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5 Oz. Roundtable: Randy Couture’s departure from the UFC

We’re launching another new feature here on called the “5 Oz. Roundtable” where we poll our staff of writers in regard to a burning issue in the world of MMA.

The question we asked our staff for the first poll was:

“What do you think of Randy Couture’s decision to leave the UFC?”

Ben Fowlkes: Remember in the classic Western Shane where at the end the main character rides off into the sunset, maybe slumping over on his saddle and dying and maybe not? And remember how the boy shouts out, “Come back, Shane!,” only Shane doesn’t come back, he just keeps going? Well, even though I knew Randy couldn’t go on forever, some part of me feels like that little boy right now.

There are three reasons I can think of for Randy Couture to leave the UFC, and two of them are valid.

If he genuinely wants to fight Fedor because he wants to test himself and find out if he truly is the best in the world, that only adds to the already-epic legend of Couture. If he’s leaving because he’s tired of the broken bones and the aching joints and the other sacrifices that come with life as a fighter, that’s understandable.

But if he’s resigning because he wants to become a movie star, because he wants to leave MMA for good and someday star in horrible family comedies like Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson (a Scorpion King predecessor, mind you), then I’m going to be as sad as that little boy when Shane wouldn’t come back. And I’m going to stay that way for a long, long time.

Adam Morgan: I see this as completely shocking. It seems as if Dana and some other people don’t think it’s too much of a shock, but really, this is nothing but a huge middle finger in Dana White’s direction. From the sounds of it, Randy was getting screwed by the UFC as far as compensation goes. For him to come out and say some of the things he’s said today, things must not have been as kosher with the Dana White and the UFC as everyone seemed to have thought. Randy has sent a message to the UFC: Pay your fighters what they’re worth. A top star in the UFC resigns and drops bombshells on the way out. This is a lesson the UFC is learning the hard way.

The other interesting point things here are the remarks from Randy from the Sherdog article. According to Randy, if UFC would have signed Fedor, this would have been the scenario: Fedor signs, they offer the fight to Randy, and Randy says “F*ck you guys, I want Fedor money.” This is something no one’s talking about. Can you imagine? Dana brings Fedor in to fight Randy and Randy retorts by telling him he won’t fight unless he gets more money, basically holding Dana hostage.

I kind of wish this is the way things would have went down, to be honest. I’d like to have seen what Dana’s response and Randy’s response would be to the situation. Do you think Dana would have folded and given Randy his money? I think so. The Fedor vs. Randy fight is a dream matchup, one that many fans want and one that Dana wanted badly as well. If Randy were to hold him and the fight hostage for more money, then Dana has to fold in order to save face.

I commend Randy for telling it like it is and not holding back. When someone with his stature says these kinds of things, it sends shockwaves through the MMA community. And how big was Fedor’s signing with M-1? In two days, the UFC lost him and Randy Couture as result. I wish the best for Randy and hopefully M-1 comes ringing on his doorbell, asking for an opponent for Fedor. Hey, there’s always wishful thinking, right?

Sam Caplan: Now that some of the shock has worn off, maybe we should have seen the signs coming? Dave Meltzer of the Wrestling Observer reported several weeks back that a number of fighters were not happy and there were some issues about the reporting of buyrates and whether certain fighters would continue to even get a percentage of buyrates.

I’d love to ask Dana White directly whether Dan Henderson’s assertion that the UFC has attempted to institute some cutbacks. Does the UFC owe so much in loan payments that they need to increase their cash flow through cuts in order to make payments? I’d also like to know what Randy’s comment about not getting a bonus for the fight at UFC 74 vs. Gonzaga means. Is it a clerical situation where he simply hasn’t been given his bonus because the UFC is still waiting for the numbers to come in or did he mean they are refusing to give him a bonus now and in the future?

I think the money situation goes beyond just Randy. On the surface, it just seems to make too much sense to not just give Couture a huge bump in pay for his final couple of fights. But perhaps the UFC feels that if they give Couture a substantial raise that it will open the floodgates and virtually every fighter in the UFC will ask for a raise.

Gary Herman: I think Randy Couture’s decision to leave the UFC will have important short-term and long-term ramifications on the UFC.

In the short-term, the UFC needs to address who is the heavyweight champion. The best way to do that would be an 8-man tournament fought over eight months to determine the new champ. The tournament should start this Saturday with Tim Sylvia vs Brandon Vera. Other guys in the tournament could be Antonio Rodrigo Noguiera, Andrei Arlovski, Cheick Kongo, Gabriel Gonzaga, Mirko Cro Cop, and Fabricio Werdum (or they could be imaginative and go outside the UFC for someone like a Josh Barnett or Ben Rothwell).

