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Lorenzo Fertitta: Randy Couture is a mixed martial arts pioneer, good friend

Lorenzo J. Fertitta is Chairman and CEO of the Ultimate Fighting Championship

Lorenzo J. Fertitta is Chairman and CEO of the Ultimate Fighting Championship

Randy Couture's Greatest Hits

Randy Couture talks about some of his greatest fights.

The term “legend” is thrown around generously in professional sports.

However, if you step back and think about the magnitude of the word “legend,” you can’t help but to wonder if it’s a bit abused.

Legendary status to me means excelling at a level that is not only above your peers, but also higher than anyone has achieved. To me, it means winning multiple world titles, defeating the best competition of your time, all while blazing a trail and inspiring a nation of fans.

To me, the term “legend” applies to a good friend, mixed martial arts pioneer Randy Couture.

Randy has competed for the UFC since 1997 and has had one of the most storied careers in history. One of only two men to ever win UFC titles in two weight classes, Randy has earned victories over the likes of Chuck Liddell, Tito Ortiz, Mark Coleman, Vitor Belfort, Maurice Smith, Kevin Randleman and Tim Sylvia.

What’s more, he has become a cornerstone in helping make UFC the fastest-growing sports organization in the world. If we needed someone to do a media tour at 5 a.m., Randy was up and ready with his trademark grin on his face. If there was an opportunity to lend our support to the military, Randy, himself a veteran, was always first in line.

Few people represent this sport better than Randy Couture. In his illustrious career, he has touched the lives of many fans with his dedication, humility and ability to defy the odds. From the success of his gym here in Las Vegas to his newfound stardom as an actor in Hollywood movies, Randy is a shining example that hard work truly pays off.

Tonight, Randy will enter the octagon for the final time as a UFC competitor. In front of a record 55,000 fans at Rogers Centre in Toronto, Randy plans on making his bout with Lyoto Machida the final contest of his career. At 47 years old, an age when most people hit the golf course not the heavy bag, Randy will strap on the UFC gloves and give fans the opportunity to watch a living legend compete one last time.

It’s truly amazing to see what Randy has accomplished over the past few years of his career. From winning the heavyweight title at age 43 to stringing together three consecutive wins heading into tonight’s battle, Randy is in better shape than athletes half his age. Furthermore, he joins an elite class of athletes who have actually gotten better against Father Time’s wishes.

Thanks to his intelligence, precision and unmatched cerebral approach to our sport, Randy has excelled in the UFC even into his late 40s. Like George Foreman winning a heavyweight boxing title at age 45, Brett Favre outperforming quarterbacks nearly half his age in the NFL and Nolan Ryan throwing fastballs at 100 mph late in his career, Randy has competed at the highest levels in one of the world’s most demanding sports.

It’s part of the reason Randy feels it’s time to retire from active competition. He’s won the titles, he’s defeated the top fighters of his era and he’s leaving with his mind, body and spirit intact. Few athletes get to retire on their own terms, and I’m happy to see Randy get the rare chance.

When the final horn sounds on Randy’s career tonight at UFC 129, I look forward to hearing the crowd erupt and show its appreciation for a man who helped make the growth of this sport possible. I’m sure through many endeavors, Randy will remain connected to the UFC and the sport for many years to come.

It’s just something that a legend does. His impact stretches far beyond the octagon, and tonight, win, lose or draw, Randy Couture will come home to Las Vegas a true legend.

Lorenzo J. Fertitta is chairman and CEO of the Ultimate Fighting Championship.