Randy Couture’s announcement yesterday that he was resigning from the UFC and abdicating his throne as heavyweight champion has thrown the MMA world into a small-scale panic. Nobody wants to lose Couture, and nobody, at first, knew what to make of his decision to leave. I imagine the reaction by MMA fans was something like what our parents experienced when the Beatles broke up, with the two major differences being 1) we have the benefit of the internet to discuss it to death, and 2) only about half of us are stoned on grass.
At first, the wording of Couture’s official announcement sounded like he was moving on because the UFC had failed to sign Fedor Emelianenko and because he had other opportunities outside of fighting. But some subtle phrasing also suggested that he was unhappy with how he’d been treated by UFC management, and in an interview with Sherdog.com yesterday, that issue was magnified:
“I’m tired of being taken advantage of, played as the nice guy and basically swimming against the current with the management of the UFC. I have a lot of other things going on in my life that I’m doing just fine with. I don’t need the problems. I don’t feel like I get the respect I deserve from the organization, and that’s motivation No. 2 for the letter of resignation that was sent today.”
Couture went on to say that the money being offered to other fighters, especially Fedor, was “insulting” considering what he was making for being a marquee draw:
“I think the final straw for me was meeting with Dana and Lorenzo (Fertitta, UFC co-owner) where they claimed I was the No. 2 paid athlete in the organization, which I know is a bold-faced lie,” Couture said.
Now here’s where it gets interesting. Upon hearing this complaint, UFC president Dana White responded by blaming MMA web sites, ironically enough, during an interview with Kevin Iole of Yahoo! Sports. Obviously, White is referring to sites like Sherdog, whose forum tends to break more news (and spread more rumors) than their actual news site. White apparently felt that these websites were more responsible for Couture’s resignation than the UFC management:
“He felt he was not getting paid as much as Mirko Cro Cop, as much as this guy and as much as that guy,” White said. “We told him he was our second-highest paid fighter, but he didn’t believe us. Chuck’s the only guy who makes more, but he kept hearing all these rumors and he wouldn’t believe us.
White then launched into a tirade against what he called “the rumor mongerers on the Internet,” whom he said are, “the lowest of the low.”
He said fighters read those sites and believe them to be true, causing friction at the negotiating table.
“This business is like a beauty salon,” he said. “These guys are all the toughest guys in the world, but they’re like (expletives) in a beauty salon. They pass along rumors and gossip, which has no basis in reality and they believe all the (rumors) they hear. The Internet is very powerful and one of the best promotional tools we have, but it’s a crazy place.”
I have to admit he’s right. The internet is a crazy place. It combines the lawlessness of the Wild West with the flashing lights of Vegas and the pornography of Times Square.
But let’s examine White’s beauty salon analogy for a moment. Notice how he says the fighters are like “expletives” in this metaphorical salon. Setting aside the observation that your swearing has become a problem when your analogies can’t be printed in full, what do you think he really said there? Customers? No, that’s not an expletive. Bitches? No, that’s only one expletive, not “expletives.” Fucking bitches? Possibly.
I guess only White and Iole know for sure, but we can safely draw this conclusion: whatever expletive he used to describe the fighters, it was derogatory and negative. And that seems like a big part of Couture’s complaint. He didn’t feel like he was getting the respect he deserved. After reading White’s explanation, I’m starting to see what he means.
Respect matters. The money matters too, for obvious reasons, but the money is also a way of showing respect. Couture was a huge draw for the UFC and a great ambassador for the sport. But if he didn’t feel he was being treated accordingly — if, for instance, he felt like his boss saw him as just another expletive in a beauty salon — he’s only going to put up with it for so long.
And White’s claim that MMA web sites exacerbated the problem also seems disingenuous. As someone who makes my living writing about MMA for internet sources, I’m on these sites everyday. Very rarely do I see actual figures named when talking about fighter salaries, and when those figures are named they almost always come from official athletic commission reports.
Of course, the UFC always claims their fighter payouts are much higher than what they report to the commissions, once bonuses and sponsorship money and everything else is added on. But they never say exactly what the final numbers are. Now White is complaining that fighters have a warped perception of those numbers thanks to internet speculation? If that’s the problem, why not disclose the numbers and end the rumors?
But the UFC obviously isn’t going to do that. It’s easier to blame the internet. Couture says he got his information about fighter salaries from the fighters themselves, and not the internet, which makes sense. It’s in the fighters’ best interests to tell one another what they’re being offered, and they do. The internet is not the problem. The money is the problem.
Still, this is about more than money. This is about respect, about treating MMA fighters like real athletes and not commodities or “products”, as White has referred to them in the past. Every organization should learn from this, and every fighter should be thanking Couture for making this stand and going public with his complaints. This is an issue that isn’t going away, nor should it.