Over the course of the last week, the news leaked, and was later confirmed, that Randy Couture had signed a contract with Spike TV. The UFC Hall Of Fame athlete and former multi division champion is inked to be a part of two signature projects put forth by the network, in collaboration with Bellator Fighting Championship. The first show, Fight Master, has already commenced filming in New Orleans, and is similar to The Ultimate Fighter, but features four coaches and 32 up and coming fighters. Frank Shamrock, Greg Jackson and Joe Warren are the other three coaches joining Couture. The second show, MMA Rescue, is a specialty series, at first consisting of three, one hour episodes, and focuses on turning around failing gyms via The Natural's expertise. Depending on the reception and success of the show, it could command a more permanent schedule, but for now, it's only earmarked for three specials. I recently spoke with Randy and got his thoughts on the new deal, movie career and how he feels about permanently leaving the Zuffa family.
Stephie Daniels: Will the MMA Rescue show be a series or a special feature that Spike puts out every couple weeks or months?
Randy Couture: I think they're angling towards a special feature, but I would say that could change very quickly if it becomes successful. If a bunch of people are tuning in and the ratings are good, that could definitely change things pretty easily.
Stephie Daniels: With your renewed activity in the sport via these two shows, especially MMA Rescue, do you think it will bring about a resurgence of activity in your own gym?
Randy Couture: Well, my own gym has certainly been the guinea pig and in a lot of ways has kind of been the school of hard knocks. I've learned a lot of lessons, both in staffing and in creating systems that are finally, after six years of operation, becoming profitable. It's finally in the black, but it's been an ongoing process of sharpening the pencils and trying to figure out how everything works.
Finding the right gym managers is important. The staff fluctuates in a gym setting like that. I've got Scott and Val as my COO and vice president, who have helped me with all the systems. Scott is amazing in the technical part of things and created our own software and system that have helped us run this gym. It helps take some of the tax burden and some of the other things off in running the business. It's certainly been a learning experience.
Stephie Daniels: You did another project with Frank Shamrock several years ago called No Rules. Is it nice to be able to reconnect with him in an MMA/entertainment capacity?
Randy Couture: [Laughs] Frank and I have been friends for a long time, and we both got an opportunity to work on the HBO show, Oz. We had a common friend, Douglas Crosby, who was the stunt coordinator for the show and is also an MMA judge. I knew Frank from when he'd done seminars for our fighters at Team Quest. He's an amazing, technical fighter. My first title fight was against Mo Smith, shortly after he formed an alliance with Frank. I was well aware of Frank, and I knew him well. Then, in my second movie project, I got to play a lead bad guy in a straight to DVD thing called No Rules.
It had some interesting people in it. It had Tom Sizemore, who was just out of jail from the Heidi Fleiss situation, and he needed the cash, so he did the movie. Pam Anderson did a cameo because her brother wrote the script and it was his directorial debut. They were huge fans of MMA, so they brought in Dan Henderson, Matt Lindland and a lot of other guys into the background of that movie. It was a fun project, for sure.
Stephie Daniels: Now that you'll be back to activity again, even though it's only in a coaching capacity presently, do you ever find yourself getting the itch to fight one more time?
Randy Couture: No, I haven't had that experience, at least not yet. I'm pretty comfortable with the decision I made, and I think I got out at the right time. It took a while to come to terms with that decision, but once I made it, it was the right one for me, and I went out on my own terms. I love training and working with the guys, and that seems to scratch that itch just enough for me.
Stephie Daniels: In your opinion, what are the pros and cons of the current Bellator tournament format?
Randy Couture: I like the progressive tournament. I think you get the chance to pick athletes early on in the competition and follow them through. You get the chance to not only learn their fighting style, but you get to see their personalities as they develop and push through the adversity of the tournament progression. That creates a vested interest in whether they win or lose, and I think that's what it's all about.
It may be a little difficult for some of the more established fighters that are looking for a place to cross over, to have to fight through a whole tournament, but as far as developing new talent and giving new, young guys an opportunity to make a living in this sport, it's a great way to go.
Stephie Daniels: Do you feel as if a weight has been lifted from you since you left Zuffa?
