Couture Back in UFC Fold

By Sherdog.com Staff Sep 2, 2008
Six-time UFC champion Randy Couture (Pictures) will return to the Octagon this November, ending an 11-month legal battle with the promotion he’s called his home for the last 11 years.

As part of a new three-fight contract with Zuffa LLC, parent company to the UFC, Couture (16-8) will face Brock Lesnar (Pictures) (2-1) at UFC 91 on Nov. 15 at the MGM Grand Arena in Las Vegas. The bout will be waged over five rounds for Couture’s heavyweight championship title.

“As you all know, we’ve had problems with Randy over the last few months, but we’ve got them all worked out now. Randy has always been our heavyweight champion,” said UFC President Dana White.

A previously announced bout between UFC interim heavyweight champion Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira (Pictures) and Frank Mir (Pictures) scheduled for December will determine the next contender for the UFC heavyweight crown, said White. White described the scenario as a “heavyweight tournament.”

Under the new agreement, the UFC will also attempt to lock down a bout between Couture and No. 1 ranked heavyweight Fedor Emelianenko (Pictures) in 2009. The highly anticipated bout has been heralded as the fight of the decade.

We’re gonna do everything we can to make that fight happen,” said White. "Emelianenko’s under another contract right now to another promotion and if he becomes available or something works out with that other promotion -- obviously everybody knows how crazy we are about protecting our contracts. Well, we would never do that to somebody else."

It is believed Emelianenko recently signed an exclusive U.S. contract with the rival promotion Affliction Entertainment. It is not known how many fights Emelianenko has committed to. White said he would not be open to a co-promotion effort with the rival organization.

“I think a lot of compromises were made on both sides,” said Couture, “but we’re both ready to try and move forward. We’ve cleared the air and we’re both in different places than we were a year ago. Spending the last year in legal fights is not some place that I've had a very good time.”

Couture’s abrupt departure from the UFC last October dealt a significant blow to the world’s most visible MMA promotion. Zuffa’s inability to land Pride heavyweight champion Emelianenko played a prominent role in the Couture’s decision to walk away, as did the fighter’s discontent with his pay and treatment by the Las Vegas-based company.

With his resignation, Couture left behind two contracted bouts, his UFC heavyweight crown, and a separate employment contract for on-air commentary services.

The 45-year-old Couture’s return to the UFC signals the end of arbitration proceedings over the fighter’s promotional contract that were underway in Las Vegas. A separate lawsuit filed last January against Couture for breach of his employment contract has also been squashed.

Couture called his return to the UFC “a step in the right direction” to getting a bout with Emelianenko down the line.

A three-time All-American wrestler at Oklahoma State University, Couture won four national championships in Greco-Roman wrestling and made four attempts at qualifying for the Olympics. He made his MMA debut at UFC 13 on May 13, 1997, where, at age 33, he won its heavyweight tournament.

Over the course of the next decade, Couture emerged as one of the most decorated mixed martial artists in history. The UFC’s only six-time champion, he captured the heavyweight belt three times, the light heavyweight title twice, and an interim light heavyweight title as well. Couture was the first fighter to win UFC championships in two weight classes.

His run through the promotion included a memorable trilogy with light heavyweight rival Chuck Liddell (Pictures), the only opponent to beat Couture twice. Following his third bout with Liddell in February 2006, Couture announced his first retirement. Couture returned in March 2007 to topple 6-foot-8 giant Tim Sylvia (Pictures) for the UFC heavyweight crown.

Couture has not stepped back into the Octagon since his third-round pummeling of Gabriel Gonzaga (Pictures) at UFC 74 in August 2007.

"I'm certainly under time constraints too. I'm 45," said Couture. "I can't sit around in court rooms for very long. I want to fight."
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