Randy Couture is still involved in mixed martial arts, but perhaps not in a role similar to the kind that made him famous.
'The Natural', now 52, doesn't have a role with inside the organization, but has been brought on as a brand ambassador. That means doing promotion, showing up to the Bellator FanFest, and being a part of the organization's push behind Veterans Operation Wellness, or VOW.
"For this particular card, it's a special card. Bellator and Spike TV have gotten together and basically created an organization called VOW," Couture explained on Monday's The MMA Hour. "That stands for Veterans Operation Wellness. They did this last year in Houston. They created some spaces on their undercard for some active-duty military and veterans to actually fight once you train in MMA. They put them on the undercard and allow them to fight and then not only give them a paycheck and an opportunity to fight on a nationally-recognized card, but give them a bonus check as part of the VOW, Veterans Operation Wellness."
Two fighters on Saturday's card from the military will compete on these terms, which explains Couture's involvement. Couture, an Army veteran, is interested when there's "anything to do with veterans that supports them," he noted. "I think that's another reason why they brought me in for their show. It's one of their VOW cards."
But here's the lingering issue: Is that all they've involved him on? Is he part of the organization in a different capacity? And what about a return to fighting? In a moment in time when Bellator is bringing back Royce Gracie, Ken Shamrock and other fighters from a different generation of MMA, why hasn't Couture been involved as a fighter, especially given his existing proximity to the organization?
As it turns out, it's not for a lack of the organization trying to lure him back, nor is it a function of a lack of external interest or pressure.
"I think when Fedor [Emelianenko] threw his hat back in the ring and showed up at Rizin on New Years, my phone started ringing," Couture confessed. It was certainly a conversation I had with Scott. Scott and I were actually doing promotions for their card in Connecticut in the Mohegan Sun when that all blew up. Every single interview that I did with Scott sitting next to me, they were asking me whether I was going to come out of retirement and fight Fedor.
"He's kinda been there firsthand, seen my response to all of that and kinda knows my position on it and where I'm at. Scott's one of those guys. He's a great guy, lifetime martial artist and one of the guys that I trust, for sure, in this sport. I think he knows where I'm coming from and I'm not really interested in coming back out of retirement and fighting again at 52, almost 53 years old. Doesn't matter what kind of shape you're in. I haven't really been in fight shape in more than five years."
As Couture explained, his life has moved on, not completely away from MMA, but from the competitive side of things. He's still involved with his gym when he's in Las Vegas, but when he's not, there's a staff that runs keeps things moving, quite successfully.
He still trains when he can to stay in shape, but when Hollywood or other acting opportunities call, he hits the road. His relationship to the competitive side of MMA is peripheral at this point.
The key for Couture, he explained, is that what he's done in MMA satisfies him. There's nothing left to fight for, perhaps more literally than figuratively.
"This doesn't seem very realistic to me," Couture said of competing at his age and current preparation level. "It's not about money. It's not about that fight I missed or any of that stuff. I'm pretty comfortable with the legacy I set and having a great time acting now. I think I'll leave it at that.
"Those are the kind of fights I think people want to see," he continued. "They love those marquee names, those old match-ups. There's a nostalgia there from the old days and the fact that those guys are still willing to walk up in there and get in the cage is a tribute to them. Good on 'em, but I'm happy to be on the sidelines cheering and watching."
As much nostalgia as there might be for Couture's past, there's also some detritus from it that he can't escape. Couture is already a member of the UFC Hall of Fame, but with the impending celebrations set for July's UFC 200 card - including, but not limited to, more Hall of Fame inductions, UFC Fan Expo and more - there is some longing on his part to be involved. An ugly and public split with the company in 2013, however, has not only kept him away from the organization, he isn't even allowed to attend events.
"It's certainly an irritation," Couture acknowledged. "I think that's the way it's meant to be. They're trying to get back at me and to be an irritation to me anyway that they can be. They don't like that I've pointed out some of the issues with their contracts and the way they treat fighters and they've never liked that from day one, holding them to the contracts and ancillary rights and all those sorts of things that me and my management fought with them over since the day they bought the company.
"Ultimately, holding out to try and get the fights that I wanted in Fedor for 13 months and all that stuff, I think that's all stuff they're not very forgiving about," Couture said in reference to his near retirement in 2007. "All the other stuff that I did to promote them, all the other money that I made them doesn't matter at the end of the day to them. Yeah, I would like to be included. It's a sport that I felt like I was involved in in seeing grow and become what it's become."
As Couture sees it, this isn't his call. He believes if given the opportunity to participate, he would. That, however, doesn't appear to be an option.
"It's not really my decision. It's on Zuffa. It's on the organization," he claimed. "The issue's really theirs, not mine. I've done the best I could to represent myself and the sport in a positive way and will continue to do that until I die. The issues really are Dana White's and Zuffa's.
"I'm here working with World Series [of Fighting] and Bellator, trying to promote the sport, trying to do right by the fighters that train at my gym," he said. "The rest of it's really on them."