Heavyweights were getting bigger and bigger.
First, Randy Couture was beaten by Josh Barnett, who had a couple of inches and around two dozen pounds on him. Next, an even bigger Ricco Rodriguez handed "The Natural" his second straight loss inside the Octagon.
Unsure of his place in a weight class, which was and still is capped at 265 pounds, Couture took a half-year off from the sport to evaluate his future.
That's when the UFC reached out to him -- and like Marlon Brando -- made him an offer he couldn't refuse.
Today, the recently retired mixed martial arts (MMA) legend turns a spry 48-years old. In honor of the optical goods anniversary (whatever that means), we'll be taking a look back his 14-year career.
Up on deck is his upset over "The Iceman" Chuck Liddell at UFC 43: "Meltdown."
The UFC was in a bit of a bind.
Its popular and dominant light heavyweight champion Tito Ortiz never seemed ready to step into the cage against Liddell, the long-time number one contender. Ortiz claimed a pact with his former friend prevented them from ever fighting each other.
"The Iceman" couldn't verify that particular claim.
At the time, Liddell was riding a seven-fight win streak in the UFC, but a title shot eluded him as long as "The Huntington Beach Bad Boy" refused to face him.
That's when the promotion asked its former heavyweight champ if he'd cut down to the 205-pound division and fight for an interim title.
Presented with the prospect of being the first two-division champion in UFC history, Couture naturally said, "Yes."
Backed by an undercard of old school favorites like Vitor Belfort, Kimo Leopoldo and Tank Abbott -- mixed in with future stars like Frank Mir and Yves Edwards -- the two Hall of Famers in the making met on June 6, 2003.
Already 39-years old, Couture wasn't meant to become the new torchbearer for the light heavyweight division. Instead, he was meant to give Liddell a notable opponent en route to his title run.
This was readily apparent in the each of the fighter's entrances: Couture's was standard and low on frills, while Liddell was accompanied by a hype video created by the late Mask of Tapout fame, complete with Vanilla Ice's hard rock rendition of his hit "Ice Ice Baby."
However lame it sounds today, it was groan-inducing, even by 2003 standards. But that made "The Natural's" thumping of Liddell that much more memorable.
A wrestler by trade, everyone -- the fans, Rogan and Goldberg and more importantly Liddell -- assumed Couture wouldn't waste any time shooting in for the takedown.
Almost like clockwork, the former Army Sergeant grabbed hold of his opponent, lifted him up, and slammed him down. But "The Iceman" almost immediately got back to his feet.
The first followed this template. Couture would stifle Liddell on their feet and use that to secure a takedown, forcing "The Pit" product to work his way back to his feet.
"The Natural" continued to surprise in the second, forgoing takedowns altogether and deciding to stand with his opponent. A fool's folly it would seem against the knockout artist that Liddell had become.
But Couture beat Liddell to almost every punch. Jabs and snapping hooks found their marks over and over, taking their toll on "The Iceman's" face ... and his will.
With only 90 seconds remaining in the round, Couture latched onto one of his opponent's legs, while Liddell made like a human pogo stick. A sweep of the leg later and the mohawked madman found himself on his back once again.
A near-last second sweep gave Liddell his first bit of offense in a fight that was largely anticipated to be more coronation than mixed martial arts bout.
Hands high and chin low, Couture continued to feint and snap Liddell's head back with jabs, uppercuts, and hooks.
Two minutes having passed in the third round, Couture closed the distance and wrapped his arms around Liddell and let out an almost primal yell as he lifted his opponent high into the air and just as quickly sent him crashing to the mat.
He quickly slid into full mount and unleashed a flurry of ground and pound that only ended when the referee called a stop to the bout.
At an age when most men are buying Porsches or motorcycles to give themselves the illusion of youth, Couture was winning championship gold.
Steve Rogers, the unageing superhero, suddenly had been usurped by a former wrestling coach from Washington.
Because a real "Captain America" was born that night in Las Vegas.