With the UFC’s apparent inability to sign top free agent Fedor Emelianenko to a contract, current UFC heavyweight champion Randy Couture has reportedly decided to walk away from the UFC and the two fights remaining on his current deal.
The shocking news comes from The Fight Network, with whom Couture has a longtime relationship. According to the website, Couture delivered his resignation with a letter to UFC President Dana White.
“I appreciate this opportunity the sport of MMA and the UFC has given me,” Couture told the website. “However, I’m tired of swimming upstream at this stage with the management of the UFC. It only makes sense at this point in my career to fight Fedor Emelianenko, and since he’s now signed with another organization, I feel like it’s time to resign and focus on my other endeavors.“
Emelianenko — the current PRIDE heavyweight champion and the most sought-after free agent in mixed-martial arts — reportedly inked a new deal with the Russian-based M-1 Mix-Fight Championship promotion in the past couple weeks.
White made no mention of Couture’s resignation — nor any problems in his relationship with the fighter — during today’s UFC 77 media conference call. The two MMA notables appeared to have a very public and very cordial relationship.
UFC officials were hopeful that Couture would next defend his title against Emelianenko at a Feb. 2 show in Las Vegas. Fight fans had been teased by the possible matchup for much of 2007. MMAjunkie.com recently reported that Couture was supposed to headline the UFC 81 event regardless of the opponent, but it now appears the fighter’s career with the UFC is over.
The 44-year-old Couture, a UFC Hall of Famer, came out of retirement earlier this year to defeat Tim Sylvia for the heavyweight championship. Since the UFC 68 victory, Couture has reemerged as one of MMAâ€™s biggest stars.
He successfully defended his title at UFC 74 in August against top contender Gabriel Gonzaga.
Couture (16-8 MMA, 13-5 UFC) is one of the most decorated fighters in MMA history and the only athlete to ever hold the UFC’s heavyweight and light-heavyweight titles. The former All-American wrestler has competed in 15 title fights in his 24-fight career.
It’s too soon to know what the UFC will do with a now-vacant heavyweight title. However, top contenders Brandon Vera and Tim Sylvia are scheduled to fight next weekend at UFC 77, and fellow contenders Antonio Rodrigo Nogeuira and Cheick Kongo are expected to fight in early 2008. The two bouts could set up a mini-tournament, with each fight’s winner facing off in a title fight at a later date.