By having the tournament, the UFC would establish a major star in MMA. Many of the new fans of the sport have never seen a tournament before. Imagine how much recognition someone like a Noguiera would get after winning three major matches and having three countdown shows done about him? It would quickly repair the championship. Short-term, UFC could be fine.

In the long-term, what Couture is doing is basically a one-man strike. He is walking out on the UFC over money. (I don’t buy the UFC’s lack of signing Fedor as the main reason – it may be in the background, but I do not believe Couture couldn’t get somewhat excited about a fight with Nogueira or even a surging Vera). By money, Couture mentions the inequities between himself and the other top guys in the UFC – mainly Mirko Cro Cop and Rampage Jackson. However, the real inequity has to do with what UFC fighters are paid verses what boxers are paid.

Now, I know they are two different sports, but the main revenues from each come from PPV buys. Most PPV buys are sold on the main event. When Randy Couture fights, he is in the main event. I do not think Oscar De La Hoya, Manny Pacquaio, or Floyd Mayweather would ever receive a check of 250k for a main event boxing match. On the contrary, the boxer’s paychecks would be well in the millions.

By walking out on the UFC, Couture is basically laying down the gauntlet for himself and the rest of MMA. Couture is making the statement that the top guys need to be paid an equitable share of the PPV revenues. The question is going to be a little different though – for MMA, is it the fighters that sell the show? Or is it the letters U-F-C that sell the show?

I’m sure the answer is a little of both. Most assuredly, Dana White believes it is the UFC that sells the show while Couture thinks it is the fighter the sells the show. If Couture somehow gets his wish and fights Emelianenko is another organization, we may finally have the barometer. In actuality though, could the buys possibly exceed 100k – whereas in the UFC the fight would possibly top 1 million? I would think most hardcore fans would find the fight and order it but most mainstream fans would probably not be interested. I just couldn’t see the sports bar down the street airing an EliteXC show on the big screen instead of the local sports team.

Basically, Couture and the UFC need each other, but the UFC has other mega-stars like Chuck Liddell and Jackson. Couture is a top star, but the UFC has the vehicle to make other top stars. For Couture to have long-term success with his walk-out, many other top guys would need to join him immediately (before the UFC can create new stars). Guys like Liddell, Jackson, Anderson Silva, Georges St Pierre and BJ Penn would have to drop everything and leave as well.

Short-term, UFC could benefit if they promote a huge heavyweight tournament. Long-term, Couture can only benefit if the other UFC fighters get solidly behind him – which is a very unlikely scenario. From the looks of things, the UFC will be fine in both the short-term and long-term scenarios.

Matt Kaplan: In many ways, Randy Couture is the quintessential man, a tireless competitor whose been knocked down, only to rise again to greater prominence. Randy was never one of my most favorite fighters, but I always respected – and I still do – what he accomplished inside the octagon and what he stood for outside of it. I think this very respect issue – more so than Randy not getting the Fedor match – was the catalyst for Randy’s departure from the UFC. The way I see it, Randy resigning – via fax! – with the heavyweight belt and a couple of fights left on his contract is nothing more than reciprocity for what he perceives as a lack of respect shown to him by UFC brass.

I can’t change what happened, but I can look ahead to what will become of the UFC heavyweight division. For me, the worst part of Randy leaving the UFC is the inevitability of a vacant championship belt in the sport’s marquee heavyweight class. A vacant UFC heavyweight belt belies the competitiveness and talent of a division that boasts former champions in Rodrigo Nogueira, Tim Sylvia, and Andrei Arlovski (remember him?), as well as established and rising stars like Mirko Filipovic, Fabricio Werdum, Heath Herring, Cheick Kongo, Gabriel Gonzaga, and Brandon Vera. Word on the street is that Rodrigo Nogueira will face either Tim Sylvia or Brandon Vera some time in early 2008. And that’s cool, I guess. But who wouldn’t rather see Randy step into the cage for a fight with Nogueira or Vera, or for a rematch against Sylvia ? I sure would.

As for Randy’s trading in the bright lights of the UFC for the much brighter lights of Hollywood, I wish him well. Randy is not the scene stealer that a Rampage Jackson or a Bas Rutten – or even a Blake Bowman – could be, so I expect Randy to play Randy: big, strong, tough, patriotic, ruggedly endearing. Life in the movie biz will yield great exposure for the MMA legend, who will now be collecting a handsome pay check without having to train like an animal or face the threat of being knocked out cold in the process. Can’t blame a guy for that.

Oh, and by the way, if the new Hollywood version of Randy Couture winds up appearing on Dancing with the Stars any time soon (or ever, really), I might kill someone.

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