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Randy Couture: Georges St-Pierre faces ‘uphill climb' in battle against the UFC

Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

Georges St-Pierre is not the first superstar to abruptly announce his exit from the UFC ranks.

Back in 2007, then-UFC heavyweight champion Randy Couture memorably "resigned" from the UFC due to disagreements over pay and fighter treatment, as well as a desire to fight Russian legend Fedor Emelianenko. Couture's dispute with the UFC lasted 13 long months, and not surprisingly, Couture relates to the frustrating road that St-Pierre is now preparing to venture down.

"I certainly saw similarities, and I'm not privy to Georges' contract and the language in Georges' contract, but I'm sure it's in many ways very similar to what I was dealing with back in 2007," Couture said Monday on The MMA Hour.

"And maybe, unfortunately for Georges, some of the issues that were pointed in out in their contracts back then that were the impetus for me declaring my free agency back then, and trying to make that Fedor fight happen and having injunctions filed and spending a lot of money on attorneys and stuff -- a lot of those things were closed. They [changed their] contracts to some extent to try and prevent athletes from doing what I had been doing.

"But it's definitely going to be an uphill climb. These guys have controlled fighters and controlled this situation for a long, long time. And they're good at it. So, I think Georges is certainly going to be up against it."

St-Pierre stunned many within the mixed martial arts world last week when he announced that he had terminated his old UFC contract following months of failed negotiations to reach a new deal with Zuffa. St-Pierre's attorney, James Quinn of New York firm Weil, Gotshal and Manges, told MMA Fighting that St-Pierre's UFC deal was the most restrictive sports contract he had seen in 30 years and effectively functioned "like something out of the 1940s." Quinn also reiterated that St-Pierre was now a free agent after the UFC failed to meet a 10-day deadline to formally offer St-Pierre a fight.

In many ways, the dispute between St-Pierre and the UFC mirrored the ordeal that Couture went through from 2007 to 2008. Couture was mired in litigation for more than a year as he attempted to break free from the remaining two fights on his UFC contract. He ultimately spent more than a half-million dollars of his own money in a failed effort before returning the UFC on a renegotiated contract to fight Brock Lesnar at UFC 91.

"I certainly hope that Georges is ready to spend a considerable amount of money in legal fees and all of that to fight this battle," Couture said. "That's the first thing. These guys are going to try and drag this out as long as they can drag this out and get Georges to spend as much money as they can possibly spend in hopes to bleed him, to make him want to give up and just give it up.

"Obviously you're still dealing with Dana White, but WME is another thing completely than Zuffa and the Fertittas, and I think that adds another layer to this whole thing. Georges is represented by CAA. CAA and WME go way back, as far as butting heads and kind of fighting over things, so I think there's probably some of that going on here as well."

Couture recalled the process of his struggle against the UFC as an emotionally and financially draining one. He said that the incredible sum of money he spent, in addition to the closing window of his fighting career and frustration of staring down a legal battle with no certain end ultimately caused him to abandon his pursuit and begrudgingly settle with the UFC.

"I spent 13 months not competing," Couture said. "At 44 years old, the clock was ticking. I spent more than $500,000 of my own money to try and fight over my interpretation of the language in the contract, just to continue for who knows how much longer to get a ruling and be able to go one way or the other. And at the end of the day, I wanted to compete. I wanted to fight. I'm a fighter.

"I still felt like I had competition that I wanted to get done and decided just to give it up, to hang it up, to not spend any more of my money fighting the system that was in place."

The UFC has already indicated that it will not recognize St-Pierre's decision and that the promotion considers St-Pierre to still be under contract. The UFC also implied that it would not be afraid to go to court over the matter, stating that that "Zuffa intends to honor its agreement with St-Pierre and reserves its rights under the law to have St-Pierre do the same."

So while Couture may not be privilege to the nuances of St-Pierre's case, he expects St-Pierre to encounter many of the same roadblocks that Couture encountered nearly a decade ago as the UFC seeks to protect its interests.

"I'm sure that if he moves forward as a free agent, tries to make the fight that he wants to happen somewhere else, there will be injunctions filed, and then it'll be a time period where they'll be interviewing everybody," Couture said. "There's this time process too see any of that come before a judge and get ruled on, and just like in the situation I was in, how long is he going to want to wait?

"He's been out for a little while now and not competed. How long is it that he wants to wait? How much money is that going to cost him to continue to fight that battle when he's unable to fight and compete and make any money anywhere else? And then, what's the likelihood? What if all of that [happens] and then they rule that the contract is still enforced and he still owes fights to WME and the UFC? Now he's back to renegotiating and trying to make the fights happen that he wants to happen with that organization after all of that."

That last point is one that Couture continues to feel to this day.

Despite being one of the greatest ambassadors for MMA of his era, Couture continues to be persona non grata in UFC circles, to the point where the UFC banned him from serving as cornerman to his son Ryan Couture during Ryan's brief UFC run. Couture has since been on the receiving end of countless public insults from UFC president Dana White, and not surprisingly, he pointed to St-Pierre's situation as further proof that MMA fighters are in dire need of professional representation in the form of a fighters association.

Couture also responded to the critics who often argue that UFC fighters waive their right to complain about contracts once they sign them.

"I don't think it's their fault if the organization has ruled with an iron fist," Couture said. "I'm an example of somebody that they've tried to black out, and that's because of my stance with them almost from the very start over ancillary rights and the language in the contracts that they were trying to make me sign.

"Now the other promotions, like the World Series of Fighting and Bellator, have made up a lot ground because of things like the uniforms and the implementation of USADA without any athlete's voice involved in that process. Some of the things that promotion is doing has allowed some of these other promotions to get traction. They've got good people behind them at NBC and with Viacom and the other places that they're showing our sport. But at the end of the day, the gold standard, if you will, has been with the UFC.

"It's synonymous with the sport in a lot of ways, so a lot of people aspire and want to fight in that organization. Well, if they want to fight in that organization, they're going to have to sign that contract, as bad as that contract is."

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