HUGE NEWS: Randy Couture Leaves UFC

I'm not kidding:

At the height of its power and popularity, the Ultimate Fighting Championship today lost the man many recognize as the face of mixed martial arts. UFC heavyweight champion Randy Couture announced his resignation from the Las Vegas-based promotion, leaving two contracted fights, his job as an on-air analyst and his heavyweight crown on the table.

In South Africa shooting scenes for his lead role in the upcoming feature film "The Scorpion King - Rise of the Akkadian," Couture made the announcement official in a letter to UFC president Dana White. The UFC's inability to land PRIDE heavyweight champion Fedor Emelianenko played a prominent role in the decision to walk away, according to Couture.

"I appreciate this opportunity the sport of MMA and the UFC has given me," the UFC Hall-of-Famer said. "However, I'm tired of swimming upstream at this stage with the management of the UFC. It only makes sense at this point in my career to fight Fedor Emelianenko, and since he's now signed with another organization, I feel like it's time to resign and focus on my other endeavors."

His abrupt departure deals a significant blow to the world's most visible MMA organization. Couture was not only a beloved competitor - White once called him "the greatest fighter in UFC history" - but also a revered spokesman for a company that had long struggled to gain mainstream acceptance.

"Randy's contract was on a fight-by-fight basis, and that's the way he said he was always going to take it - fight by fight," said Matt Walker, Couture's agent at The Gersh Agency. "His acting career is accelerating at an astronomical rate, and without the support he felt some of his peers were receiving in the fight business, this was the logical choice.

This is a gigantic blow to the UFC, but not necessarily MMA. Perhaps Couture will be able to fight Fedor in M-1. One can only hope now.

Update [2007-10-11 16:14:35 by Luke Thomas]:: In honor of The Natural:

Update [2007-10-11 16:28:25 by Luke Thomas]:: More from Dave Meltzer:

It is known Couture was one of the top UFC fighters who was unhappy when reading about the huge money guaranteed in the company's offers to Emelianenko, because he felt he and a few others were the fighters who helped build the current popularity and they weren't getting guaranteed income for fights anywhere near that level, particularly since they were bigger drawing cards. With the decline of Chuck Liddell, Couture was likely the company's biggest short-term drawing card, and without question, was its most popular fighter.

Update [2007-10-11 16:40:49 by Luke Thomas]:: Randy sounds off:

"The motivation for the decision is two-fold," he continued. "I know Fedor (Emelianenko) just signed with another organization and that's the only real fight that makes sense for me at 44 years old as the heavyweight champion of the UFC. That's the fight I wanted and if that can't happen it doesn't make sense for me to compete with all these other guys. And then obviously that's not going to happen now. And, two, 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."
And then he accuses Dana White and Lorenzo Fertitta of lying:
"I think the final straw for me was meeting with Dana and Lorenzo where they claimed I was the No. 2 paid athlete in the organization, which I know is a bold-faced lie," Couture said. Polling other athletes, said Couture, he learned that his compensation -- some $250,000 a fight with pay-per-view bonuses, according to the Couture camp -- was nowhere near what other top UFC fighters were making. "All us athletes are all pretty tightly intertwined," he said. "You hear what other guys were paid signing bonuses and what other guys were paid on the record and off the record with bonuses. I've heard Chuck's numbers. Tito's numbers. Hughes' numbers. Quinton's numbers. Cro Cop, Wanderlei. I heard what they were offering Fedor, and it's insulting."
And you thought the IFL was having a bad week.

Update [2007-10-11 17:4:6 by Luke Thomas]:: Lastly, Dana White responds:

"I’m not surprised at all by Randy’s decision. I talked to Randy several weeks ago and he said that if he couldn’t fight Fedor, then he has nothing left to prove in the sport of mixed martial arts. He has been doing a lot of acting, and I know he is in South Africa right now filming a movie. I think it’s a great move for Randy’s acting career to retire from fighting while he is on top. As we all know, Randy retired before. The landscape in MMA changes every day. So when he is ready to come out of retirement again, he is still under contract with me, and I’m ready to promote him."
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