It was a dominating performance for the Brazilian heavyweight, who dropped Couture and looked close to submitting him with a D'Arce choke in the first round.
Although Nogueira controlled the majority of the match, Couture had his moments. The future Hall of Famers engaged in multiple wide-open exchanges, with both fighters landing heavy blows in the center of the cage and along the fence.
Nogueira, 33, showed his legendary ground skills as well, sweeping Couture and ending up in a mount in the second period. However, he could not finish an arm triangle, and Couture eventually made it back to his feet with about a minute left in the round. Nogueira, as he did repeatedly throughout the fight, again shut down Couture's offense and landed the better shots standing.
Despite leading two rounds to zero, Nogueira did not pack it in for the third. With a desperate Couture looking for a finish, the Brazilian weathered the flurries tossed his way and delivered another big shot that sent Couture, 46, back to the mat. Nogueira swarmed, but he could not navigate Couture's defense to land a fight-ending blow.
Couture, trying to scrap his way back into the fight, wriggled free and made it up to his knees. By then, blood was trickling from a cut outside his right eye. Nogueira sank one hook and began working on a rear-naked choke, but Couture fought him off and swept into top position with just more than a minute left in the fight.
Nogueira held on, attempting to stall in the final minute of the match. He kept Couture close by clinching his arms around him and denying him the space he needed to strike. Couture did snake his way loose, but it was too late. He connected with a few elbows and punches during the bout's final seconds, but they were not enough to sway the judges in his favor. The scorecards were unanimous for Nogueira: 30-27, 30-27 and 29-28.
So what happened in his loss to Frank Mir in December? "I had a staph infection," Nogueira told UFC commentator Joe Rogan. "I was in the hospital for one week before the fight against Frank Mir, then I had my meniscus torn out. So I had a lot of injuries -- my neck, my knee, everything -- but now I am here. I want to be at the top of the UFC. I want a title belt. If you guys give me a chance to fight against Lesnar, it would be my pleasure."
In defeat, Couture fell to 16-10.
"I'm obviously disappointed to lose, but you've got to love this sport," he said after a gutsy effort. "I tell you what, these guys come out here, and every single fight tonight, they put it on the line. That's what I love about it. You never know what's going to happen."
The former heavyweight and light heavyweight champion also complimented Nogueira while giving no hint to retirement.
"What keeps me going is guys like Nogueira, interesting fights," Couture said. "Everybody is questioning him at this point. I'll tell you what I felt in here: He's definitely firing on all cylinders. He was very tough tonight."
Silva stops Jardine
Thiago Silva got back on the winning track with a devastating knockout of Keith Jardine just 95 seconds into their light heavyweight showdown. Silva was returning after suffering the first loss of his career, a January defeat to eventual champion Lyoto Machida.
Jardine came out aggressively, landing a couple of low kicks and establishing himself in the center of the Octagon. Silva got on the scoreboard when he caught a low kick and dumped Jardine to the mat. He could not keep him there, however, and the fighters returned to their feet.
It may have been a blessing in disguise for the Brazilian. Silva slipped an uppercut that followed and countered with a left hook that sent Jardine careening to the floor. Silva chased him down and followed up with punches that relieved Jardine of his faculties, forcing referee Herb Dean to halt the action.
"This fight was very important for me because I [love fighting] here," Silva said. "The UFC is my life."
Rosholt taps out Leben
Leben, who was fighting in his hometown of Portland, looked sluggish from the start while Rosholt never let him catch his breath, pressing the action from bell to bell. A national champion wrestler at Oklahoma State, Rosholt got Leben's attention early in the opening frame when he landed a knee that bloodied his nose. Leben's only real offense in the first came when he started winging wild punches in the last seconds of the round, none of which landed flush.
Rosholt evaded a high kick only to eat a nice left by Leben in the most consequential exchange of the second period. Although Rosholt followed up with a takedown, he did little with it.
Entering the third round, Leben looked worse for the wear while Rosholt still looked fresh. The final period began with Leben swinging for the fences again, but Rosholt easily took him down and passed to side control, where he latched onto the submission. Leben looked as if he was going to tap at one point but instead lost consciousness.
"It feels great. I want the last one back," said Rosholt, who had lost his UFC debut to Dan Miller in February.
"You can't have it back," UFC commentator Joe Rogan told him, "but you can have future victories."
Rosholt responded, "Yeah, I'll get it back someday."
Marquardt mauls Maia
The former middleweight title challenger floored Maia with a right hand to the jaw just as Maia tried to kick him. The blow sent the Brazilian spinning and crashing to the canvas just 21 seconds into the bout.
"The funny thing is, I hurt my ankle a little bit before this fight, and I couldn't do any kicks," Marquardt said. "So I was working that move with my buddy Duane [Ludwig]. Thanks, Duane, for showing me that right before this fight."
Marquardt has been pining for another shot at UFC 185-pound champion Anderson Silva. This victory might have secured him the rematch.
"I want that belt," Marquardt said. "I don't know who's getting the shot next, but if you want someone who can get in there and kick Anderson Silva's butt, then you're going to give the shot to me."
Vera outclasses Soszynski
Vera used superior footwork to avoid any real danger in the plodding three-round affair. He landed all the better shots but failed to do any serious damage to his outclassed foe.
Soszynski's only offensive output came in the clinch along the cage, but Vera quickly extricated himself from his clutches on each occasion.
The Portland fans were not happy with the bout and voiced their opinion vociferously. It did little to spur on the fighters, however, who opened up only in the final minute. Vera got the better of the concluding exchange as well, cementing his 30-27 victory on all the judges' scorecards.
The talented but disappointing Vera has shown flashes of brilliance that have had the sport buzzing about his potential for years, but his lackluster bout with Soszynski highlighted one of the reasons he has not reached the heights that so many predicted he would.
"I tried to stay in southpaw for most of the fight just to mess with him," Vera said. "It was a good fight. I wish I could have knocked him out. Next time. Krzysztof is a tough dude."
Greg Savage is a contributor to Sherdog.com.