Couture confident to take down Gonzaga at UFC 74

At the age of 44, UFC heavyweight champion Randy Couture shares elite company with the likes of George Blanda, Nolan Ryan, Archie Moore and George Foreman -- athletes whose careers peaked more than a decade after their peers' sporting aspirations had all but evaporated.

Years have past since mixed martial arts pundits placed "The Natural" in the twilight of his career. So just how long does Couture feel he can continue to lace up the gloves?

"It's what I love to do," the champ told Sherdog.com. "I enjoy it. And I think as long as I'm physically able to do it, I can't see myself doing anything else.

"I'm having a lot of fun doing a lot other stuff, the businesses and the acting and all that stuff, but my first passion has always been competing and fighting. So I like that and I want to keep doing that as long as I can."

Couture, who also claimed two light heavyweight crowns, says he's at the top of his game as he inches towards his title defense against Gabriel Gonzaga Saturday at UFC 74.

"I'm holding up well, getting better. I feel like I'm the best I've ever been right now. My body is still responding. I'm still learning new technique and becoming a better fighter," declared the Oregonian. "How long that's going to continue I have no idea. Just keep plugging away and enjoying it while it lasts."

Though he's known for a slick ground game, Gonzaga's head-kick knockout of Croatian striker Mirko Filipovic may be wading in the mind of Couture.

"I'm going to take him down," said the veteran Greco-Roman wrestler. "I'm not terribly concerned about putting him on his back. I just have to be aware there. I have a pretty good idea of where he's going to try to go from the bottom.

"I expect he's going to be working a half-guard game and try to roll to the legs and that sort of thing, so I have to be aware there."

While Couture stopped short of offering a prediction for Aug. 25, he did offer an interesting comment for an athlete in his mid-40s facing a fighter who, at the age of 28, seems to be in his prime.

"I think the longer the fight goes, the better that's going to be for me."

"The Truth" set for October comeback

Undefeated heavyweight prospect Brandon Vera will make his long awaited return to the octagon after a managerial dispute sidelined the San Diego native for nearly 11 months.

Zuffa on Tuesday announced on its Web site that Vera, known for his razor sharp knee strikes and potent ground game, will confront former UFC heavyweight champion Tim Sylvia on Oct. 20 in Cincinnati.

Vera, 29, is 4-0 in the octagon, with notable victories over Frank Mir and Assuerio Silva.

Sylvia steps into the fight on the heels of a shocking defeat to Couture, in which the 31-year-old "Maine-iac" lost his title back in March.

Also on the card, UFC middleweight king Anderson Silva puts his strap on the line against hometown favorite Rich Franklin. The two squared off in Oct. of last year in a bout that saw the long-legged Brazilian demolish the Ohioan in less than three minutes with a brutal assault of knees from the Thai-clinch.

Franklin's stablemate Jorge Gurgel has a new opponent for the card. After Douglas Evans was forced to withdraw with an undisclosed injury, Alvin Robinson, who dropped his UFC debut to Kenny Florian back on July 7, will face Gurgel.

UFC 77 "Hostile Territory" Fight Card:
Anderson Silva vs. Rich Franklin
Tim Sylvia vs. Brandon Vera
Jason MacDonald vs. Yushin Okami
Jorge Gurgel vs. Alvin Robinson
Marvin Eastman vs. Demian Maia
Stephan Bonnar vs. Eric Schafer

Diaz returns from suspension to face Penn-trained Aina

Stockton Calif.'s Nick Diaz returns to action on EliteXC's "Uprising" card Sept. 15 in Honolulu against B.J. Penn affiliated fighter Mike Aina.

Three weeks after submitting PRIDE 161-pound champion Takanori Gomi in Las Vegas, Diaz's license was suspended for six months (retroactive to the date of the fight) after a Nevada State Athletic Commission administered post-fight urinalysis showed an extremely high reading of Delta-9-THC, the active ingredient in marijuana.

Diaz was slated to take part in a grappling-only match against Shinji Sasaki on Aug. 18 in Orange County, Calif. but California State Athletic Commission officials stopped the bout, stating the contest falls under suspension guidelines.

Headlining the Sept. 15 Showtime-televised bill will be a middleweight showdown between EliteXC champion Murilo Rua and ICON Sport ace Robbie Lawler.

Additional duels include Joey Villasenor versus Riki Fukuda, Jake Shields against Renato Verissimo, and Tonya Evinger will take on Gina Carano in a female draw.

GFC heads to the Pacific

Columbus, Ohio-based Gracie Fighting Championships will travel 4,500 miles to the Pacific for its "Gracie Proving Ground II" event, slated for the Neal S. Blaisdell Center in Honolulu on Oct. 6, Sherdog.com has learned.

The follow-up to November's freshman GPG card will feature contests with rules similar to the heyday of PRIDE, with soccer kicks, stomps and knees to the head allowed on the ground.

Rhalan Gracie -- a nephew to Royce and Rickson -- will headline the card along side Icon Sport veteran Keoni Bryant.

In his lone professional MMA contest, Gracie went the distance in a hard-fought split decision defeat to UFC welterweight Dustin Hazelett in March 2006.

Also signed to compete are Kaleo Kwan, Duke Saragosa, Brandon Wolff, Kimo Wolfel and Fabio Prada.

Octagon veterans clash in IFO

UFC veterans Travis Wiuff and Chris Price will square off in Richard Steele's International Fighting Organization on Sept. 1 in Las Vegas.

Wiuff, who was once considered a rising star in the sport, has struggled since besting Fabiano Capoani in February 2006, going .500 in his last 10 engagements.

Price, a former marine who served tours in Afghanistan and Iraq, has pieced together three straight victories since coming up short against Ed Herman and Kendall Grove on Spike TV's "Fight Night" series.

Titled "Fireworks in the Cage II," the bill also features big show vets Justin Levens and Tony Fryklund.

Mike Fridley covers mixed martial arts for Sherdog.com.