Less than two years ago Ultimate Fighting Championship Hall of Famer Randy Couture and UFC president Dana White were talking to each other through microphones instead of face to face. On Saturday night at UFC 102 from the Rose Garden Arena in Portland, Oregon, their yearlong dispute was a distant memory as Randy Couture lost a unanimous decision to Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira.
“I would honestly have to say that fight right there was up with Rizzo-Couture, Couture-Liddell I, Couture-Ortiz, now Couture-Nogueira,” said White. “It was awesome. Great fight.”
The bout was Couture’s second since abruptly leaving the UFC in October 2007, citing a lack of respect and fair compensation. When he returned at UFC 91 more than a year later to begin a three-fight deal, he drew a $4.8 million dollar gate, pocketed a disclosed quarter million dollars and drew roughly a million pay-per-views in a technical knockout loss, dropping the heavyweight belt to Brock Lesnar.
The loss to “Minotauro” marks only the second time in his career that Couture has posted consecutive losses. However, as White points out, Couture proved to be the most competitive fight for the mammoth Lesnar and in battling against fellow legend Nogueira, Couture went the distance for the first time in a losing effort.
A long time Oregon resident, Couture drew a $1.92 million live gate, one of the top five in state history for a live event, and another quarter million in disclosed pay plus a $60,000 Fight of the Night bonus. As a draw, “The Natural” is an incredible asset for the UFC to say the least.
The clash with Nogueira would have left Couture with a one-fight obligation to the UFC but at the post-fight presser, White revealed that Couture had agreed to a six-fight deal over 28-months prior to the event. The contract extends Couture’s career into 2012, and legitimate questions were raised about whether the 46-year-old would be pushed into retirement a la Chuck Liddell should he continue his losing skid.
“I don’t know if I’d have to do that with Randy, you know what I mean,” said White. “I think Randy gets it. The big thing for Randy is his body still feels good, injury free. He’s able to go in there and compete against these guys. In my opinion, he still had the best showing against Brock Lesnar.”
White, known for an aggressive business style, reiterates Couture’s future is up to him.
“Its not my place. Chuck Liddell and I have a much different relationship and I have noticed the difference in Chuck,” said White. “And let’s be honest—Chuck hasn’t treated his body the way Randy Couture has.”
White was asked about recent reconciliations after UFC 102. A volatile, outspoken personality, White is known as much for his public disputes as his accomplishments, so his recent “Mr. Nice Guy” disposition is noteworthy. In the last month White brought back former light heavyweight champion and longtime frienemy Tito Ortiz, re-signed prodigal son Vitor Belfort, mended fences with Pat Miletich, welcomed Affliction back as a sponsor, and began credentialing Sherdog.com representatives, banned from Zuffa events since 2005.
“I don’t know if it’s Mr. Nice Guy. You get into beefs with people and they last along time and sometimes there’s resolutions and sometimes there’s not,” said White, who didn’t drop his trademark f-bomb once at the UFC 102 post-fight press conference. “There’s still people I’m beefing with and there’s people that I’ll never be cool with, so it is what it is. It’s not like I found God and I’m out there trying to make up with everybody but it just sort of worked out that way.”
White recently singled out a new enemy when he dubbed San Jose-based promotion Strikeforce, “Strikefarce.” The comment came after Strikeforce signed consensus top heavyweight Fedor Emelianenko—a fighter White has tried to sign on multiple occasions, most recently in early August, since Pride was absorbed by the UFC in April 2007.
Despite his recent remarks about the Scott Coker-headed organization, White asserts his problem isn’t with the Strikeforce CEO, with whom he’s had a publicly amicable relationship, its with Strikeforce distributor Showtime.
“I think they’re arrogant dicks when they no have reason to be arrogant dicks. They think they’re a lot better than they are,” he said calmly. “Realistically, my beef isn’t with Coker and I don’t really believe that Coker really is running Strikeforce, Showtime is.”
White affirms there’s a lot of work to do in the still young sport and building the heavyweight division is a key component—especially without Emelianenko. The organization’s upcoming season “The Ultimate Fighter” features big men exclusively. UFC 102 hosted three heavyweight bouts in preliminary action with debuting Todd Duffee breaking the UFC’s fastest knockout record, a seven second trumping of Tim Hague, in addition to the heavyweight main event. If Lesnar is any indication, bigger heavyweights mean bigger paydays and bigger fights.
Things are going well for the UFC, but despite White’s recent rash of reconciliations, don’t expect him to get too warm and cuddly.
“It takes a lot energy to fight with people—but I like it,” said White. “If you piss me off, I’ll fight with ya.”