Snowden: Who Really Killed Affliction?

July 26, 2009

by Jonathan Snowden

As the smoke cleared from Affliction Entertainment’s implosion, the media vultures were quick to assign blame for the promotion’s demise. Some pointed a finger at Tom Atencio, the organization’s front man and the architect of fight cards filled with untenable contracts, cards too good and too expensive for an upstart promotion. Others blamed Josh Barnett, the self destructive enigma who once again allegedly resorted to using illegal performance enhancers to prepare for the biggest fight of his career. But the real culprit is a true American hero, or a titular one at least. Yes, Randy Couture killed Affliction and he did it all the way back in September 2008.

When Couture retired from the UFC in 2007 while still under contract, it was for two reasons: money and a chance to fight the undisputed world heavyweight champion Fedor Emelianenko. Affliction risked everything on the Couture-Emelianenko fight, throwing their business relationship with the UFC out the window for the chance to promote what many thought was the biggest heavyweight fight in the world. Couture was all in, or so they thought. The two stood face to face for an Affliction photo shoot to start getting fans excited about the fight, and Couture made an appearance at Affliction’s first PPV show July 19, 2008. It was all in an effort to get people talking about the next show, headlined in theory by the dream fight between the PRIDE and UFC champions. And then Couture stuck the knife in the back.

In retrospect, Affliction shouldn’t have been shocked by Couture’s decision. It was part of a pattern of behavior, one that had characterized his entire MMA career. Couture had left the UFC twice and walked out on Team Quest as well. His decision not to risk his career on Affliction shouldn’t have been a big surprise to them, but it was. The clothing brand was already in for several million dollars, running a cost prohibitive show in an effort to get Fedor ready for what would be a huge media blitz leading up to his fight with Couture. But the pressure was getting to Couture.

Already a millionaire several times over, Couture was in the perfect position to test Zuffa’s seemingly indefensible employment contracts. If anyone could wait them out, it was Couture, a fighter with money in the bank and several ancillary sources of income. But Couture was a 45-year-old man and could hear the clock ticking on his career. In the end, he did what was best for Randy Couture, returning to the UFC for a mega-fight with Brock Lesnar. And make no mistake: bad decisions by Atencio and Barnett put Affliction at risk. But, Couture killed the company.

Jonathan Snowden is the author of Total MMA: Inside Ultimate Fighting, as well as a contributor to and the Fight Network blog among other MMA websites. Snowden is a former lawyer, has worked for the U.S. Army and the White House Communications Agency, and currently works for the Department of Defense.

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