After dropping two fights in a row, former UFC heavyweight champion Randy Couture has taken a step back, surveyed the mixed martial arts horizon and concluded it is time to return home.
After a three-year hiatus, Couture is back at light heavyweight and eager to make his mark again in this highly competitive division. He returns Saturday night (SpikeTV, 8 p.m. ET) at UFC 105 in Manchester, England, against Brandon Vera.
Fighting at heavyweight and winning titles against much larger men helped build Couture into a legend, but he is a natural 205-pounder. When Couture steps into the cage against Vera, he will be at his physical best.
Taking on a man his own size has its advantages for Couture. His aggressiveness won't be compromised and he has to make fewer adjustments strategically.
"Tactically, it is a lot different fighting guys my own size," Couture told ESPN.com. "The size, weight and horsepower differences are technically less of a consideration when I am fighting guys my own size.
"I don't have to worry about getting underneath them, I don't have to worry about how I shoot or how I try to take them down or close the distance or even trading in the stand-up part of the fight. It changes when you're dealing with guys that size."
In the heavyweight division, size was always an issue for Couture; he was the smaller man, period. That isn't the case at light heavyweight.
The 205-pound division is tailor-made for Couture: Making weight is a piece of cake for him. On fight night, Couture will rehydrate to about 216 pounds -- that's 4 pounds lighter than he weighed in for his Aug. 29 loss to Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira at UFC 102.
Vera should be the quicker man Saturday night in the Octagon, but less weight will improve Couture's speed. And Couture isn't likely to take many backward steps, as he was forced to do against Nogueira. At 205 pounds, Couture is a physically imposing man. He'll be the stronger fighter Saturday, and he plans to use that strength advantage to control Vera, especially while the two are grappling for position. Aggressiveness will be a significant part of Couture's fight plan.
"I will go out and get after him," said Couture, who will carry a 16-10-0 record into the cage. "I have an idea of what he is going to do. I will hunt him down, get my hands on him and make him work."
It is a simple plan, one Couture is more than equipped to execute. But it won't be a cakewalk.
Vera respects Couture, but he doesn't plan to give an inch in this bout. While Couture can boast of the advantages that fighting at 205 offer him, Vera has found a home at light heavyweight.
After rolling off eight straight wins at heavyweight, Vera dropped two straight. He then opted to compete at light heavyweight and has compiled a 3-1 mark in the division.
Adjusting to 205 pounds took some getting used to for Vera, but in his two most recent bouts he looked like the fighter who was once considered a can't-miss prospect. Vera is now a bona-fide light heavyweight, who is eager to face Couture and confident he will defeat him.
"You will see a better Brandon Vera on fight night," he told ESPN.com. "You will see me attacking more, you will see me do things you have never seen me do before, things I have never had to do before.
"I'm fighting Randy, so I am going to have to pull out all the stops. You are going to see a more improved Brandon Vera."
The fighter standing across the cage Saturday night from Couture will be faster and in the best physical shape of his MMA life. Vera will have no difficulty giving Couture all he can handle for three full rounds.
Both Couture and Vera spoke to ESPN.com about their mutual goal of claiming the 205-pound title. This fight will serve as a statement, especially for Vera.
"It can become a statement fight, it can become one," said Vera, who is 11-3-0. "I'm six months to a year from becoming champion."
Although the 46-year-old Couture has title aspirations, his focus is squarely on this fight. He knows Vera represents a serious threat, but Couture has faced many tough fighters in his career and defeated most.
Regardless of the outcome, Couture won't relinquish his goal of becoming a champion again. With his priorities in order and goals intact, Couture doesn't feel any pressure heading into this fight.
"I don't feel like I am in any kind of must-win situation," Couture said. "I am capable, and expect to beat Brandon. It is going to be a good fight, he is a good opponent; but I don't think it is the end of my career if something should happen and it doesn't go my way.
"I'm having fun. I am going to take it one fight at a time and just keep doing what I do."
Franklin McNeil is an analyst on ESPN.com's "MMA Live."