Randy Couture: Absolutely. In a lot of ways, that is absolutely correct. A lot of times, being in the organization, you have to kind of measure your position, and in a lot of ways, you're walking on egg shells, because you're never really sure which side of things you're going to fall on. We've seen guys, even for cracking jokes in social media, fall into trouble with the organization. I think not having to worry about any of that, and just continuing to be myself, and be who I am in this sport, is a nice relief.
Stephie Daniels: Outside of a union, what do you think today's fighters should be doing to look out for their own interests?
Randy Couture: Well, I think each and every fighter should be forming an LLC and running everything they do, related to their fighting, through their corporation. Recognizing that you do have a brand. You have a small window of opportunity to fashion your brand and build it up, so that hopefully, it's strong enough to carry you through the rest of your time once your competitive years have passed you by.
Stephie Daniels: If you could contribute to a fighters bill of rights, what would your contribution be?
Randy Couture: I think establishing some sort of minimum criteria for pay is very important. Maybe it could be based on the percentage or success of the promotion that's putting on the shows, so that there's some sort of equality in what the fighters are putting on the line versus what the promoters are putting on the line.
Health insurance and some sort of retirement plan, or an education process for fighters are things that need to be addressed or implemented. Most of the guys operate without any kind of health insurance. The promotions have to carry event insurance, and that covers injuries in the event, but we train very hard, and a ton of injuries occur in the training process and in the normal wear and tear of getting ready for a fight.
Recognizing that as a fighter, you have a short window to continue to make the kind of money you make while you're fighting, so learning to be diligent with that money earned, take care of it so that it carries you through the rest of your years when you're not able to compete. It's a tragedy to see, and we see it in boxing all the time, where these guys have made millions and millions of dollars as a competitor and squandered it. They find themselves down and out, with nothing to show for all the years that they were at the top of their game.
Stephie Daniels: Where do you see your acting career in five years?
Randy Couture: Gosh, I think I'm on the right track, and I'm trying to make good decisions. Brett at Gersh (Talent Agency) helps me out a ton with trying to ferret out the right projects and keep things moving forward. I'm wired to give everything I have, so finding those challenging projects that allow me to develop more tools as an actor. What's the pinnacle of acting? It's to be in an academy award type situation, and at some point, that's where I'd like to be.
Stephie Daniels: Is there any particular actor that you emulate or one that you just admire their style and body of work?
Randy Couture: Nobody that I've emulated, but there are certainly people that I enjoy watching and pay close attention to how they operate. I've even gotten the chance to be in a movie with a couple of those guys, Willis, Schwarzenegger and Stallone. Those are guys that I watched as a kid and loved the movies that they made.
I've always been an Eastwood fan since I was a boy watching the spaghetti westerns. I would love the opportunity to work with him at some point. There's a rumor that he may be added to the Expendables 3 cast, which would be amazing. I think one of my favorite movies of his, was The Outlaw Josie Wales, and now with movies like True Grit and some of the other classic westerns being remade, that would be a fun role.
Stephie Daniels: What do you think about the ranking system that the UFC has instituted?
Randy Couture: I think we've seen this in boxing. When the promoters start ranking the fighters, there's going to be controversy and disagreement on who is ranked where. I think that having an outside entity, that's not controlled by any of the promoters, that can rationally use a sound criteria to rank the fighters, regardless of the promotion that they're competing in. I think the key is having it done independently of the promotions themselves, because it would keep it fair and keep the playing field level. I think that would open the door for promoters to allow their top ranked guys to compete against each other. That's always been a challenge.
Stephie Daniels: What is one thing that you would like the fans to understand about the sport?
Randy Couture: I think there's been a longstanding education process, especially with the American fan base, about the tactics and technique when it comes to the ground fighting. When the fight seems to slow down a little bit and there's kind of this kinetic chess game going on with the ground aspect ... I think our fans are learning more and more about the positions and the strategy and technique in those situations. We're so used to stand-up fighting and punching and kicking and wanting to see guys get hit, that they get a little restless. Hearing the boos can be a little frustrating when they're not really paying attention to what's going on. I think people are getting a much better understanding of those parts of the fight now, and that's great to see.
You can follow Randy via his Twitter account, @Randy_Couture