When Couture retired from the UFC in 2007 while still under contract, it was for two reasons: money and a chance to fight the undisputed world heavyweight champion Fedor Emelianenko. Affliction risked everything on the Couture-Emelianenko fight, throwing their business relationship with the UFC out the window for the chance to promote what many thought was the biggest heavyweight fight in the world. Couture was all in, or so they thought. The two stood face to face for an Affliction photo shoot to start getting fans excited about the fight, and Couture made an appearance at Affliction’s first PPV show July 19, 2008. It was all in an effort to get people talking about the next show, headlined in theory by the dream fight between the PRIDE and UFC champions. And then Couture stuck the knife in the back...
Already a millionaire several times over, Couture was in the perfect position to test Zuffa’s seemingly indefensible employment contracts. If anyone could wait them out, it was Couture, a fighter with money in the bank and several ancillary sources of income. But Couture was a 45-year-old man and could hear the clock ticking on his career. In the end, he did what was best for Randy Couture, returning to the UFC for a mega-fight with Brock Lesnar. And make no mistake: bad decisions by Atencio and Barnett put Affliction at risk. But, Couture killed the company.
It's undoubtedly true that Affliction's entire business plan was premised on getting the Randy vs. Fedor fight, and losing it doomed them. However, it's too far to say Randy killed the company. What killed the company was scaling the salaries assuming an initial buyrate of 300,000 buys for Tim Sylvia vs. Fedor Emelianenko, and an eventual million buys for Randy vs. Fedor.
There's an inconvenient fact missing from this piece that prevents Affliction from blaming Randy: they never had the rights to this fight. Mark Cuban secured the rights to Fedor vs. Randy, and ended up bringing the UFC to court in Texas over the issue of Randy's contract. During the year Randy was outside of the UFC, his management looked at several different potential options for promoting this fight. Affliction was simply one of many, Randy never promised them that fight.
The tone of the article also raises certain questions to me. Why is it ok for the UFC, Affliction, Fedor, and virtually everyone else in the MMA business to act with their own self-interest in mind, but not Randy? How is Randy a villain for wanting to fight instead of spend years and millions of dollars in court fighting this thing? The UFC's victory in Texas that allowed arbitration to go forward ensured that the suit would drag on much further, and even then there was no guarantee of victory.
Affliction never had Randy-Fedor. They wanted it, but there were a number of other contenders vying for the fight, a number of which were far more promising from a financial perspective. They have nobody to blame but themselves for basing their promotion's entire hopes on an aging fighter's uphill legal battle against the UFC in a conflict that seemed ripe for settlement and reconciliation from the very beginning.
Josh Barnett didn't kill Affliction. Randy Couture didn't kill Affliction. M-1 Global didn't kill Affliction. Affliction killed Affliction.