If former welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre is considered the most influential mixed martial artist to emerge from Canada, then Patrick Cote has to be right behind GSP on the importance scale in the Great White North. And while he never got to wear championship gold in the UFC, having the respect of fans and peers for his nearly 15-year pro career certainly means something to the Quebec native, who announced his retirement Saturday night after his UFC 210 bout against Thiago Alves.
It wasn’t a victory in Buffalo for Cote, but in bout number 35 of a 24-11 run in the sport, he got what he always craved when the Octagon door closed, and that was a fight. There was blood, there were heated exchanges and, when it was over, a smile and a hug for his opponent.
That’s what kept Cote in this sport until the age of 37, long after the point when he “needed” to fight.
“I’m fighting because I want to, not because I need to,” he told me before his fight with Donald Cerrone last June. “So this is 10 times easier for me. I’m just enjoying the moment, and I’m still passionate about the sport. It’s a fun time and I don’t have any stress. I have the pressure off my shoulders that if I don’t win I can’t put bread on my table. It’s a fun life. I stopped being worried about everything, and I’m just enjoying this.”
A respected television commentator who has a real estate company and is a recent father, Cote fought for the love of the game in recent years, and what resulted was the best run of his career, as he moved from middleweight to welterweight and won five of six bouts before a pair of losses to Cerrone and Alves. It was a feel good story that was unexpected but well deserved for a fighter who always seemed to be behind the eight ball for much of his run in the UFC.
Take his UFC debut for example. Unbeaten in five fights in Canada, Cote was scheduled to face Marvin Eastman at UFC 50 in October 2004. Then the headliner of the event, Guy Mezger, was removed from the fight for medical reasons. Cote got a phone call to face former UFC light heavyweight champion Tito Ortiz on four days’ notice. He took it.
“I was probably the last one they asked to fight Tito Ortiz,” Cote said in 2014. “They probably asked everybody else on the card, everybody else on the UFC roster too, and the last choice was me, and I said ‘why not, let’s do this. Four days later I was in the main event of my first UFC fight against a guy who was on the screensaver on my computer and he wanted to kill me.”
Cote lost to Ortiz, but he rocked the former champ in the first round and went the distance. In short, he made an impression, but he couldn’t find the UFC win column in two more Octagon bouts.
At UFC 67 in 2007, he finally got his first UFC win over Scott Smith, and after three more wins in the promotion, Cote got a shot at middleweight champion Anderson Silva. Again, bad luck reared its ugly head, as a knee injury brought a halt to the bout in the third round.
Cote returned nearly two years later, lost two more bouts and was released.
“That was a tough time,” Cote said in 2014. “I took three months out of the gym, I didn’t go at all, and when I came back, in my head I was like ‘okay, now we’re gonna see if the fire’s still in me,’ and right away the flame came back. I said let’s do it again. I love this sport and I wanted to make the sacrifice.”
Four wins on the regional circuit earned him another shot in the UFC, and from there, he was a different fighter, one who was happy just to be able to compete and continue to make his mark for Canadian MMA. The Alves bout was his 21st in the UFC, tying him with St-Pierre for most Octagon bouts by a Canadian. It’s a record that won’t last long, as GSP will be returning to action later this year, but for now, it’s a satisfying mark for a man who earned it the hard way.
“I have a lot of friends who played in the NHL and they say when you take your retirement, it’s not the money, it’s the thrill of the game you miss, and it’s really hard to pull the plug when you have to,” Cote said in 2015. “I think that’s going to be the hardest thing when I retire – just the feeling of walking to the Octagon, feeling the vibe of 10,000 or 15,000 people who support you. It’s going to be hard, and I’m going to miss that for the rest of my life for sure when I pull the plug.”