by Ken Pishna – MMAWeekly.com
It has been four months since UFC heavyweight champion Randy Couture stated that he was resigning from the Ultimate Fighting Championship in all capacities, saying, “I’ve had issues with Zuffa and the company since they bought it. … I am tired of swimming against the current.”
As most pundits expected, the fallout from Couture’s decision is just now starting to heat up with legal action starting to come from every angle.
In an interesting tact, Zuffa (the parent company of the UFC) filed a suit against Couture in January that claimed he breached his employment contract with the company, not his fight contract. Besides fighting for the UFC, Couture also provided commentating and other duties under a personal services contract.
Zuffa followed up its initial action by filing a preliminary injunction against Couture on Feb. 1, according to a report by Jack Encarnacao of The Fight Network. The 90-page injunction seeks to prevent the UFC champ from “appearing at, or in promotion for” the International Fight League event to be held on Feb. 29 in Las Vegas.
According to Encarnacao’s report, the complaint alleges that Couture’s resignation from his personal services contract kicked in a one-year non-compete clause that prevents him from associating himself with or working with a promoter of any non-UFC event. It also asserts that Zuffa notified Couture that it interpreted his letter of resignation as a “retirement” since he could not “resign” with two more bouts left on his fight contract.
This is an assertion that Couture refuted when he addressed the crowd at December’s HDNet Fights event in Dallas, “I am not retired. I am waiting for my UFC contract to expire. I will fight Fedor Emelianenko.”
On Friday, Adam Swift, in an article for Sherdog.com, stated that Mark Cuban’s HDNet Fights had entered the fray of legal action filing a lawsuit in a Dallas district court “seeking a declaratory judgment concerning the contractual status of Couture under his Zuffa promotional (fight) contract.”
The declaratory judgment, if issued, would determine the status of Couture’s fight contract regarding if and/or when the contract would no longer be enforceable.
Couture’s fight contract with the UFC has been the one that has gotten the most attention as Couture believes his fight contract concludes after he has reached the 18-month duration of its terms. UFC president Dana White, however, has repeatedly stated that Couture still owes Zuffa two fights, thus keeping the contract intact.
As White told MMAWeekly.com, “This is in the hands of the lawyers now. We gave him a half-million dollar signing bonus to fight four fights for us. I think the honorable thing for him to do is to honor his contract and fight (interim champion Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira).”
With all of the legal wrangling surrounding Couture’s exodus from the UFC – regardless of whose favor the outcomes fall to – the result is sure to be several important precedents set in regards to the future direction of contracts in mixed martial arts.