As homecomings go, Randy Couture's return to Portland, Oregon - the venue for this weekend's UFC 102 - will be rapturous. "The Natural" faces-off against Antonio "Minotauro" Nogueira in the main heavyweight event, and the crowd will unashamedly back one man. Couture is the UFC's only five-time champion and its fourth Hall of Fame inductee. The Greco-Roman wrestling specialist was also the first UFC competitor to win championship titles in two weight classes.
At the age of 46, Couture is a legend in his own right and could be the UFC's oldest winner if he beats Nogueira, 33. Despite vociferous local support in a city where the Washington-born Couture spent 14 adolescent years and evolved from an Olympic wrestling team alternate to mixed martial artist, the UFC's former heavyweight and lightweight champion knows that noise alone won't make Nogueira fall.
"I'm preparing for the best Minotauro that we've ever seen," said Couture. "I think he's going to be prepared and he's going to be ready to go as hard as he needs to go for this fight." Couture is right to be wary, the Brazilian jiu-jitsu, boxing and judo specialist is no dud. Three years ago, Nogueira left the defunct franchise Pride with a 22-2 record and 17 finishes. Since 2005, Nogueira has fought nine times, winning seven and losing twice.
"I know I'm still young and feel healthy - I still feel competitive," said Minotauro. "I'm in my best shape since 2005 and I feel very good." Both fighters need a win; UFC 102 marks Couture's first clash since Brock Lesnar took his heavyweight belt last November, while Nogueira lost his main contender bout with Frank Mir a month later. Whether either fighter can step up and stop Lesnar, where Mir failed, is open to debate. However, Couture isn't looking past Nogueira: "It would be stupid to look past this fight, to think about anything else but this fight," he said.
In UFC 102's other main draw, light heavyweights Keith 'Dean of Mean' Jardine and Thiago Silva square off, and again, both fighters need wins to press their contender credentials. Jardine has scalped some of the UFC's biggest fighters during a career of 14 wins, five defeats and one draw, but he will be looking to halt an unfortunate habit of losing at the wrong time against Silva - who lost his unbeaten record to reigning lightweight champion Lyoto Machida in January.