Experience is a trait that can’t be taught, but Randy Couture used every bit of his to school Gabriel Gonzaga.
The five-time champion retained his Ultimate Fighting Championship heavyweight title Saturday night with a third-round technical-knockout victory over a challenger 16 years his junior in the main event of UFC 74 at Mandalay Bay Events Center.
Already holding an endurance edge over the much bigger Gonzaga, the 44-year-old Couture took advantage of a cut on his opponent’s nose that began spewing blood about midway through the first round.
With the cut limiting Gonzaga’s breathing ability, Couture went to work, pressing him up against the cage and squeezing the air out of his lungs.
Couture employed the tactic throughout much of the first two rounds.
He had also done his homework on the 28-year-old.
Gonzaga scored a dramatic knockout of Mirko Cro Cop in his last bout with a powerful kick to the head. Couture had the maneuver scouted.
When Gonzaga attempted it in the second round, Couture ducked and shot in to take control in the clinch.
Couture got caught with a second attempt in the third, but he absorbed the blow and shot in on Gonzaga, scoring the takedown that led to a mount against the cage and a barrage of shots that caused the referee to halt the fight.
“I think a takedown broke his nose,” Couture said. “I heard it in my ear. After that, I felt him breathing through his mouth, and from that point I had an advantage.”
Couture’s tactic of keeping Gonzaga against the cage also served to cut down on the reach advantage. On the few occasions the two traded blows in the center of the cage, Gonzaga showed flashes of being effective.
Unfortunately for the Brazilian, so did Couture. The veteran again overcame a younger fighter with a combination of superior wrestling and surprisingly effective strikes.
On the undercard, former UFC welterweight champion Georges St. Pierre beat Josh Koscheck at his own game.
St. Pierre seemingly ignored his supposed advantage in the stand-up and instead controlled the former NCAA Division I wrestling national champion on the mat.
The result was a relatively uneventful unanimous decision victory for St. Pierre, who was coming off a disappointing loss to Matt Serra in April that cost him his belt.
“Josh Koscheck is a very good wrestler. Being a good wrestler, he’s not used to fighting on his back,” St. Pierre said. “My game plan was to put him out of his comfort zone, and it was the key to my success.”
The win should set up St. Pierre to face the winner of the December fight between Serra and Matt Hughes.
In each of the three rounds, St. Pierre was able to take the fight to the ground in an advantageous position.
Only in the first round was Koscheck able to reverse the action. The maneuver helped him capture the first round on two scorecards, but those were the only blemishes he could put on St. Pierre.
Bonanza High School graduate Frank Mir continued his comeback from a serious motorcycle accident with a quick submission victory over Antoni Hardonk. Mir, the former UFC heavyweight champion, has struggled in his last few bouts but looked like his old self.
Always a talented submission artist, Mir got Hardonk to the ground in the opening seconds and worked the armbar deeper and deeper until Hardonk tapped just 1:17 into the opening round.
Mir attempted to reassure the fans that his injuries are behind him.
“It’s over with; it’s in the past. I can fight now,” Mir said triumphantly to a thunderous ovation from the hometown fans.
Mir’s biggest problem recently has been a lack of conditioning, but he looked to be in much better shape and his stamina was not tested with the quick stoppage.
Las Vegan Joe Stevenson and Roger Huerta each picked up pivotal wins in lightweight division battles.
The two hope to be in line for a title that might soon be vacated if champion Sean Sherk is unsuccessful in his appeal to the California Athletic Commission after a positive steroids test in July.
Thales Leites, Patrick Cote, Clay Guida and “Babalu” Sobral also picked up victories.