The following is the official recap from the UFC.com website for the press conference held to further address the Randy Couture situation:
“I hate talking about money,” said UFC President Dana White during a press conference Tuesday at the Zuffa offices in Las Vegas, but after UFC Heavyweight Champion Randy Couture went public last week with his two 2007 bout agreements as well as comments about his compensation and the organization, White, along with co-owner Lorenzo Fertitta, felt the need to set the record straight.
“I sat back and watched his press conference on TV last Thursday, and I have to be honest, I felt that the statements that he made so grossly misrepresented the facts that I felt that we needed to protect ourselves because I felt that the statements were made in a way meant to hurt us,” said Fertitta. “You can only sit back and be silent for so long — the facts are the facts, and we have the facts.”
Added White, “I try the best I can to make sure that we have a good relationship with these guys and that we keep them as happy as we can. Randy Couture, with all the things he’s accomplished in this sport and with the UFC, we looked at him as a partner of ours. He’s a guy I’ve spent a lot of time with and done a lot of personal things with, and the statements he made — financial and a million other things he stated — weren’t true. I’m not here to bait Randy or belittle him; we’re just here to clear up some of the facts.”
In the firestorm that erupted after Couture sent a letter of resignation to White on October 11th, there have been dozens of questions regarding the news that stunned the MMA world. Couture claimed that he never received a signing bonus when he returned to active duty as a fighter in 2007 after a year long retirement, and that he was “tired of swimming upstream at this stage with the management of the UFC.” His wife Kim would comment on his company’s website (a post now removed) that the UFC never promoted Couture in a proper fashion, an accusation that riled White up.
“The thing that launched, not only the UFC, but mixed martial arts, was the television reality show, The Ultimate Fighter,” he said. “Season one of the Ultimate Fighter, we made Randy Couture a coach. After that, we made Randy a consultant on season two to come up with all the challenges we did. Season four, he came back as a coach again. August 23rd was Randy Couture Day on Spike TV. We put together that television show of four hours of nothing but Randy Couture. And I could go on forever. The guy became a big star because we got behind him and promoted him.”
It also doesn’t hurt that in UFC history, no fighter has fought in more title fights than Couture (14).
Regardless, all seemed to be well after Couture retired from the Octagon after his second loss to Chuck Liddell in February of 2006. `The Natural’ was brought on board as a color commentator and ambassador, with his employment contract earning him $200,000 a year and the commentating gig adding another $56,000 in 2006, according to figures released by Zuffa CFO John Mulkey.
The competitive fire in Couture wasn’t out yet though, and in early 2007 he approached White about coming back to the UFC as a fighter.
“He calls me up and tells me he wants to come back out of retirement and he wants to fight Tim Sylvia for the heavyweight title,” recalled White. “I give him that title shot. When he says he wants to come out of retirement, he wants to renew his contract, he wants a new deal. So we do the new deal with him and he wants a half a million dollar signing bonus. Here’s a check for you to sign this agreement with us and what if Randy, at 44 years old, blows his knee, hurts his back, or anything like that happens? Are we gonna get that $250,000 back? It’s a signing bonus, and without even having to fight, he gets $250,000. He wanted half a million. We gave him 250 up front, signing bonus, and the other 250 after the fight.”
Fertitta negotiated the January deal with Couture, one the UFC co-owner said the fighter was happy with.
“After we shook hands and hugged, he seemed very happy with the contract that he got and signed in January that he is now apparently not happy with,” said Fertitta. As for the signing bonus, Mulkey produced the cancelled checks from both payments, and wanted to make it abundantly clear that the bonuses that UFC fighters receive are not “off the books” as Couture stated.
“He used the phrase `off the books’ fairly loosely in his press conference in reference to the discretionary bonuses that Dana, Lorenzo, and the management of the UFC pay to fighters after the fight,” said Mulkey. “Just to clarify, these discretionary bonuses are entirely decided by owners and management, and they are over and above any contractual obligations that the company has. They are taxable income to the fighters, which means they are reported
on their 1099s, and of course they are documented expenses of the company.”
Couture went on to defeat then-heavyweight champion Tim Sylvia at UFC 68 in Ohio on March 3rd. As per his bout agreement, Couture was paid $250,000 for the fight, $250,000 for the second half of his signing bonus, and $936,000 for his cut of the pay-per-view revenue (covering an estimated 534,000 buys). Not including the signing bonus, that’s $1.186 million.
For his August win over Gabriel Gonzaga, Couture’s purse was again $250,000. He also earned a $35,000 bonus for fight of the night, and $787,000 for his cut of the estimated 485,000 pay-per-view buys, for a grand total of $1.072 million.
By September though, Couture was dissatisfied with his deal and with a perceived lack of respect from the organization that included his assumption that other fighters were getting paid more money and that PRIDE heavyweight champion Fedor Emelianenko was being wooed with off the chart numbers (said White today, “Hell no, I wasn’t gonna pay Fedor more money than Randy Couture. I don’t think Fedor is a top five heavyweight in the world, and I’m not saying that because I didn’t get Fedor. I’ve always felt that way about Fedor and I always felt Randy Couture would beat Fedor, and I was trying to make that fight for Randy Couture.”). A meeting was arranged to discuss these concerns though, and Fertitta and White left with the impression that things would eventually get worked out.
Not fast enough though, and Couture responded with his resignation letter, which was sent while he was on location shooting a film in South Africa.
“Was I hurt?” asked Fertitta. “Absolutely. We’ve known and promoted Randy Couture for the last six years plus and he sends Dana a letter resigning from his contract, whatever that means? That’s how the relationship was ended? Yes, I was hurt about that.”
“I felt like I got kicked in the throat when this happened,” added White. “I never thought I’d be here with Randy, and yeah, it hurt. Since season one of The Ultimate Fighter, I’ve had a good relationship with Randy – at least I thought I did – so yeah, this was a shock.”
Matters only got worse when Couture went public during a nationally televised press conference.
“I was a bit dismayed when I saw the tone of his press conference, and the facts were just wrong — they were just grossly inaccurate,” said Fertitta, who had what he called a “good conversation” with Couture before the press conference. “That’s part of what prompted us to say we don’t want to do this. We don’t want to get into a situation where it’s he said, she said, he calls a press conference and we call a press conference — it’s really not healthy in any way. But I feel like he damaged us as a company. There are a hundred people that work in this company every single day to try to further the sport of MMA and I think that we’re proud of that fact that we are the industry leader and we have created a tremendous amount of opportunity, not only for fighters, but for an entire industry that now exists because of what we have accomplished over the last six years. And to have somebody use that platform to make us look bad, I felt that was very unfair.”
And thus today’s response.
“The facts are facts, the checks were cashed and the money’s right there,” said Fertitta. “He grossly misrepresented that amount, and not only that, he did it in a way — in my perspective — to hurt us.”
As for the future of the UFC Heavyweight Championship, White made his thoughts clear: “We consider Randy Couture the heavyweight champion in the UFC, and we’re gonna offer him a fight this week to fight the beginning of the year, probably against (Antonio Rodrigo) Nogueira.”
Whether Couture accepts is another story for another day, but White’s an optimist.
“If (former UFC Light Heavyweight Champion) Tito Ortiz and I can work things out, I’m sure Randy Couture and I can.”
UFC.com has video footage from the press conference available in their Multimedia section for those who want to check that out and MMANews.com will have the paperwork handed out to the media with official contracts, checks, etc. available in JPEG format a bit later tonight.