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Couture retains title through experience

Times Staff Writer

LAS VEGAS -- He gave away 16 years and more than 23 pounds, but Randy Couture held on to the most important advantage -- his fighting smarts -- to successfully defend his Ultimate Fighting Championship heavyweight belt Saturday night.

The 228 1/2-pound Couture, 44, was a slight underdog to 252-pound Gabriel Gonzaga, 28, at Mandalay Bay Events Center, but the UFC’s most decorated champion showed a sellout crowd of 11,118 how to compensate for the power of youth and brawn while winning by a third-round technical knockout.

Couture (16-8) weathered a quick stiff right punch by Gonzaga and took his larger opponent to the mat, setting up a decisive slam less than two minutes into the fight that left a stream of blood rushing from the bridge of Gonzaga’s nose.

“We clashed heads on the takedown,” Couture said. “I heard the [nose] crunch. I knew his nose was broken.”

One thing the former Olympic alternate wrestler knows is how to position his body, and he spent the remainder of the fight mostly pressing himself into Gonzaga (8-2), backing the challenger into the Octagon fencing.

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“I had to frustrate him,” Couture said. “He had no place to go.”

When Gonzaga tried to break free, Couture pounded him with overhand left punches and combinations that made Gonzaga’s efforts futile.

In a span of seconds in the second round, Gonzaga first asked referee Herb Dean for a timeout, complaining he couldn’t see from his left eye, and he then found himself absorbing a one-point deduction for illegally holding on to the fence.

Couture unleashed more scoring punches in the round’s final minutes.

Gonzaga resorted early in the third round to the big right kick that gave him an upset over Mirko “Cro Cop” Filipovic earlier this year, but Couture withstood the fatigued blows, taking Gonzaga down and delivering a final barrage of punches that were halted after nine consecutive left-handed punches to Gonzaga’s head.

With 3:23 remaining, Dean awarded Couture the victory.

Also Saturday, recently deposed welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre of Canada overwhelmed Josh Koscheck with the same array of skills that helped him claim the belt last year.

St-Pierre (14-2) beat Koscheck (11-2) by unanimous decision. The Canadian immediately took Koscheck down, thwarting any effort by the Fresno product to repeat his stand-up, upset victory over previously unbeaten Diego Sanchez in April.

St-Pierre, 26, twisted and yanked on Koscheck’s right arm in an extended second-round session that ended with Koscheck shaking the arm after the bell to loosen up the painful experience.

In the third, St-Pierre showed his stand-up skills also were superior, delivering a kick-and-punch combination. St-Pierre then fought off a take-down try by getting atop Koscheck and slowly pounding him with punches to the body and head.

St-Pierre, upset by 11-1 underdog Matt Serra in an April first-round technical knockout, blamed a family medical crisis, and personal and business issues, for a lack of focus during that fight.

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lance.pugmire@latimes.com


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