Ultimate Fighting Championship heavyweight titleholder Randy "The Natural" Couture resigned from the UFC on Oct. 11, 2007. Since his departure, his fighting future has been tied up in lawsuits between the fighter and mixed martial arts' largest organization.
Couture recently spoke with MMAWeekly.com about his fighting future, the lawsuits and the situation with the International Fight League and the Xtreme Couture brand name.
The IFL announced at the start of its 2008 season that Xtreme Couture would be one of the camps in the newly reorganized fight promotion, but the UFC halted the IFL's plans with an injunction against the use of the Xtreme Couture name.
"The issue was really between the UFC and the IFL, but the UFC, with all the other stuff going on, chose to kind of drag me into this fray," Couture told MMAWeekly.
"I've had an IFL team training at my school for two years. Since the inception of the IFL," he explained. "That was the Anacondas. (Chris) Horodecki, (Jay) Hieron, Wild (Mike) Pyle was on the team. All those guys trained first in my L.A. gym, Legends, and now here in the Vegas gym, Xtreme Couture.
"(The IFL) decided they were going to do away with the team names and try and stick to more natural teams that exist like Team Quest, Renzo Gracie's team, American Top Team and so on and so forth, and try to create rivalries ... trying to create those natural rivalries that already kind of exist, which made sense to me."
He continued, "They asked me if I wanted to have a team. I was like, what do you mean have a team? I've already got a team. What are you talking about? I said, if you want to say these guys train at Xtreme Couture when they step in the ring that's fine, but they took that one step further."
And in the eyes of the UFC's legal team, the IFL may have taken it a lot more than one step further, triggering a lawsuit for the MMA juggernaught.
"They put my name and likeness all over their website and all over their marketing material, especially for the fight (in Las Vegas) at the Orleans. And my non-compete clause with the UFC precludes me from promoting any other event until after October. That was the rub as far as the UFC was concerned, but rather than go after the IFL, they chose to come after me. I didn't give the IFL permission to do that. They did that on their own accord. Really it was a fight between the IFL and the UFC, but I kind of got drug in the middle of it."
The UFC was granted the injunction and what was going to be Team Xtreme Couture was changed to Team Tompkins, donning the name of Xtreme Couture trainer Shawn Tompkins.
"It caused me to spend some money on lawyers and things that didn't really make a lot of sense to me," said Couture. "To top it off, it wasn't like I was even fighting for a bunch of athletes that were mine that train here at Xtreme Couture. They decided to assign guys from Florida that actually train for American Top Team to this kind of name Xtreme Couture, which didn't make a lot of sense to me. I wasn't really willing to spend any money or step up and fight an injunction that didn't even have to do with my athletes."
Like an ugly celebrity divorce, the Couture and UFC split has played out in the media. Both sides held press conferences stating their side of the story and the longer it's gone on, the more ugly it's become.
"I think ultimately the UFC wants to drag me down any way they can and tie me up and for them to be able to say, 'oh, we got an injunction against Couture,'" the current UFC heavyweight champion told MMAWeekly. "That only kind of leads the anti-Couture media machine that Dana (White) is kind of spewing and running right now.
"Ultimately, the real litigation, the real issue is Mark Cuban stepping up and filing a declaration on my fight contract to get the state to rule as to when I'm free and clear of the UFC. I think that's the thing that the UFC doesn't really want the public knowing, that that's going on.
"That's going to tell the tale of my contract and when I'm able and free to fight Fedor (Emelianenko). We hope to hear something this month with regard to that, and with any luck I'll be free and clear of the UFC by July and be able to promote and find a way to make that Fedor fight happen."