When it comes to MMA, Randy Couture is a titan of the sport – in both past and present tense. Although the legendary brawler hung his gloves up over a decade ago – at the extraordinary age of 47, no less – Couture continues to shape the world of cage fighting as one of the most knowledgeable professional commentators in the game.
He currently plies his craft with the PFL, an organization that Couture praises particularly for their treatment of fighters. “PFL took mixed martial arts – which has traditionally been a prize-fighting setup and organization – and they put it into a true sports format, with a regular season and playoff and a championship every year, like every other sport does,” Couture tells the Jiu-Jitsu Times.
“They’re also paying the fighters very well along the way. They’re creating a fighter advisory board; I think you’re going to see health insurance and 401(k) plans and something that every other athlete has enjoyed in our society.”
On those counts alone, the PFL is a great fit for Couture, whose name has become almost synonymous with fighter advocacy. In 2007, he famously resigned from the UFC over alleged contractual disputes, citing “coercive” and “literally awful” contracts for the organization’s athletes.
“Obviously, boxing enjoys the transparency that the Muhammed Ali Act created when it was implemented in 1996,” says Couture. “We don’t enjoy the protections of that federal legislation, and that’s one of the areas where I think – if we can make some strides, if we unite as fighters, and demand they change the definition of boxing to combative sports athlete – we can enjoy the same transparency, and eliminate some of these very restrictive, and frankly horrible contracts.”
“How are we supposed to negotiate our fair value in the marketplace if nobody knows how much money any of these events make?” asks Couture rhetorically. “That’s what it boils down to.”
Part of the problem is that MMA, while no longer in its infancy, remains the new kid on the combat sports block. In the grand scheme of sports history, mixed martial arts is still a relatively young, if increasingly popular, discipline — and has endured the requisite identity crisis of adolescence.
“MMA is the fastest-growing sport on the globe right now – and in that, we’re going through some growing pains,” Couture elaborates. “Show me another professional sport where thirteen to fifteen percent of the money from these events actually goes to the athletes. That’s ridiculous. In most sports, it’s at least fifty percent. So again, that lends itself to a lack of transparency in our sport and in the marketplace right now.”
Couture hopes that the rise of competitive promotions outside the UFC – including his own, the PFL, as well as ONE Championship, Bellator, and various others – will provide modern MMA athletes with a healthier breadth of professional options as their careers grow. “I think it’s absolutely a great time to be a professional fighter in mixed martial arts. You have a lot of options to go ply your wares and make your living as a professional athlete,” he explains. “I think that’s special, and I think the more, the merrier – but doing it right.”
The sheer length of Couture’s athletic career – which spans multiple eras of MMA, as the fight game has grown and evolved with time – currently makes him one of the foremost authorities on the sport. It’s been a huge part of what allows him, these days, to serve as such an effective commentator and analyst.
“I think we as fighters – obviously, we did this for a long, long time – we see the subtleties and the nuances in the sport, the tactics, the techniques, the psychological things,” explains Couture. “Guys are like poker players; they have a tell. I think there’s a lot of those subtleties that we pick up on, and can highlight and expound on when we’re commentating in the booth, that the average fans maybe don’t see, or don’t recognize. And I think that’s what makes this fun for us, and why we’re there in the first place.”
However, Couture’s savviness on the mic isn’t just informed by his time as an elite athlete. According to “The Natural,” a lot of his commentary chops evolved from his work as a coach. After all, the work of a commentator isn’t so different from being a good coach. Both coach and commentator are in the business of playing teacher to their audiences: breaking down concepts and shedding light on the chaos in the cage. At the end of the day, they’re here to make the fight game accessible to anyone, from seasoned fan to total novice.
“I feel like I’ve transitioned into that mindset pretty naturally,” Couture tells me. “I think some of that came from being a wrestler, and coaching wrestling. I know a lot of great athletes that don’t know how they do what they do – and when you force them to coach, now they have to articulate that, break that down by the numbers, and transfer that, or hand that off to someone they’re trying to teach. And that forces you to think about how to articulate that.
“So I think that coaching experience – being in those clinics, those seminars, both in wrestling and later in grappling – allowed me technically, in my mind, to break things down, and later, to articulate them. That is the challenge. And I’d encourage any athletes who want to be better athletes to put themselves in a coaching scenario. Because it forces you to break things down and articulate them to another person – which at the end of the day, is going to make you a better athlete.”
He smiles. “And maybe somewhere, down the road, you’re going to get the chance to be a commentator.”
From athlete, to advocate, to coach, to commentator, Randy Couture has seemingly done it all – so it stands to reason that fans would clamor to see his story told in full. The PFL recently obliged by chronicling Couture’s life and times in The Randy Couture Story, a documentary that premiered on ESPN on March 20.
“I was flattered that they started this production company, and that this was the first thing they wanted to do to spearhead and kick that off,” Couture tells me with a laugh. “It was very impressive, they did a great job. It’s a little weird to be analyzed that way – to have people dig into your stuff, it can be a little disconcerting sometimes. But at the end of the day, they made it pretty pain-free.”
And it’s a unique chance, ultimately, for fans to glimpse the journey of one of MMA’s legends — from the cage to the commentary booth — across the sport’s history.
Hear more from Randy Couture by tuning into the current PFL season – and don’t forget to catch him in The Expendables 4, dropping this September.