EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW with RANDY COUTURE
Brian O'Hara for MMA Sports issue 14. Photo by Josh Hedges, courtesy of Zuffa, LLC.
Although Randy Couture’s legal battle with the UFC is now over, he still remains in court; the court of public opinion. Couture shocked the MMA world last October when he resigned from his position as the UFC heavyweight champion citing examples of under appreciation and an overall lack of respect on behalf of his employers. White and the UFC meanwhile maintained that he was treated fairly and that they still viewed Couture as their heavyweight champion.
The seemingly irreconcilable legal situation seemed bleak for everyone involved. The UFC lost the first man to hold titles in both the UFC light heavyweight and heavyweight divisions and the only three time UFC heavyweight champion. Couture meanwhile was unable to do the one thing he loves to do. Finally, the fans went an entire year without watching their hero continue to mesmerize them with his abilities.
So why did Couture decide to go to war with MMA’s biggest organization only to return a year later? The short answer is that he will do anything necessary to gain his due respect and to compete against the best in the business. Coming back at age 45 to face the much younger UFC hulk, Brock Lesnar, just to have an outside shot at fighting the world’s top heavyweight, Fedor Emelianenko; is evidence that Couture’s reputation for being the most respected heavyweight in the business is still in tact. To say otherwise would be an injustice.
“I don’t have that much time, I want to fight now. Hopefully this is the step towards making the Fedor fight happen in the UFC. I’m certainly not opposed to fighting anybody else. This is just a chance to make the Fedor fight happen,” said Couture.
Perhaps the court of public opinion has already spoken. His book titled “Becoming the Natural: My Life in and Out of the Cage” peaked at number 20 on the New York Best Seller list over the summer. This was quite an impressive feat considering the abundance of political books that were released during the most controversial election year in recent history. The book still remains as one of the top five best selling sports autobiographies with the likes of mega stars Tiger Woods and Lance Armstrong.
If the former Army enlistee had not already paid his dues to his country and to the UFC during his 11 year career with the organization, he certainly has paid them now; figuratively and literally. Tired of wasting countless dollars and precious time, Couture saw returning to the UFC as the only viable option to getting what he wanted all along; Fedor.
“It’s a means to an end, to bring Fedor to the table with the UFC. To end this year-long litigation and spending money on lawyers and all the other stuff,” said Couture. “Ultimately I’m a fighter and I prefer to fight in a cage, so reality at some point sets in when you spend a half a million dollars on lawyers. This could go on for another year at least. Ultimately it’s frustrating and you want to be able to do what you do, which is fight.” Couture did not see a reasonable end to the legal tussle with the UFC within the confines of a Texas courtroom.
“I think we’d probably be tied up in litigation for probably another year at least, trying to continue to find a way out of being in the UFC contract and I can’t make the Fedor fight happen somewhere else,” said Couture.
The likelihood of Couture and Fedor clashing is greater now than ever before, although both men are currently under contract with different organizations.
“I met with Fedor and Fedor’s people and brought them to the table. They’re at least talking to me and seeing what the options are without breeching the contract with Affliction,” Couture said respectfully.
According to Couture, UFC President Dana White responded almost immediately to his text message regarding a possible settlement between both sides. Perhaps that was a clear sign that the MMA boss recognized the champion’s value all along.
“Let bygones be bygones. The past is the past, I had a crazy year, and it is what it is. I’m going to move forward in a positive way. I think they’re just as frustrated with the legal system as I am. And ultimately I’ve spent a lot of years with the company and I’ve built a reputation with the UFC. I’ve been one of their top performers, so it wasn’t a surprise that he got back to me right away.”
Couture and the UFC have not exactly had the “sexiest” relationship together since their first encounter in 2001. Couture and wife Kim stated during his resignation that his decision had more to do with respect than with money. At that time, he said he was tired of swimming upstream against the company. White was forced to defend his company and the UFC’s contracts with their fighters. Although both sides have had their differences throughout his career, Couture explained that the conflict never reached a level that could not be mended.
“I never made it personal and for the most part, the UFC and Dana didn’t either. They were business decisions. It wasn’t like Tito and Dana where they just absolutely can’t stand each other. I had my issues, but I had more issues with the company, they weren’t personal issues. I see things pretty clearly and we’re again letting the feelings we had before go, and moving forward and trying to do the best we can into the future.”
Couture maintained that he has never been out to prove anything and this time is no exception. His decision to return was based on the simple fact that he believes there is still fight left in his body and he can still be the best heavyweight in the world.
“I didn’t come back to fight Tim Sylvia because I had anything to prove. I came back because I’m still capable of fighting and that’s what I love to do. At 45 (years old) that’s why I’m still in this, because I love to fight as long as I’m physically capable and feel like I’m holding up to the standards I have for myself,” said Couture.
“There’s no better job, I can’t see doing anything else, but I realize that the clock is ticking and there’s light at the end of the tunnel competitively. I think that what happened with Chuck is a perfect example.”
More shocking than Couture’s recent return was the unfortunate and untimely death of former UFC middleweight champion, Evan Tanner. Couture had a history with the Texan that began during the early days of Tanner’s career.
“He stayed at my house when he moved from Texas to Oregon to train. I pretty well trained with him for a few years. I knew him fairly well; as well as anyone got to know Evan. It’s sad and it’s unfortunate. He was a tremendous talent and in many ways self-taught.”
Couture continued to discuss his relationship with Tanner.
“Evan was kind of one of those guys who was an enigma. He never really bonded or connected with people. He kept to himself and he was an interesting guy. In a lot of ways Evan isolated himself from the people who cared for him. That was just kind of his way. He was always kind of a loan-wolf and that’s kind of the way he passed,” Couture regretted to say.
Although nobody was prepared for Tanner’s tragic passing, Couture has a task in front of him that he can prepare for. It will however take some special measures to get ready for the 6’2, 205lbs pummeling machine, Lesnar.
“Find as many big wrestlers as I can find that can get on top of me and push me and I can push them to get ready for that size and that wrestler’s mentality.”
Interestingly Couture and Lesnar share similar wrestling backgrounds. Lesnar was a four time All-American wrestler, a two time Big Ten champion and a NCAA heavyweight champion. Couture was a four time World Team member, four-time National Champion in Greco-Roman wrestling, three time All American, and a four time Olympic alternate.
The twist is that Couture is heading towards the end of his MMA career and Lesnar is just beginning his, which gives the experience edge in many respects to Couture.
“I kind of know what some of those pitfalls are. I know where he’s at and how he feels and what he’s working on. I think it’s a very good advantage.”
Couture has been a leader throughout his career among his peers and in the eyes of his fans. His year-long stance against the UFC proved that he is willing to go to war against anyone. If nothing else, Couture’s legal battle with the UFC set the precedence for fighter awareness, encouraging them to stand up for what they believe in and to gain the respect that they deserve.
“I’m hoping that things continue to get better slowly but surely for fighters. There’s still room for improvement. There should be some proposals brought forth to the UFC that hopefully they’ll consider in regards to taking care of the fighters that they have under contract better. I think we as fighters need to continue to work together to get the best things that we can for ourselves moving forward,” Couture concluded.
Couture is scheduled to return to the UFC to face Brock Lesnar on
November 15. Perhaps he will grace his fans with his signature entrance
song that says it all, “I’m back.”
MMA Sports - Mixed Martial Arts News --------- America's Hottest Mixed Martial Arts Print Magazine