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Randy Couture says Conor McGregor is ‘shedding a light’ on struggle for MMA fighters’ rights

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Amidst the circus surrounding one of the most high-profile fights in history, Randy Couture is looking at the bigger picture.

The five-time UFC champion appeared on The MMA Hour on Friday to discuss the impact that Conor McGregor is making on the combat sports scene beyond just challenging Floyd Mayweather in a historic “MMA vs. boxing” bout.

Couture agreed with the suggestion that McGregor is opening doors by making the unprecedented jump from active UFC fighter to professional boxer.

“He’s certainly shedding a light on it, in him going out and getting a boxing license,” Couture said. “(Nate) Diaz went and got a boxing license too. He’s certainly shedding a lot on some of these issues and what’s going on. I’ve been asked that since I started in ‘97. ‘Why don’t you make that kind of money? What’s the difference between boxing and MMA?’ And I didn’t understand or really know how to answer that question back then. I have a better idea now what the difference is.”

The difference that Couture is referring to is his understanding of how the Muhammad Ali Boxing Reform Act can benefit MMA fighters as it has boxers since it was enacted in 2000. It’s that very act that Couture believes was the key to McGregor being able to set up a fight with Mayweather.

He saw the UFC as being completely against McGregor’s move to boxing until they realized that “The Notorious” could be subject to the Ali Act after recently becoming licensed as a boxer in California and Nevada. One function of the act to prevent promoters from signing fighters to overly restrictive contracts.

“They stripped him of his title and were harassing him because he was talking about this fight,” Couture said. “And then when he got that boxing license they did a complete 180, they saw the opportunity to take some of that money, to make some money off of this thing, and they realized they couldn’t stop him. I’m not sure why — ‘cause he’s educated, he knows that he’s protected — he even let them in.

“That (UFC) contract is null and void by his protections under the Ali Act,” Couture continued. “It’s written right in that contract you cannot box, wrestle, grapple without our express written consent, but the second he got that boxing number, he fell under the protection of the federal legislation that’s written in the Muhammad Ali Act that doesn’t allow that exclusivity by a promoter.”

Couture is currently working with former MMA fighter turned Oklahoma Congressman Markwayne Mullin to bring similar rights to their peers, and they expect to have an important meeting with the Senate Committee on Commerce, Labor and Energy in Nevada this October to discuss the matter further.

“The Natural” was also asked if he saw any similarities in this situation to when he welcomed former boxing champ James Toney to the Octagon in 2010. Though he used his wrestling to make short work of Toney, Couture understands that Mayweather could be experiencing a similar feeling as he defends the ring against McGregor.

“I felt that kind of pressure when I fought James (Toney),” Couture said. “I was representing my sport. I think boxing has more to lose in this engagement than we do. Even if it goes 12 rounds and Mayweather gets the decision, I still think that’s kind of a win for us. They comment on how bad our striking is and ‘we’d knock you out,’ I’ve heard this stuff since I started in ‘97, 20 years ago. So I get that, I understand where they’re coming from, I understand what they’re analyzing and looking at.”

As much as Couture appreciates the strides that McGregor is making as a businessman and as an example for others to follow (whether McGregor means to take a leadership role or not), he’s not willing to buck conventional wisdom and pick him for the upset.

“I think Mayweather’s going to win this, I think it’s going to be a 12-round typical Mayweather performance,” Couture said. “It has that potential (to be a dull fight). Floyd is that elusive. He’s talking about, ‘Oh, I need to be the aggressor because of the Pacquiao fight and all these things.’ I get it, but he’s 49-0 for a reason. He knows what he’s good at. He knows what’s gotten him to that point.”