Ahead of his fight with Ross Pearson at the TUF 23 finale in Las Vegas, the former Bellator lightweight champion spoke to Tony Reid.
Early on in your career you were singularly focused on Bellator and the lightweight title. Over time the writing was on the wall that you might be considering leaving Bellator for a larger stage in the sport. Was there a single moment when you knew you were leaving Bellator?
“I felt it in my body and in my spirit the way everything was happening around me, I knew it was time to pursue that next goal. I put all my energy into what I was doing with Bellator. I accomplished the goal I set there. I wanted to become the champion, defend my title a few times and move on with my career. I have always been very committed to setting goals for myself, completing those and moving on the next one. I knew it was time to make the move.”
Many goal setters find themselves bored after achieving certain goals. Was there a part of you that was bored in Bellator?
“There was a little bit of boredom. It was partly just me wanting to move on and continue to beat everyone in the lightweight division in Mixed Martial Arts period. How do you do that when many of the lightweights are in different organizations? Who has the best crop of lightweights that I can go in there and try to knock them off one by one? The answer is the UFC, of course.”
There was a point in time where you were in limbo with Bellator. There were moves being made in the lightweight division and it looked, on the surface, like you weren’t a part of that. What was it like behind the scenes for you during that time?
“It was frustrating at the time and even more so toward the end when I was getting impatient. I was ready to compete. I was 100% healthy mentally and physically. I had to step back and realize I had a lot of things going on in my personal life at the time. I took that time and used it wisely. I was going through a lot of life changes. My fiancé and I were planning a wedding. She was pregnant at the time. Then my baby girl was born. I was getting used to being a father. I had to realize what my most important priorities were at that time. That was being the best new father and fiancé that I could be. I put all my energy there. I put the MMA stuff on the backburner and focused on my personal life.”
That’s a lot for anyone to take on at one time. How crazy did it get?
“It got a little crazy there but at the same time I have always lived a pretty chaotic lifestyle. Most things haven’t gone in a straight line for me. It has been a lot of ups and downs, twists and turns. I have had to figure out things on the fly. I have been good at adapting and taking on a large workload. My fiancé and I work well as a team. She makes things a lot easier for me to focus. It’s just like a tennis match. We bounce the ball back and forth and keep working it out.”
When did you know that you were officially a UFC fighter?
“Based on my relationship with the previous organization I had to wait to get into negotiations with the UFC. The day was June 15th. The night before my manager said to buckle my seatbelt. It was going to go quickly once we were free and clear to negotiate. We wanted to get it done as quickly as possible but we also wanted to listen to all offers. We were going over all emails, calls and other offers. He asked me what I wanted to do. It was clear I wanted to sign with the UFC so we got to work on that deal.”