You can't retire.' So it's been funny, this back-and-forth with the fans. They've been fantastic in supporting me whether I've won or lost, and that's been nice."