HDNet Fights Has Contract with Couture; Question is When It Begins

By Adam Swift Feb 20, 2008
Last week Mark Cuban's HDNet Fights made headlines when it sued Zuffa, parent company of the UFC, in district court in Dallas. As first reported by Sherdog.com, the suit seeks declaratory relief concerning Randy Couture (Pictures)'s contractual status under a promotional contract with Zuffa.

New details of the action have been revealed in the complaint obtained by Sherdog.com. According to the filing, HDNet Fights has entered into a contract with Couture that is scheduled to commence upon the expiration of his Zuffa promotional agreement. At that time, the company plans to promote a fight between Couture and Fedor Emelianenko (Pictures) in Dallas, assuming terms can be reached with the highly regarded Russian heavyweight.

The existence of an actual contract between HDNet Fights and Couture is believed to be key to the company's action in Texas. Without it, it is unlikely that the court would find an actual controversy ripe for adjudication.

According to the filing, Couture has stated that he believes his Zuffa promotional contract expires with the stated term of the agreement in July, while Zuffa maintains that the contract remains valid indefinitely under the infamous "retirement clause." In the complaint, HDNet Fights characterized Zuffa's contention as "outrageous."

"Zuffa's position regarding Couture is both illegal and involves critical timing," the filing states. "First, like all fighters, Couture's ability to fight at a championship level will diminish as he ages. Through their actions, Zuffa seeks to ensure that Couture is prevented from gainful employment and practicing his craft until he cannot be an elite fighter. Importantly, the law in Texas is clear that indefinite employment restrictions such as Zuffa claims to be enforcing are per se illegal and against public policy."

Both sides agree that the one-year non-compete provision contained in Couture's employment contract with the UFC expires on Oct. 12, meaning that even with a favorable outcome concerning the term of Couture's promotional contract, the earliest Couture-Fedor could take place would be in the fall.

The complaint also recognizes Zuffa as the undisputed market leader in the MMA industry.

"A key technique utilized by Zuffa to maintain their iron grip on the MMA industry is litigation and intimidation," the complaint reads. "Just a cursory review of court dockets in Nevada demonstrate the remarkably litigious nature of Zuffa and their willingness to tie their opponents down with expensive and lengthy court battles regardless of merits."

In a nod to pending litigation in Nevada, where Zuffa has sued Couture and as yet unnamed defendants for, among other things, conspiracy to commit tortous acts, the complaint notes that "HDNet did not want or intend in any way for such an agreement to induce or cause Couture to breach his UFC Fight Contract or any other agreement(s) he might have with Zuffa and/or UFC or to interfere with any valid contract that Couture might have."

Accordingly, HDNet Fights' contract with Couture will only become effective upon a declaration by the court that Zuffa's promotional agreement is void, invalid or unenforceable in whole or in part, or upon a declaration of the effective date on which Couture's contract with HDNet Fights may begin without violating any provisions of his contract with Zuffa.

Adam Swift is the Editor of MMAPayout.com and a regular contributor to Sherdog.com.
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