Randy Couture responds to UFC flak
SANTA MONICA, Calif. -- Retired two-division champion and mixed martial arts icon Randy Couture is eager to move onto the next stage of his career, despite believing a multi-year creative partnership with Spike TV signifies his "death sentence" with the UFC.
"All the things that have taken place in the last couple weeks, I'd be surprised if there's an opportunity to come back," Couture told ESPN.com after a news conference announcing the arrangement. "I don't think there's any going back."
After news broke of Couture's involvement with a Bellator MMA-themed reality series on Spike TV, UFC president Dana White slammed "The Natural" last week while speaking with media covering UFC 156 in Las Vegas.
"I don't respect him at all. Not even a little," White said. "The only time that Randy Couture is ever a man is when he steps foot in that cage. As soon as his big toe steps out of the cage, he's the furthest thing from it."
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White said he was upset with Couture because the three-time UFC champion denied signing with Spike TV and instead suggested deals with other networks were on the table. From 2005 through 2011, Spike TV served as UFC's television partner. The Viacom property, available in nearly 99 million homes, began airing Bellator MMA in 2013.
"If Dana's anything he's predictable," Couture said. "You know how he's going to be. We anticipated that. We kind of knew where it was gonna end up. It's unfortunate that it has to be that way, because I don't think it's necessary. But Dana's Dana."
Couture said since retiring from competition after a loss to Lyoto Machida at UFC 129 in April 2011, he and his attorney, Sam Spira, attempted to create "significant" projects with Zuffa.
"It didn't seem they were terribly interested in doing that," said the 49-year-old former UFC light heavyweight and heavyweight champion. "I suspect harboring some hard feelings from past experiences. It's hard to say."
Couture ran afoul of the UFC on several occasions throughout his 14-year fight career, and was rare among mixed martial artists in fighting for and retaining certain contractual rights. In 2007, then sitting as the UFC heavyweight champion, Couture attempted to break free from Zuffa with two bouts remaining on his contract. His aim was to meet top-ranked Russian heavyweight Fedor Emelianenko. That tact failed, as Zuffa out maneuvered Couture in court. He returned to action 11 months later and lost the title to Brock Lesnar.
"At the end of the day, we have to recognize we are a brand," Couture said. "We need to control our own destinies as much as we can. I think standing up for yourself and realizing I have a small window of opportunity as an athlete to make significant amount of money, and that has to carry me through the rest of my life."
Through Spira, the UFC was notified on Dec. 21 that Couture had terminated a one-year contract that called for four appearances during UFC broadcasts on Fox. The agreement included 30-day cancellation rights for both parties for any reason.
As talks between Couture and Spike TV took shape in the fall, Couture, who was party to a non-disclosure agreement, "gave [Zuffa] every opportunity we could to make them understand without disclosing what we couldn't disclose that things were heating up for me, and if they wanted to keep me it was going to take something significant.
Former UFC champion Frank Shamrock, former Bellator titleholder Joe Warren, highly regarded trainer Greg Jackson, and executives from Spike TV and Bellator MMA joined Couture on Tuesday at Viacom Media Network offices to unveil details about "Fight Master: Bellator MMA," a 10-week reality series that debuts this summer. Bertram van Munster and Elise Doganieri, creators of CBS's "The Amazing Race," serve as the show's executive producers. Production is set to take place in New Orleans, La., and bouts will be overseen by the Louisiana State Boxing and Wrestling Commission.
Couture, Shamrock, Warren and Jackson head up four camps totaling 32 welterweights. The winner will earn $100,000 and entry into a Bellator tournament.
Spike TV will also pilot "MMA Rescue" with three one-hour episodes. Couture, Spira and Chris Coelen will executive produce. The show leverages Couture's "expertise in the business of mixed martial arts to help turn struggling gyms in thriving enterprises," according to a release.
"I'm excited to have an impact on young fighters and their opportunity," Couture said. "The thing I bring to the table that not a lot of guys have been exposed to are the mental skills to deal with the adversity of competition and the pressures that come with this sport."