Duelling news conferences

JOSE RODRIGUEZ, CALGARY SUN

, Last Updated: 8:20 AM ET

CALGARY -- Warning: What you are about to take in may read more like a pro-wrestling script than a mixed-martial arts story. Sadly, it's all real.

The drama that began unfolding a few weeks back escalated this week with duelling press conferences - one by the most powerful man in MMA, the other by its most respected fighter.

UFC president Dana White held a curiously-timed conference call to announce a new deal with Spike TV.

On the other side of Vegas, UFC heavyweight champ Randy Couture - who recently resigned from the fight club saying it lacked respect for its fighters - also took to the microphones.

White began by saying he didn't intentionally book his confab to coincide with Couture's.

"I have nothing but respect for Randy Couture. As a man and as a fighter. I love Randy," said White.

"Am I putting on this press conference to (expletive) Randy's Couture's press conference? The answer is no."

An agitated White faced numerous questions about Couture's departure and the short-fused UFC boss took every opportunity to unload on Couture's management calling them "Hollywood bottom-feeders" who have orchestrated the entire drama.

The most telling thing in White's answers was his choice of words. He refers to Couture's abrupt decision to leave as a "retirement" not a resignation.

He is also quick to point out Couture remains under a UFC contract and can't fight for any other organization.

The sad chain of events that lead to the current drama began earlier this month when Couture shocked the MMA world by announcing his retirement.

It was a move he says had been building for months.

At his press conference, Couture repeatedly stated his decision to leave wasn't about the money, yet he went on to spell out different ways cold-hard cash played a role in his decision.

He said that in its attempts to sign then free-agent Fedor Emelianenko, the UFC offered the Russian heavyweight a lucrative signing bonus -something Couture says he never received.

"That was the final slap in my face," Couture said.

White has since said Couture did indeed receive a bonus for his return from retirement to face Tim Sylvia last March and has the cashed cheque to prove it.

Couture says his base salary of $250,000 is augmented by bonuses big name fighters receive as their cut of the pay-per-view profits. He said that usually amounts to $500,000 per fight and he has yet to receive a penny of bonus money from his last fight - a spectacular win over Gabriel Gonzaga.

He said he feels a lack of respect from UFC ownership and added that bigger paycheques are a way to show fighters they are appreciated.

"I don't expect anyone to look at the money I've made and feel bad for me," he said.

"I've made more money in this sport than I've ever made doing anything. But how do you show an athlete that you appreciate him?"

The lack of respect was a recurring theme for Couture.

"It's been a prevailing feeling of respect that wasn't being given," he said. "Eleven years of my life I've spent trying to represent this sport with integrity and represent this sport in a particular way for the owners before and now. I've never felt like that was appreciated."

So, like sands through the hourglass, this sad drama will play out in time.

White says looking into his crystal ball, he sees a happy ending in the near future.

Couture also stopped short of calling the relationship irreparable.

But sadly, the biggest story in mixed-martial arts for the foreseeable future will not be played out in any packed arena but rather through the back-and-forth salvos of two of its most important characters.

FIGHT NOTES:

- White admits UFC middleweight champ Anderson Silva, coming off a convincing victory over Rich Franklin, is running out of contenders. White said there is a possibility Pride middleweight champ Dan Henderson, who had been fighting as a light-heavyweight, may end up dropping down to 185 lbs. to take on Silva.

- Couture said, before he came out of retirement in March to win the UFC heavyweight crown, he was offered $3 million to fight Fedor Emelianenko by Bodog fighting.

- The UFC has a new TV deal with Spike. The deal that runs through 2011, includes 12 live fight events and six more seasons of The Ultimate Fighter reality series. Financial terms of the contract were not revealed.


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