Couture pushes for more rights for pugilists

For his next act, Randy Couture plans to lend an ear to his peers. Justin M Bowen

The question of whether or not a fighter’s union is needed in mixed martial arts has been prevalent for some time now and was further highlighted earlier this year by the news that Zuffa, parent company to the UFC, purchased Strikeforce, its top competitor.

For Randy Couture, the answer isn’t a simple "yes" or "no."

Couture isn’t interested in spearheading a war for fighters’ rights, but he said there are issues that absolutely need to be addressed. His hope is that Zuffa and the fighters will come together with open minds before a war is the only option left.

“There’s going to be a battle,” Couture told ESPN.com. “I’d rather sit down with the UFC, [president] Dana White and [CEO] Lorenzo Fertitta and figure out a way to implement some things with their blessing.”

On Monday, Couture, 47, announced on ESPN.com his intention to retire from the sport following a light heavyweight bout against Lyoto Machida later this month at UFC 129.

The former UFC heavyweight and light heavyweight champion has seen the sport take tremendous strides in terms of acceptance, regulation and popularity during his time of competition.

According to Couture, fighters are still being deprived of a few fundamental rights, which if rectified would only help the legitimacy of the sport.

“Health insurance for fighters when they’re not competing is a huge issue,” Couture said. “There are a few fighters who could call up the UFC and say, ‘Look, I need some help, I blew out my knee in practice,’ and the UFC is going to help them. They’ve been generous but they can’t do that with everyone. There are over 200 fighters.

“How about a retirement plan of some sort? Or at least educate these guys on how to take care of their money. How many MMA stars, five or six years from now, are going to be broke and destitute? We’ve seen that in boxing, and it’s a shame. An absolute shame.”

Couture has had his own grievances with the UFC during a 14-year professional fighting career, but said he doesn’t blame Zuffa for the fighters’ issues still present in the sport, nor does he necessarily look at the formation of a fighters union as an end-all, be-all solution.

He said he would hate to see the UFC ever endure a saga like the NFL currently is, with fighters threatening a work stoppage.

“There’s a whole bunch of issues when you start unionizing,” Couture said. “Look at football. The players are looking at a lockout because they might have to play two more games in a season and not increase their pay. I mean, why are you in the sport? Because you love to play the game, right?

“There’s a give and take there. [Unions] can sometimes get carried away.”

That is why Couture is hopeful the question of a fighters union becomes an irrelevant one and the issues are resolved in a way that suits both sides.

“It would be great to sit down and figure out a way to take care of the guys in this company so that everybody feels good about it and no one is in a position to have too much power or for a fighter to take advantage of a union and hold out," he said.

“There’s got to be a way to come together and meet on ground that everyone can live with.”