Reigning UFC heavyweight champion Randy Couture could return to the Ultimate Fighting Championship by year's end as part of an out-of-court settlement with the organization.
Multiple sources close to the fighter, speaking exclusively to MMAjunkie.com (UFC blog for UFC news, UFC rumors, fighter interviews and event previews/recaps | MMAjunkie.com
), today said that Couture is willing to fight once more for the UFC, possibly before the end of the year, as a potential resolution to his ongoing legal battles with the fight promotion.
However, Couture himself could not be reached for comment, and it's unknown if the UFC is even considering the offer at this point.
According to one source, as part of Couture's concession to return the octagon, the 45-year-old UFC hall-of-famer would want to walk away "clear and free" from the organization after the bout.
Couture (16-8 MMA, 13-5 UFC), who hasn't fought since a third-round TKO victory over fellow UFC heavyweight Gabriel Gonzaga in August 2007, resigned from the organization two months later over what he perceived to be a lack of respect from UFC officials, issues over his pay, and the UFC's inability to sign then-top free agent Fedor Emelianenko.
However, Zuffa LLC officials believe, per his fight contract, that Couture's next two bouts must be in the UFC. Couture had said that he wanted his resignation upheld so he could move on with his career, including a potential bout with Emelianenko outside the UFC.
Back in February, Couture signed a deal with Mark Cuban's Dallas-based HDNet Fights promotion. The organization then filed suit against the UFC in Dallas district court to get a declaratory judgment concerning the contractual status of Couture. However, earlier this month, a Texas appeals court ruled in favor of Zuffa and granted the organization's request for a stay against the motion.
In conditionally granting the stay, the court effectively deferred the case between Zuffa and Couture to arbitration to determine the fighter's contractual obligations to the UFC.
The ruling all but ensures that this case will be decided by a Nevada arbitrator and not by a Texas court, though it's likely that HDNet will appeal to the Texas Supreme Court. Arbitration between Zuffa and Couture reportedly has been under way in Las Vegas since early July.
Despite Couture's resignation, during a UFC 82 press conference in March, UFC President Dana White said that he had offered Couture a fight with now-interim UFC heavyweight champion Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira on two different occasions. Although the fight never came to fruition, White has never ruled out the possibility of Couture returning to the organization.
In the other squabble between the UFC and Couture, the five-time champion's employment contract, which is separate from his fight contract, is the focus of a breach of contract lawsuit filed by Zuffa on Jan. 14 in Las Vegas. Zuffa contends that Couture violated the one-year non-compete clause in his contract by having his name and likeness used to promote fights outside of the UFC.
Couture's UFC employment contract expires on Oct. 11 of this year.