Responding to criticism from resigned champion Randy Couture that they underpaid fighters, Ultimate Fighting Championship executives Tuesday took the unprecedented step of publicly announcing what they’re paying the former heavyweight star this year: nearly $2.9 million.
“We pay our fighters very well,” UFC President Dana White said at a news conference in Las Vegas. “The statements [Couture] has made are not true.”
Couture, 44, last week resigned from the UFC, saying he had not received a proper post-fight bonus for defeating Gabriel Gonzaga in August. He also complained that he had heard the UFC planned to pay more to former PRIDE Fighting Championships heavyweight champion Fedor Emelianenko.
Couture has said his bonus and annual earnings were lower than what the UFC claimed at its news conference. The fighter could not be reached for comment.
UFC co-owner Lorenzo Fertitta said at the news conference that Couture’s earnings were being made public because the fighter’s statements had “so grossly misrepresented the facts. . . . They were damaging the company. You can stay silent only so long.”
John Mulkey, the fight circuit’s chief financial officer, said Couture received a $500,000 signing bonus in January -- $250,000 of which he was paid immediately, with the other half coming after he won the heavyweight title in March by defeating Tim Sylvia.
The contract stipulated Couture fight four times in an 18-month period, sources said.
Mulkey said Couture also earned a $250,000 purse against Sylvia and $936,000 more in pay-per-view revenue -- making the fighter’s take from just that fight more than $1.4 million.
Against Gonzaga, Mulkey said Couture was paid a $250,000 purse, a $35,000 bonus for winning the “fight of the night,” and should receive $787,000 more in pay-per-view money.
Beyond the $2.7 million in purses and bonuses Couture has earned this year as a fighter, he earned another $160,000 as a UFC commentator, White said.
Although state commissions in Nevada and California publicly disclose UFC purses, the pay-per-view and bonus payments are secret, leaving the increasingly profitable UFC open to questions about the fairness in what it pays its fighters.
White said the UFC is generous in its bonus payments, pointing to a $1-million bonus it gave welterweight Matt Hughes after a victorious fight over Royce Gracie last year.
Couture’s earnings are second among the 200 UFC fighters only to former light-heavyweight champion Chuck Liddell, White said.
A UFC source said Couture was angered when White balked at the fighter’s request for an additional $500,000 bonus after the Gonzaga bout.
“I don’t know what I did wrong,” White said. “We’re running a business here.”
White said he expects Couture to honor his contract and is planning to soon present the fighter with a bout against heavyweight Antonio Rodrigo Noguiera in February.