Bellator MMA and SPIKE have just fired a massive shot at the UFC in their continuing war for television ratings and viewers.
Sports Illustrated reported on Tuesday that UFC Hall of Famer Randy Couture has signed a deal with the Viacom cable company to appear in several projects, including a high-profile coaching stint on Bellator's upcoming reality series:
Spike TV will unveil this industry-shifting announcement on Feb. 5 during a press conference in Los Angeles, where Couture and Spike TV president Kevin Kay will discuss details of the agreement and what the 49-year-old retired fighter's role will be on the Bellator series and possibly other Spike-broadcasted projects. The series is expected to feature a number of current and up-and-coming Bellator fighters.
According to SI reporter Loretta Hunt, the deal was made back in December 2012. UFC president Dana White apparently knew about it and expressed "disapproval" over the issue.
With a historic career in MMA that covered over 13 years since UFC 13 in 1997, Randy "The Natural" Couture is one of the most prominent faces in the sport, as well as one of its most recognizable figures.
However, Couture has also had past issues with the UFC, including an infamous contract dispute (via Yahoo Sports) that led to his early (but temporary) retirement.
I was offered to fight Fedor over a year ago when I wanted to come out of retirement for thee million dollars in Bodog. It's more than I've ever been paid for a fight...The UFC has stated time and again that I'm the number two athlete on their books as far as my contract, what my base pay says on that bout agreement, but what happens is they pay you a visit in your locker room after your fight and give you a bonus check. It's not on the books anywhere... [The UFC] offered [Emelianenko] more in a signing bonus than I had ever been paid in a fight. That was like the final slap in the face.
Couture did eventually return to the fold in the UFC, where he finished out his fighting career with matches against marquee opponents like Brock Lesnar, Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira and notable boxing champion James Toney.
Couture's last bout ended in defeat at UFC 129, where he was knocked out in the second round by former light heavyweight champion Lyoto Machida.
As a three-time UFC Heavyweight Champion and two-time UFC Light Heavyweight Champion, the 49-year-old Couture was also the promotion's first two-division title-holder with a record 15 title fights.
Couture isn't the first former UFC fighter to sign a deal with Bellator, as other former Zuffa employees such as Paul Daley, Ben Saunders and Roger Huerta have also left or been dropped from the UFC to join their rival.
Bellator has also recruited high-profile signees from the now-defunct Strikeforce promotion, with the most lucrative contract going to light heavyweight Muhammed Lawal.
Still, arguably no Bellator or Strikeforce fighter is anywhere near as famous as Couture.
As "The Natural" makes appearances on SPIKE, he should provide some critical fuel to the network's aggressive MMA plan. With Bellator tournaments now airing on SPIKE and following TNA Impact Wrestling in a solid ratings block, the UFC's top competitor has a sizable weapon in their growing arsenal.