Couture signs Spike deal, joins Bellator reality series
SI.com has confirmed through multiple sources that UFC Hall of Famer Randy Couture has signed into a multi-year deal with Spike TV, a property of Viacom, to appear in multiple projects for the cable channel, as well as other possible ventures within the media conglomerate's family of networks.
As a part of the multi-faceted agreement, Couture's first role will be as a coach in the forthcoming Bellator MMA reality Series, which begins shooting in February and airs later this year.
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.
Sources told SI.com that the deal with Spike and Viacom was executed in late December, much to the disapproval of Couture's former employer, UFC president Dana White. Since his retirement in April 2011 at age 47, Couture has turned his attention to Hollywood with supporting roles in The Expendables and its summer 2012 sequel, and had most recently served as an on-camera analyst for the UFC's live events on Fox. However, Couture was absent from the UFC on Fox 6 broadcast on Jan. 26, replaced by one-time teammate Chael Sonnen.
Bellator MMA (formerly Fighting Championships), a tournament-format live event series that airs Thursdays (10 p.m. ET) on Spike, debuted on the men's specialty channel on Jan. 17, garnering 938,000 average viewership during its two-hour-plus broadcast. Viacom purchased a majority share of Bellator in October 2011 to replace the programming void left after UFC owners Zuffa LLC moved its sports property to the Fox Sports Media Group in a seven-year deal reportedly worth around $630 million.
Couture (19-11) is no stranger to Spike's loyal male-driven audience. In January 2005, he and Chuck Liddell starred as coaches on the first season of The Ultimate Fighter, the reality series largely credited with launching the UFC and MMA's explosive rise in popularity over the last seven years. Couture also appeared on subsequent seasons of the series, which now airs on FX. In 2007, Spike also dedicated a night of primetime viewing to Couture's storied UFC career, which saw him become the first athlete to hold titles in multiple UFC divisions.
The as-yet unnamed Bellator series is being helmed by seven-time Emmy Award-winning producer Bertram Van Munster (The Amazing Race, Cops).
Representatives for Couture and Spike TV declined to make comment until the Feb. 5 announcement.