A 12-8 record during the 2000s isn't eyepopping, but like Forrest Gump, Couture managed to find himself in the middle of some of the most pivotal bouts in UFC history. Brutal matches against Pedro Rizzo and Ricco Rodriguez compelled Couture to drop from 245 to 205, but the move suited him. Already "the Natural" after serving Vitor Belfort's youth in 1997, he added "Captain America" to his list of nomenclature when his signature ground-and-pound style finished Chuck Liddell in 2003. Two weeks later, Couture turned 40. Over the hill? Not remotely. On the contrary, the elder statesman had the stature to give bad boy Tito Ortiz just the spanking he needed - literally - when Couture beat him to unify the light heavyweight title.
The rest of Couture's decade would contain ups and downs, multiple retirements and subsequent un-retirements. Yes, Liddell would take the next two matches from Couture. But not before the coaches helped train up a pair of young studs named Griffin and Bonnar for a 2005 classic that topped the UFC's 100 Greatest Fights list, capped a season of The Ultimate Fighter that likely saved the UFC from financial ruin, and made the Natural and the Iceman pop culture figures in their own right.
In 2006, Couture was inducted into the UFC Hall of Fame. Michael Jordan recently lamented that his Hall of Fame induction was a sad time for him, as it meant his career was well and truly over. When Couture announced a return in 2007 to fight Tim Sylvia for the UFC's heavyweight title, the conventional wisdom was that Couture was too old, too slow, too small - especially for a return to a division that he couldn't hang with once before.
How long did it take Couture, upon returning to the cage, to answer his doubters? One punch. It was a right hand that floored Sylvia under a minute into the fight. 25 minutes later, Couture had himself a unanimous 50-45 decision and another hunk of leather and gold to add to his trophy case.