When Dana White announced that he would hold a press conference on the same day as the one already announced by departed UFC heavyweight champion Randy Couture, it wasn’t hard to see what he had in mind. When he scheduled his media conference call to begin just thirty minutes before Couture’s Las Vegas media reception, it was obvious. White wanted to take some attention off Couture and his complaints about the UFC, even if he wouldn’t admit it.
After a reporter pressed the UFC president on the issue of whether he intentionally held his press conference to coincide with Couture’s, White responded:
“We’ve got a lot of s— going on and we’re here to talk about it. Is it a coincidence I signed Brock Lesnar, made Chuck Liddell-Wanderlei Silva, and signed a new Spike deal in the same week? …Am I doing a press conference to f-ck Randy Couture? No. I’m here to announce things.”
As for those things he was there to announce, most of them had already been made public. The signing of Brock Lesnar was announced at UFC 77, where Rogan did an interview with the former WWE star. The Liddell-Silva match had been advertised on the DirectTV website for days before its official announcement at the Spike TV Scream Awards on Tuesday night. And the new Spike TV deal is essentially an extension of the current Spike TV deal.
This was the big news that simply could not be announced on any other day or any other time? I don’t think so.
Obviously, the point was to pull media attention from Couture, whose press conference was streamed live on ProElite.com. That White used this tactic and then played innocent about it seems petty, but it’s not hard to understand why he felt it was necessary.
To hear Couture tell it, the UFC hadn’t been giving him the respect (read: money) that he deserved. He directly addressed a Yahoo! Sports article claiming he was in the middle of a four-fight contract that would pay him $3.25-3.75 million per fight, by showing his unsigned bout agreements that had him making around $750,000 per fight after pay-per-view bonuses were factored in.
Some people will point out that this contract doesn’t include the bonus money that the UFC hands out after their fights, which even Couture said is sometimes more than the athlete earns from the contract itself. But even if Couture was receiving a $1 million dollar bonus for each fight, he would still make only about half what the Yahoo! report claimed. Not to mention, the bonuses are not guaranteed in his contract, so it can hardly be said that he was in the middle of a contract that was due to pay him anywhere in the neighborhood of $3 million per fight (unless the pay-per-view buys eclipsed every known record several times over).
This bonus system, it seems, has played no small part in the dispute between Couture in the UFC.
Couture said that the rift with the UFC grew after they failed to give him a bonus for his win over Gabriel Gonzaga in August. White, to the best of my knowledge, doesn’t dispute this. Couture said he received large bonuses for his fight with Chuck Liddell (which he lost) and his comeback fight against Tim Sylvia (which he won via decision after five rounds).
So the question here is, why wasn’t his performance against Gonzaga worthy of a bonus?
Anyone who saw that fight knows it was a gritty, dominating performance by Couture. He stopped Gonzaga early in the third round after having his arm broken by a kick earlier in the bout. This wasn’t worth a bonus, but getting knocked out by Liddell was?
Of course, you could make the argument that since it’s a bonus, he has no right to expect it. Couture painted a picture of the UFC bonus system that seem arbitrary and capricious, saying the checks were handed out in the locker room after the fights and were “at the discretion of the UFC.”
But if the bonuses regularly match or eclipse the contract money, and if he had received one for two previous fights of varying levels of success, it’s understandable that Couture would be confused at not receiving one here. From his perspective, it’s as if his pay had been cut in half even after he performed as well as anyone could have hoped.
Couture said he tendered his resignation two and a half weeks after a meeting in which he asked White and the UFC management why he hadn’t received a bonus. They gave him no answer, he said. Apparently, that was the wrong thing to do.
White seems to like to blame Couture’s “Hollywood agent” for the way this situation has unfolded, but he’d do better to look within his own house. A secretive and whimsical bonus system that isn’t based on any predetermined criteria and which can make a drastic difference in the money an athlete takes home is a recipe for discontent.
Certainly, Couture’s complaint is as much about money as it is about respect. But in the world of professional sports, the two are often synonymous. White should know that. And if he really wanted to get Couture back in the UFC, he’d swallow his pride and make amends. Maybe he will. Maybe we will see Couture back in the Octagon someday, maybe even against Fedor Emelianenko (who White says “sucks”). But don’t bet on it.