Adam Swift, the publisher of the MMA /business website Payout, has an interesting piece on Sherdog that breaks down the UFC’s suit against Randy Couture. It’s a good read and Swift is a sharp guy, so I recommend giving it a look. One of the most interesting points he brings up in the article is that the lawsuit seems to focus on Couture’s employment contract with the UFC as a commentator and TV personality, NOT his promotional contract as a fighter:
The complaint alleges that Couture signed a three-year employment contract with Zuffa in December 2006 that included a one-year non-compete provision. Zuffa says that during the non-compete period — which commenced when Couture “resigned” from the organization last October — any Couture-associated “business enterprise” is prohibited from “promoting or producing events or programming related to unarmed combat, developing products or services related to unarmed combat, or otherwise conducting any business relating to unarmed combat.”
Putting aside for a moment how uncomfortable I am with the phrase “unarmed combat” to describe MMA, it’s interesting that it’s not his resignation from his fight contract that Zuffa is taking issue with.
A lot of MMA fans on the internets seem to be siding with the UFC on this one, mainly on the basis that since Couture signed a contract he should do the “honorable” thing and stick to it. To those people I would point out that Couture has not violated that contract. He has not tried to fight for a competing promotion. He simply doesn’t want to fight for the UFC anymore, which is his right, so he’s waiting out the contract. That’s legal, fair, and honorable.
Also, when it comes to contracts, the UFC has been known to drop a guy and his contract the minute they decide he isn’t worth it.
A contract with Zuffa is not, as some fans seem to believe, a covenant with God. Signing it does not take away your autonomy. It might limit you from competing in another organization during the contract period, but even the no-compete clause and the “champion” clause in Couture’s contract will come under scrutiny if it goes to the courts. That may be part of the reason Zuffa is not suing Couture based on that contract. If they bring their fighter contracts under a legal microscope, they risk getting a decision that they’re unhappy with.
So before you go accusing Couture of being dishonest or dishonorable, you should a) make sure he can’t hear you, and b) take the time to know what you’re talking about. To that end, go read Adam Swift’s article.