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October 20, 2014

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TAKE FIVE: ULTIMATE FIGHTING CHAMPIONSHIP 74, COUTURE VS. GONZAGA

Principals: Randy Couture (15-8 mixed martial arts) vs. Gabriel Gonzaga (8-1)

At stake: Couture's UFC heavyweight title

Time/site: Today at the Mandalay Bay Events Center; doors open, 4:30 p.m.; first bout, 5:15 p.m.; main card, 7 p.m.

Tickets: Near-sellout. Some seats remain at $200 to $800 ($50 and $100 seats sold out), mandalaybay.com

TV: Pay-per-view, $39.95

Other featured bouts: Josh Koscheck (11-1) vs. Georges St. Pierre (13-2), welterweights; Roger Huerta (20-1-1) vs. Alberto Crane (8-0), lightweights; Kurt Pellegrino (16-2) vs. Joe Stevenson (32-7), lightweights; Patrick Cote (11-4) vs. Kendall Grove (10-3), middleweights; Renato Sobral (27-7) vs. David Heath (9-1), light heavyweights; Frank Mir (9-3) vs. Antoni Hardonk (5-3), heavyweights; Ryan Jensen (11-1) vs. Thales Leites (10-1), middleweights; Clay Guida (21-5) vs. Marcus Aurelio (14-4), lightweights.

Betting lines: Gonzaga -130/Couture even money; St. Pierre -250/Koscheck +200; Huerta -400/Crane +320; Stevenson -280/Pellegrino +230; Grove -240/Cote +180; Sobral -250/Heath +200; Mir -180/Hardonk +150 (all odds subject to change)

1. Another defense

Randy Couture, a mixed martial arts icon and UFC Hall of Famer, makes his first title defense in his third go-round as the UFC's heavyweight champion at age 44. The only fighter to have held titles at heavyweight and light heavyweight in the UFC, Couture won his previous heavyweight crowns in 1997 and 2000 - practically ancient history in the young but booming sport of big-time mixed martial arts. He reclaimed the heavyweight title in March, coming out of a brief retirement to upend Tim Sylvia in a five-round decision. Couture said he's prepared to go the distance again, if necessary, against Brazilian challenger Gabriel Gonzaga.

2. Proving 'em wrong

Although Couture relishes silencing critics who question whether he still has the talent to compete at an elite level as he gets older, he said he's primarily driven by a personal devotion to mixed martial arts. "First and foremost, it's just my love for the sport," said Couture, a world-class wrestler and Washington state native who now fights out of his Las Vegas gym, Xtreme Couture. "I love this - training and feeling like I'm learning new skills and getting better, and then (having) a chance to go out and test those skills. It doesn't get any better than that."

3. Here's the kicker

Gonzaga, who holds a black belt in Brazilian j ujitsu, earned a shot at the title by stopping heavily favored Mirko Cro Cop in April with a fearsome kick to Cro Cop's head in the first round. Gonzaga has presented himself as polite and soft-spoken in the buildup to the fight, refraining from any trash talk against Couture, a fan favorite who has come to be known as "Captain America." "He's a wonderful fighter, a wonderful guy," said Gonzaga, 28 . "He showed everybody he's in wonderful shape in his last fight. But to be a champ, you need to beat the champ, and I will do my best."

4. Comeback fight

Former UFC welterweight champ Georges St. Pierre will be fighting Josh Koscheck under intense scrutiny after losing his title to Matt Serra, a big underdog, in April. St. Pierre said the loss prompted him to rework his mental approach to fighting and to hire a sports psychologist. "Right now I'm on top of my game," said St. Pierre, 26, of Montreal . "I changed my perspective on a lot of things. The loss might have been the best thing that ever happened to me, because when things go well in your career you don't change the formula. You don't fix something that's not broken. Because I lost that fight, I made a lot of changes, not only in my training but also in my personal life."

5. Playing spoiler?

Koscheck, a former NCAA national wrestling champion (Edinboro University of Pennsylvania), has been training in mixed martial arts for only three years yet says he'll enter the octagon confident in an upset victory. The winner could be in line for a shot at the UFC welterweight title held by Serra. "Georges is a good quality opponent, a former champion," said Koscheck, 29, of Fresno, Calif. "But I think I can stand and trade with Georges. I think I can take him down. I think I can take this fight any way I want."

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