Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports
It was only about two weeks ago when Ryan Couture spoke to Dana White on the phone. The conversation is a blur. But during the brief exchange, White told Couture that his father, MMA great Randy Couture, was no longer welcome in the UFC, but that he was, as long as he wanted to honor his contract and fight in the octagon.
That was all Ryan had to hear. Regardless of the corresponding drawbacks involved, it was his dream to fight in the UFC, to compete against the best, and he didn't see any reason that an issue between his father and White should derail those plans.
"I wanted to be in the UFC no matter what," he said on Monday's edition of The MMA Hour. "My mind was made up on that before he ever called."
So that part of the discussion came as a relief to 30-year-old Ryan Couture, who had fought in Strikeforce seven times before the promotion was gobbled up and absorbed by the UFC.
The rest of it seemed like collateral damage, even if it involved his dad, who became persona non grata in the UFC soon after signing a contract with Spike to coach their upcoming "Fight Master: Bellator MMA" reality show.
Ryan said that because he was training for his January Strikeforce fight against K.J. Noons -- a bout he won by split decision -- his father decided not to burden him him with the news of his ongoing negotiations with Spike. But as talks heated up and Randy got closer to making it official, he offered Ryan a head's up that he was going to be accepting the deal, and that Ryan's professional life could be affected as a result.
White told him Randy would not be allowed in the building at UFC events, and while White's news delivery came as a double-edged sword, Ryan emphasized the positive.
"Obviously it’s good to know I have a home in UFC," he said. "I'm happy to be there and I definitely wasn’t hoping to be released. I feel like it’s been a long process and I've worked hard to get there. I really want to make a go at it and be successful there. So I'm happy to know I have the opportunity. The flip side of that is that dad's not welcome in the corner. It's unfortunate. That's definitely a loss both personally and professionally, but we’ll do what we gotta do there. The UFC's where I want to be, and if that's what it takes, then I'll work with it."
Ryan said he would continue to work with his father in his training camp, but lean more heavily on striking coach Tim Lane and ground coach Neil Melanson as his fight night corners.
He also said he would not challenge the UFC's decision to bar his father from his corner, even though it's not clear whether White actually has the power to keep him from the role. For example, Nevada state athletic commission executive director Keith Kizer told MMA Fighting last week that each fighter is allowed to select his own corner, subject only to commission approval.
For now, that's not something Ryan wants to test, saying that his father's packed schedule may make a trip to Stockholm, Sweden on April 6 an impossibility, making it a moot point.
But he also noted that his father had been in his corner for all of his previous seven pro fights, and acknowledged that his father's voice came in the "clearest" of all of his cornermen.
Instead, he'll make due without, preparing for a UFC on FUEL 9 matchup with Ross Pearson, the bruising British striker who recently returned to lightweight with a third-round TKO of George Sotiropoulos.
It's a matchup Couture likes, believing it's a logical step after recent tests against names like Conor Heun and K.J. Noons.
"They haven’t given me an easy fight in maybe forever, so I had a feeling it’d be somebody tough," he said. "It's an interesting progression of what we've had to work on for the last couple of opponents. I've been fighting pretty consistently heavy-handed, dangerous strikers. This is just another evolution of that process so I think it'll be a fun continuation of the things i’ been trying to build on in training, and I think we're going to put on a hell of a show."
And then what? Couture hopes to win and establish himself, and then maybe, just maybe revisit the one negative to fighting in the UFC: that he can't do it without his dad. Even still, the prospect of continuing his career as the only Couture in the octagon seems to have sunk in as a real possibility.
"That's what's important to me at the end of the day, is that I get to fight and compete," he said. "The more I can minimize anything extraneous that's going to distract from it, the better. If we could have a conversation about it and sort of plead our case for maybe making a change down the line, then I would like that, but I’m not going to hold my breath."
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