Randy Couture, the face of the Ultimate Fighting Championship and one of MMA's most revered fighters, resigned from the UFC via fax from South Africa Thursday morning, Couture confirmed to Sherdog.com.
Couture told Sherdog by phone from South Africa, where he is filming a movie, that he resigned as a UFC commentator, ambassador and heavyweight champion.
Couture's quitting the organization comes on the heels of fellow heavyweight Fedor Emelianenko's decision to fight under Russia's M-1 Mixfight banner.
"I want that fight and would have waited if the fight was offered to me," Couture said. "Knowing what they offered him, I would have made demands to get paid equally or better than him as the champion. Whether or not those would have been met is another question."
Couture also mentioned being disenchanted with the UFC franchise, and with the direction his career was headed.
"I'm tired of being taken advantage of, played as the nice guy and basically swimming against the current with the management of the UFC," he said. "I have a lot of other things going on in my life that I'm doing just fine with. I don't need the problems. I don't feel like I get the respect I deserve from the organization, and that's motivation No. 2 for the letter of resignation that was sent today."
Couture said it was a lack of respect by the UFC, in particular its president, Dana White, that led him to resign. Calls to White at the UFC offices weren't immediately returned.
White said in a statement that he was "not surprised at all by Randy's decision. I talked to Randy several weeks ago and he said that if he couldn't fight Fedor, then he has nothing left to prove in the sport of mixed martial arts." White told UFC.com editor Thomas Gerbasi, "I consider Randy Couture a friend, and still do. Randy wants to be in the movie world now, that's what he's working for and that's his guy right now."
The final straw, Couture said, was being told by the UFC's White and Lorenzo Fertitta that he was the second-highest paid athlete in the organization. Polling other athletes, Couture said he learned that his compensation -- $250,000 a fight with pay-per-view bonuses, according to the Couture camp -- was nowhere near what other top UFC fighters were making.
Chuck Liddell is considered the highest-paid UFC athlete at an estimated $500,000-$700,000 a fight.
Beyond the money, both Couture and his wife, Kim, stressed the resignation was about respect. It's a move Couture acknowledged could have far-reaching effects.
"Certainly there's personal motivation for resigning and taking a stand for myself," he said. "If it sets a [precedent] that down the road requires athletes to be treated better, then that's icing on the cake."
Couture (16-8) is the only fighter in UFC history to hold belts in two weight divisions. The current UFC heavyweight champion recaptured the belt in March by coming out of retirement to outpoint Tim Sylvia. Couture defended the title in August, stopping challenger Gabriel Gonzaga in the third round.
Josh Gross is the executive editor of Sherdog.com.