UFC 129 fight card: Randy Couture's retirement match against Lyoto Machida in Toronto

via assets.sbnation.com

How does a professional athlete, after so many years of sacrifice for glory, make the dreaded decision to bring an end to a legendary career?

For Randy Couture, it was simple; he wants to get out while the getting is still good.

It helps that he's 47 years-old, an age any layman would normally begin the process of coming to grips with their own mortality. Hell, in some ways, Couture's entire career, which began at the ripe age of 33, could feasibly be considered a mid-life crisis.

And it may have taken him 14 years but "The Natural" has finally found peace with his life and is ready to move on to what he feels is his true calling as he progresses through the later stages of his life -- Hollywood.

Couture briefly grappled with the idea of leaving MMA in his rear-view after swiftly dealing with James Toney last August, but ultimately decided the allure of a bout against Lyoto Machida was simply too powerful to ignore.

For his part, "The Dragon" feels honored to send "Captain America" on his merry way. He'll give Randy everything he can handle, as he's on a two-fight skid and fighting for his Octagon life, but it would be difficult to find a classier final opponent.

It's also rather fitting that Couture's swan song will come at the Rogers Centre in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. Not because of geographical placement but because the arena will hold a staggering 55,000 grateful fans.

The stage is set ... and it couldn't get any bigger.

Tonight's contest is not only a fight designed to give one of the most beloved fighters in the history of the sport a proper send-off, it's also chock full of divisional relevance.

Because, let's face it, the possibility that Couture changes his mind if he is to emerge victorious is, at the very least, worth considering.

A win would give the former two-division champion a four-fight winning streak, his longest in over a decade. Maybe not enough to earn him a title shot in a weight class loaded with potential challengers but undoubtedly enough to award him another dream fight of sorts.

Like, say -- Fedor Emelianenko.

Of course, that's rampant speculation ... but a possibility nonetheless.

This fight holds equal importance for Lyoto Machida, who hasn't actually won a fight since Oct. 2009. During that span he's lost twice, a devastating knockout at the hands of Mauricio Rua that cost him the light heavyweight title and a close decision defeat to Quinton Jackson.

Another failure inside the Octagon, crazy as it may seem, may force the Karate master back to his native land of Salvador, pink slip in hand.

His track record speaks for itself, however, and he just might be safe either way. The fact remains, though; defeating Couture would go a long way in restoring confidence in the once unstoppable Brazilian.

No matter the outcome, tonight promises to be a memorable one for all involved.

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