Opinion: The Couture-UFC Relationship and Bellator
By Jesse Heitz
It was announced on January 29, that UFC Hall of Famer, Randy Couture, had signed a contract with Bellator to serve as a coach on their upcoming reality TV series. Who knows what the future will hold for a Couture-Bellator partnership, but my guess is that the UFC brass, despite Dana White’s first comments that he “loved” the budding relationship, are not too happy with such a move.
First and foremost, as I’ve spoken about at length in previous articles, Bellator is following the UFC blueprint almost step-for-step. Yet, now it is not only launching a reality television series which is ostensibly a “TUF” clone, to be coached by one of the inaugural coaches from the very first season of “TUF”.
Many MMA fans and insiders credit Randy “The Natural” Couture with being among a select few that saved the UFC from extinction in the early-to-mid 2000s. Couture was one of the guys that kept the lights on in the UFC during its darkest period. Is Couture, at age 49, and without any intention of lacing up a pair of gloves and stepping into the cage, capable of providing the spark that Bellator needs in order to successfully challenge the UFC?
I don’t necessarily claim to have the answer to such a question; however, we did see some signs of life from Bellator when their first live event on Spike TV raked in nearly 1 million viewers, nearly five times the numbers that their cards on MTV2 were able to pull in. It could be that Couture’s star power gives Bellator not only a ratings bump, but some much needed credibility in the MMA world and amongst casual fans. Even if a fraction of his incredible knowledge of MMA might is imparted in the young fighters he coaches for a few months, it may very well lead to Bellator possessing a better crop of fighters.
Now, one question that remains is whether or not this was a smart move for “The Natural”. Dana White has recently been fervently critical of both Bellator and its newfound television partner, Spike TV. In a statement to “MMA Fighting”, Dana has gone so far as to say,
“I saw in their argument where they said, ‘Oh, Spike launches pay-per-views.’ No, actually they don’t. That’s not true. We did. What they’re doing is, they’re saying — not as much Spike, as Viacom — has been saying, ‘We built the UFC.’ No you f–king did not. No you did not, you arrogant, pompous jackass. You did not build the UFC. We’ll see if you did.”
“But you better think long and hard if you’re a manager or a fighter and you’re about to do a deal with Bellator. Think long and hard about how you negotiate that contract.”
Has Couture, the five-time UFC Champion, and one-time UFC Interim Light Heavyweight Champion, poisoned his relationship with Zuffa for good? The relationship survived his heated 2007 contract dispute, but siding with the enemy and entering into direct competition, when you’re one of the UFC’s most popular faces, I see the relationship being more difficult to salvage this time around.
Do either Randy Couture or the UFC need one another? No, not really. However, it has appeared that in the past, that each makes the most money when they’re working together. While I am somewhat surprised by this turn of events, I’m certainly not one to predict the end of the Couture-UFC relationship due to the former’s signing with Bellator. After all, money is the great motivator, and we’ve seen many poisoned relationships between the UFC and their former stars get rectified by an appropriate sum of greenbacks.