Randy Couture's Most Important Role Could Lie in Retirement
Saturday night is expected to be the last time in the octagon for UFC legend Randy Couture, so expect the tributes to begin trickling in early this week and a flood to follow his fight with Lyoto Machida, win or lose. They are all deserved of course, even though plenty of them will focus on what he's done, rather than what he might do.
What's amazing is that despite all his accomplishments in the cage -- championships and megafights among them -- Couture could end up becoming one of the rare fighters who is more important to the sport in retirement than he was in action. That is a tall order, of course. Couture is and will forever be one of the seminal figures of early MMA, and was one of the few pioneers able to evolve from a singular style to favorably compete with the modern class of hybrid athletes.
His legacy is surely written in stone. He's a multi-time, multi-division champion; he holds a UFC record by competing in 16 title fights; and he was one of the few early personalities that transcended into mainstream consciousness. So what can he do after he hangs up his gloves that he didn't do before? He can be a voice for MMA, he can be an agent for change, he can offer thought-provoking perspective on the direction of the sport.
Couture already has his first two post-MMA roles. They are in the movies. In May he will begin shooting an action film entitled "Hijacked" and in August, he'll move into taping the sequel to "The Expendables." He will probably make a couple of nice paydays and look to continue growing his career in Hollywood. He is certainly entitled to those opportunities, and to shaping his future however he sees fit. He doesn't owe the sport another second of his time.
But there is another role he would be perfect for, one that would allow him to stay involved in his beloved sport and make him a leading voice in its future. It's not in the UFC, but instead, in the media.
For a few years now, Couture has dabbled as an analyst, first for the UFC, then for ESPN on their "MMA Live" show. He's excelled in the role. He perfectly understands the fighter's mind, the business of MMA, and how the two intertwine.
During that time, Couture was one of many who stepped into the guest analyst seat. There is and/or was Rashad Evans, Stephan Bonnar, Chael Sonnen, Frank Mir and Rich Franklin, among others. The common thread: they are all active fighters. As a general rule, when you're under contract with a team, or a promotion, you're not going to say anything too critical of them. When asked, you might offer a few vague words on a controversial subject, but in the interests of self-preservation, you're not going to cut off your nose to spite your face. That's fair, and that's normal -- some would say rational -- human behavior. With Couture there, the show matters more. And when the show matters more, so does the sport.
An analyst by definition should be someone with the independence to fairly look at every side of an issue, someone with vast knowledge of a subject and whose words carry some weight. Someone with a little gravitas. No one in MMA fits that classification better than Couture.
There are certain subjects in MMA that could use a leading voice. Concussions, fighter's unions, fighter pay, performance enhancers, judging issues. This is just a short list of topics in which it would be beneficial to have the input of a retired, respected fighter. Whether it's just bringing attention to the problem or offering a solution, anything from Couture's lips will result in a bigger audience to the issues.
Couture has shown a willingness to address controversial issues in the past, notably in 2008, when he resigned from the UFC after a financial dispute. Given the newfound freedom of retirement, his voice should be welcomed into other hotly debated issues. Among other sports, there has been a trend of utilizing retired athletes in the analyst role. Over the last 10 years, the Sports Emmys for studio analysis and sports event analysis have gone to ex-pro athletes in 18 of 21 awards. Only three-time winner and legendary football broadcaster John Madden kept the pros from a complete sweep. Given Couture's cerebral approach to MMA, his well-known preparation skills and a willingness to tackle important issues, he fits the ideal mold of what an analyst should be.
There are other ways for Couture to continue to impact the sport, of course. He still has his Xtreme Couture gyms, which will continue to churn out top talent. He could use his name to be a Zuffa ambassador in the world at large. Or like Chuck Liddell, he could take a job in the UFC corporate office. Couture mentioned the other day that he plans to stay involved, specifically mentioning the fight to get MMA sanctioned in New York as a possible cause in which to lend his name and voice.
In retirement, Couture is likely to become more inundated with work offers than he was during his active career. As one of MMA's most knowledgeable minds and legendary names, it would be a shame if his platforms did not extend beyond entertainment. There is no replacing Dana White as the mouthpiece of MMA, but it wouldn't hurt to add Randy Couture as its voice of reason. UFC 129 may be the last time we see him fighting, but hopefully it's not the last time we hear his take on issues worth fighting for.