The Ultimate Fighting Championship and its heavyweight champion are back together after a nearly year-long argument.
Almost eleven months after titleholder Randy Couture announced he was quitting UFC, the two sides on Tuesday afternoon announced that he would return to fight Brock Lesnar at UFC 91, scheduled for Nov. 15, in Las Vegas.
Couture in October said he was leaving the promotion to pursue a fight with Russian superstar Fedor Emelianenko, but UFC claimed Couture was contractually bound for at least two more UFC fights before he could compete in mixed martial arts for anyone else. The company later sued Couture, claiming he breached a separate employment contract by allowing his name and likeness to be used by other MMA promoters.
An attempt by HDNet Fights owner Mark Cuban to have a court in Texas rule on Couture's contractual status failed earlier this year, leaving the matter in the hands of arbitrators in Nevada, UFC's home state.
Couture, a five-time UFC champion, last fought in July of last year, when he successfully defended his heavyweight belt with a technical knockout of Gabriel Gonzaga in the third round.
Lesnar has fought only three professional MMA bouts, but he dominated hardy veteran Heath Herring at UFC 87 last month. As an NCAA Division I-A wrestling champion and a former star in professional wrestling, Lesnar brings a combination of enormous athletic ability and widespread name recognition.
Couture said he was eager to end the legal battle. Fighting Lesnar "makes sense b/c it's part of a resolution for getting back on good terms with UFC," Couture said, during a Tuesday conference call with reporters.
The winner of Lesnar-Couture will fight the winner of a December bout between interim heavyweight champion Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira and Frank Mir, said UFC President Dana White.
Couture's return to UFC raises questions about future opponents for Emelianenko, who fights for M-1 Global and Affliction Entertainment. Emelianenko, widely considered the world's top heavyweight, won the newly created heavyweight title of the World Alliance of Mixed Martial Arts when he defeated former UFC champion Tim Sylvia in 36 seconds.
Immediately after beating Sylvia, Emelianenko said he wants to fight Couture. Affliction officials have said they would be interested in promoting that matchup if Couture could resolve his legal issues with UFC.
Couture said he takes the Lesnar fight seriously, but he also made clear that Emelianenko remains his ultimate goal.
"I have faith that the UFC is working diligently to make the Fedor fight happen," Couture said. "Obviously that's the endgame for me."
White dismissed Fedor as "irrelevant" to the company's current situation, but still would like to match him against Couture because of the interest among hardcore fans. But UFC doesn't want to undercut the Russian's contracts with other promoters, White said.
"If the Fedor fight can be made...then absolutely we would love to make the Fedor fight," White said.