Friday, April 29, 2011 | 2:05 a.m.
TORONTO — According to Lyoto Machida, he wanted to face Randy Couture as badly as “The Natural” wanted to fight him.
Couture has asked for a bout against Machida for at least two years. But it was more than the 47-year-old’s persistence that finally got the matchup as one of the featured contests at UFC 129, which airs on pay-per-view at 6 p.m. Saturday from the Rogers Centre.
Ed Soares, Machida’s manager, said he suggested a fight with Couture before the beginning of the year.
“We called Dana and said, ‘Hey, if you guys need another co-Main Event, we’d fight Randy Couture,’” Soares said at Thursday’s UFC 129 open workouts. “At the time, Dana was like, ‘I think he’s retiring.’ But after that, Randy mentioned he’d like to fight Lyoto and the fight eventually happened.”
Like many members of the UFC’s current roster, Machida said he watched Couture fight before he even began pursuing mixed martial arts professionally himself.
“I remember he was not only a great fighter inside the octagon, but he was a great person outside of the octagon with a lot of respect towards his opponents,” Machida said through Soares, who is also his translator. “I’ve always respected that.”
That being said, Machida will feel no remorse in trying to send Couture out with a devastating loss. The 32-year-old Machida, who won his first 16 fights, said the focus of his training camp had been finishing instead of letting a fight get to the judges.
Machida lost a split decision to Rampage Jackson at UFC 123 in November after losing his light heavyweight championship belt to Shogun Rua earlier in 2010.
“I feel a victory over Randy Couture in the immediate future would put me back in the title line,” Machida said. “In the future, what it does for my career is it’s just a big honor to fight against a legend like Randy Couture.”
Couture taking it all in
Asked what he would miss the least about competing in the UFC, Couture had to bring up all the media obligations that come with fight week.
It would be hard to tell that was the case based on Thursday. Couture had a permanent smile and was friendly to everyone in his vicinity during his workout.
Couture even made a few jokes, including when his training partner Cesar Ferreira entered the octagon at the Direct Energy Events Center to join him.
“Lyoto Machida, ladies and gentlemen,” Couture announced to the media. “At least, he has been for the last 10 weeks.”
Later, Couture shared the press conference podium with 22-year-old Canadian welterweight Rory MacDonald, who faces Nate Diaz in a preliminary bout on Spike. Couture took almost all of the questions, with MacDonald virtually ignored.
“You picked the wrong dude to do this with,” Couture joked to MacDonald.
Georges St. Pierre also in a jovial mood
The welterweight champion usually doesn’t participate in the open workouts before his fights. It’s still up for debate whether today’s appearance counts.
St. Pierre did a karate demonstration where he defended himself against a fake knife attack from coach Firas Zahabi.
“It was just to amuse the crowd a little bit,” St. Pierre said. “I’m telling you right now, every fight, I’m going to do something like this.”
St. Pierre said he could never go through anything close to a real workout because he cuts so much weight in the days before a bout. St. Pierre drops up to 20 pounds in the week before his fight weigh-ins.
Therefore, he doesn’t have the energy to do much more than something short and fun.
“Everyone is so serious and stressed,” St. Pierre said. “For me, I try to enjoy it as much as I can.”
Jake Shields surprised by warm welcome in Canada
With St. Pierre only one step away from a national hero in Canada, his opponent Jake Shields didn’t know what kind of reception he’d get leading up to their Main Event fight.
Shields said he had wound up feeling perfectly welcomed.
“It’s been great,” Shields said. “Everyone’s been chasing me down getting pictures, some of them have GSP headbands on while they’re doing it.”
Maybe the fans are responding positively to Shields because of the respect he’s shown St. Pierre. Neither fighter has engaged in any trash talk before the championship bout.
“I expect them to boo me fight night,” Shields said. “But overall, they’ve treated me great wherever I go.”