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Randy Couture: MMA fighters need a union and 'if there is a time, it is probably now'

Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

Mixed martial arts as a sport is in a state of flux.

The UFC is in the midst of instituting a new performance-enhancing drug policy. The promotion's groundbreaking uniform deal with Reebok begins in July. Fighters have been complaining more and more about compensation and fairness. And, perhaps above all, several former UFC fighters have filed a class-action lawsuit against the UFC, accusing the organization of being a monopoly.

Given the current climate and everything that is bubbling just beneath surface, MMA legend Randy Couture believes that it is the right time for the fighters to band together and start a union.

"If there is a time, it is probably now for the fighters to unite and get together and form a union or a guild or something along those lines to insure minimum pay, 401Ks, health insurance, some of those things that unions and guilds tend to do," Couture told recently at the World MMA Awards in Las Vegas.

The UFC does offer health insurance, but a few fighters have expressed concern with the Reebok contract. Brendan Schaub said on his podcast in December that he lost six sponsors when they found out they would be ousted from in-cage gear when the Reebok deal started. James Krause told recently that he has already lost $20,000 in sponsorship money since the new uniform endorsement was announced.

It's clear that they are not the only fighters affected. But many others have not been as vocal for obvious reasons -- criticizing your employer in public can have negative ramifications. Having a union would alleviate these issues.

An endorsement contract for a league would have to be collectively bargained with the fighters through a union and it would only be signed when everyone could agree on the terms. The same goes for the UFC's ambitious new PED policy, which looks great on paper, but could also infringe on the independent contractor rights of fighters.

Couture, 51, said he has been asked about a union for years and believes it's a necessary thing in order for the sport to continue to evolve in the right ways. The UFC Hall of Famer has been a member of the Screen Actor's Guild for 13 years because of his career in Hollywood and thinks something like that would be beneficial for fighters.

"I think those are all things in the positive direction this sport needs to go," Couture said. "Those things need to happen."

Couture said the antitrust lawsuit against the UFC could also affect "changes in procedures" depending on its level of success. A handful of fighters, including Cung Le, Jon Fitch and Nate Quarry, are accusing the UFC of illegally driving competitors out of business and operating as a monopoly. The suit says that fighters are not able to get fair pay, because the UFC is the only game in town and other organizations like Bellator are "minor league."

Couture has had a relationship with Bellator and Spike TV in the past, doing a pair of reality shows for the network, including Bellator's Fight Master. He likes how things have gone with the Viacom-owned promotion since new president Scott Coker took over.

"Instead of a fight every week on Spike TV, it's going to be a fight every month and it's going to be bigger and more special and the fights that people talk about over the watercooler," Couture said. "That's kind of where I came from, how it used to be."

Right now, Couture doesn't have much involvement in MMA outside of his Xtreme Couture gym in Las Vegas. He does have a flourishing acting career and appeared on a recent episode of "Hawaii 5-0." Couture is also working even more closely on an upcoming silver-screen comedy called "Cameron and Eddie Lose the Belt," which he is helping fund and cast.

Fellow legend Ken Shamrock recently announced his comeback for Bellator, but Couture likely will not be following suit.

"I'm very happy with the decision I made to get out when I got out," Couture said. "I'm really, really enjoying the direction I'm headed in with the acting and everything else I have going on. You never say never. I retired once and came back. But I just don't see that happening."

Couture doesn't have anything bad to say about MMA or the UFC. He still believes in the sport that he helped grow to the heights it has risen to now. "The Natural" just thinks some changes need to be made for it to evolve even more.

"It's still going to be, now and in the future -- in my opinion -- the combative sport of this generation and the next generation," Couture said. "I don't think that's gonna change. If anything, we're going through some growing pains. I think there's some changes that need to be made with the promotions, the contracts they're handing out to fighters, the control issues. A lot of those things have made news over the last few months. It'll be interesting to see how a lot of that shakes out. "

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