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Missed opportunity: Randy Couture explains how Conor McGregor could’ve freed himself from UFC contract

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Randy Couture spoke about the difference between MMA and boxing contracts and how the UFC’s biggest star missed out on total freedom over his combat sports career.

UFC 257: Dustin Poirier v Conor McGregor Press Conference
Conor McGregor at the press conference for UFC 257 in January.
Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

It’s no secret that UFC fighters get short-changed when it comes to their dealings with the biggest MMA promotion on the planet. The low revenue share, lack of collective bargaining and overreaching contracts that UFC fighters have to contend with are unlike anything professional athletes experience in other top sports.

Recently Randy Couture, who has long advocated for fighter rights, specifically in the form of expanding the Muhammad Ali Boxing Reform Act to include MMA, recently spoke at length with MMA Fighting about the current state of MMA.

Randy Couture interview with MMA Fighting

With that outlet the former UFC heavyweight champion touched on Jake Paul, of all people, and commented on how the ‘Problem Child’ was bringing some issues regarding fighter pay to the forefront.

Paul, a 3-0 boxer who is set to take on former UFC welterweight champ Tyron Woodley, has lambasted the UFC and Dana White for underpaying fighters.

“Why is Jake Paul the one to step up and poke Dana and shine a light on what’s going on and the difference between our sports?” Couture said. “What the Ali Act does for boxers that doesn’t happen for the rest of us in combative sports. I think that’s what needs to change.

“If it takes Jake Paul to run his mouth and get that done, then great. As long as it gets done. It just seems kind of crazy to me that it’s coming from there and we as athletes in mixed martial arts can’t come together and can’t hold these promoters to a higher standard and create the transparency that we need in the sport.”

However, despite appreciating what Paul might be able to accomplish, Couture said there was another fighter who had the perfect opportunity to push for their own rights (and those of other MMA fighters), but whiffed at it.

“The guy that really had a chance to shine a light on it was Conor McGregor. He got a boxing license. As soon as he got a boxing license, he rendered his UFC contract null and void. He had the protections of the Muhammad Ali Act when he became an official boxer with that boxing number and he chose to bring Dana White and company back into that fight when he could have done all that on his own, kept all that money to himself and shined a light on the problem in mixed martial arts.

“He chose not to do that. He made $100 million off that fight with Floyd Mayweather. That’s more than he’ll probably ever make in mixed martial arts to be truthful.”

In addition to talking about the role McGregor could have played in the push for fair labor practises in MMA, Couture also discussed the activity that was currently happening around the sport that could lead to meaningful change in the way that fighters and treated and compensated.

According to ‘The Natural’ there is a three-pronged assault going on against the status quo that is being largely maintained by the UFC. Couture said those three prongs were the class action lawsuits the UFC is currently facing, the work of the Mixed Martial Arts Fighters Association and their push for the Ali Act, and the actions of non-UFC MMA promotions.

“[The class action suits are] the long play. It’s going to take a while to settle all of that. The affidavits are in, it’s been certified as a class. If they’re successful in proving their case, it’s going to force the biggest promotion in this sport anyways, the UFC, to do business differently.”

Regarding the Ali Act, Couture said that if this legislation was expanded to MMA, fighters would be able to enjoy the same “transparency and restrictions on promotions and promoters that boxers have been enjoying since 1996.” Couture added that this battles has been especially difficult for fighters given how much the UFC has invested in successfully lobbying against the Ali Act.

As far as other promotions go, Couture singled out his current employer PFL as a company that was doing some things he thought were novel and in the interest of fighters.

“The PFL that have taken the sport and put it in a regular sports format, that are paying the athletes very well. A million dollar purse at the end of each season with a new champion. I think that’s another avenue as well. They’re creating an athlete’s advisory board and doing some things some of the other promotions aren’t doing.”