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Thursday, February 4, 2010
Updated: February 5, 10:39 AM ET
ESPN Primer: UFC 109


Like health care reform, most of the coverage surrounding UFC 109 is fixated on the plight of the senior citizen: Randy Couture is 46, Mark Coleman is 45, and the two combined have roughly 27 years of prizefighting experience accrued. That kind of time punched in tends to stir a lot of emotion in audiences -- not all of it positive.

In having occupied MMA for more than a decade, Couture and Coleman have far exceeded the typical life expectancy for a combat sports athlete, a job that frequently turns young men old and old men into dust. Couture put on a brave front against monstrous Brock Lesnar as late as 2008; Coleman defied expectations to decision Stephan Bonnar in July. Fans seem to delight in that perseverance while simultaneously resenting the fighters' prolonged status as leading attractions. (Couture in particular lost some steam in a bout with Brandon Vera that was more self-defense demonstration than fight.)

If fan enthusiasm is dull for Saturday's card, it might be blamed on mismeasured expectations: Standards that apply to 25-year-olds should not be heaped on men nearing 50 who have fought as frequently as some athletes have sparred. If you expect to watch Couture-Coleman and be dazzled by radical, hyper attacks, you will quickly grow disappointed; if you accept that two veterans will engage in a game in which nasty tricks and a takedown or two can alter the outcome, you probably will walk away satisfied.

What: "UFC 109: Relentless", an 11-bout card from the Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas

When: Saturday, 10 p.m. ET; pay-per-view, with a live undercard broadcast on Spike at 9 p.m. ET.

Why you should care: Because this is likely the last time the winner of Couture-Coleman will sniff a title shot, putting an effective end to an era; because Nate Marquardt is looking more and more like a problem for Anderson Silva in a rematch and needs a violent win over Chael Sonnen to seal it; because Frank Trigg, for all his deflated bravado, can't put on a boring fight; and because Rolles Gracie will be looking for his family's first win in the UFC in nearly 15 years.

Fight of the night: Melvin Guillard versus Ronys Torres: spastic hands versus a six-shooting submission game.

Hype quote of the show: "It's quite ironic that all the media comes on and talks about how great [Silva] is for reasons that are completely un-understandable to me … all of us fighters are in the back going, 'jeez, they're out there massaging his ego.' Anderson hates them so much, he pretends he can't understand them." -- Chael Sonnen, getting title fight hype started prematurely, to MMAWeekly.com

Five questions: UFC 109

Randy Couture
To wrestle or to box? That's the question Randy Couture faces going into UFC 107.

Q: Is Couture-Coleman a wrestling or boxing match?

A: The last thing two wrestlers typically like to do in a mixed-style fight is wrestle: Their advantage is negated; their gas tanks run dry -- and quickly -- in the clinch and while jockeying for position. They resort to trading, and the best boxer in the wrestler tends to win.

Neither Couture nor Coleman will be confused for a kickboxer anytime soon: Their three-round main event Saturday might come down to who gets tired first and eats the majority of combinations he is too fatigued to avoid.

Q: Is Couture's fight frequency a factor?

A: Although fighters generally sit on their hands, fighting only two or three times a year, Couture has hit the pedal on his remaining time in the cage: This will be his third fight in five months, with two having gone the full 15 minutes. This could work in his favor --timing and athletic efficiency tend to stay hydrated with activity -- or it could be asking too much of a body with 13 years invested in a grueling sport.

Q: Does Marquardt constitute Silva's biggest test?

A: Marquardt has improved in strides since a 2007 loss to Silva, displaying a comfort in his stand-up ability that some athletes can only find in the gym. If he beats Sonnen on Saturday, it will be impossible to argue that anyone else is more deserving of a title bid -- particularly Vitor Belfort, who's jumping ahead in line and meeting Silva in April.

Q: Can Demian Maia make a psychological recovery?

A: After an undefeated start in MMA, submission machine gun Maia ran into Marquardt in August and suffered his first loss -- and loss of consciousness -- in the cage. He has healed physically, but it's the psychological scars of a brutal KO loss and proof of vulnerability that can endanger fighters. Fighting Dan Miller is an especially tough rebound: Miller's strength is his ground game, meaning Maia could face some resistance where he's normally most comfortable.

Q: Is AKA too friendly for the 170-pound division?

A: If Mike Swick defeats Paulo Thiago on Saturday, he'll join teammates Josh Koscheck and Jon Fitch as three men who could make a serious case for a shot at Georges St. Pierre's welterweight title. In most instances, they would be paired against each other in elimination, but AKA -- like many high-ranking camps in the sport -- largely refuses to get incestuous in competition. It's not a concern if they're spread over the top 10, but the division is now top-heavy with that gym's contenders. Will fans understand the pacifism?

Red Ink: Couture-Coleman

Mark Coleman
Mark Coleman's wrestling accumen will be put to the test against Randy Couture.

The 2000 Pride Grand Prix was the closest Coleman ever came to facing a wrestler in MMA who could trouble him. Coleman braced himself for Kazuyuki Fujita's shot, but the Japanese man crumpled to the ground only two seconds after the bell rang. (Fujita's corner, anticipating that he would be unable to compete in the semifinal fight because of existing injury, was braced to throw in the towel.)

Crisis averted: Coleman beat Igor Vovchanchyn to win the tournament title.

In Coleman's heyday, he was not a man overly eager to face competition that had roots in his own sport of amateur wrestling. Against Dan Severn a few years before the Pride fight, he "gently" applied a suffocating submission on the ground rather than turn Severn's face into chuck patty. But the sport has changed and so have attitudes: In 2009, Coleman not only agreed to fight fellow wrestling standout Couture but requested to.

The two wrestled in amateur competition 20-odd years ago, with Coleman edging out a win on points. Their career methods have since split: Couture pursued Greco-Roman grappling, which focuses on upper-body work, and Coleman was a freestyle wrestler. Both applied themselves successfully to MMA, though it was Couture -- whose clinch work avoided some of the striking dangers faced by Coleman's shooting in -- who remained in the public eye longer.

The fight is both threat and opportunity for Coleman, who might find his wrestling negated by Couture and will be forced to display a more wizened game. It's not particularly a battle of wrestling versus wrestling but rather a question of whose manipulation is better suited for MMA.

What it means: For the winner, a chance to contend for the title after May's Lyoto Machida-Mauricio Rua rematch; for the loser, nothing beyond some fleeting disappointment.

Might look like: Couture's fight with Mike Van Arsdale, an accomplished wrestler in his own right who exchanged tie-ups with Couture before succumbing to a choke.

Wild card: Coleman's rejuvenated mindset after the discovery of trainer Shawn Tompkins. For Coleman, a man used to training and pushing himself, that's a game changer.

Who wins: Couture possesses more submission and striking acumen at this point. Coleman might hit a double or two, but if Couture can escape from underneath Lesnar, he can get this fight back to the feet and in front of a panting Coleman. Couture by decision.