LOS ANGELES — Lorenz Larkin is no longer with the UFC. But as he gets set for his Bellator debut, he can’t help but take a peek at the headlines coming out of his old stomping ground and see parallels to his own recent situation.
Larkin, who challenges Douglas Lima for the Bellator welterweight title on Bellator’s pay-per-view on June 24 at New York’s Madison Square Garden, saw the recent comments UFC flyweight champion Demetrious Johnson made about his frustrations with the UFC and couldn’t help but reflect on his own experiences.
Larkin, a top-tier welterweight, signed with Bellator after a frustrating free agency period in which he was left twisting for months by his old employer. But Larkin says a change of scenery has made all the difference.
“It’s a complete 180,” Larkin told MMA Fighting on Thursday. “I have a one-on-one with [Bellator CEO] Scott [Coker], he calls me if he needs anything or vice versa. Its just a complete 180. I’m pretty sure in this fight, I got marketed more than in my whole career. And it’s disheartening to say that, but it’s true. I’ve never seen so much of me out there.”
Larkin, for his part, said he never experienced a situation in the UFC like the one Johnson described, in which UFC president Dana White allegedly threatened to drop the flyweight division entirely. But he says Johnson’s words pass the truth test.
“I’m pretty sure other fighters got that (treated like Johnson),” Larkin said. “With me, I never had a one-on-one with UFC as far as talking to them and things like about my career or contract or anything like that. He wouldn’t lie. It would be a dumb decision to make some stuff up like that so I’m pretty sure there’s truth to that story.”
Larkin earned himself a nice raise and more prominent promotion because he went out and won four of his last five fights heading into his free agency period, upping his worth out on the market. He can empathize with Johnson, who’s not a free agent, and feels the champ did what he needed in order to have his case heard.
“I’ve been asked, should more fighters test free agency?” Larkin said. “As long as you know what your worth is. At the end of the day, it is a business and if you know what you’re worth and you know you’re valuable to somebody, then you can test free agency because as long as you know and it’s out there, then somebody can pick you up.
“It’s the same thing with Demetrious,” Larkin continued. “He knows he’s valuable, you know what I mean? It sucks, because he’s my favorite fighter. In MMA right now, he is my favorite fighter. To me he is the most, pound-for-pound, best fighter out there. And he doesn’t get paid like it. It didn’t surprise me when he didn’t get pay-per-view points. It’s ridiculous.”
Perhaps the UFC is trying to keep fighters like Johnson in line because of the level of independence UFC lightweight champion Conor McGregor has achieved. McGregor, Larkin notes, broke through the system to the degree where he’s calling his own shots, which makes him unique in the MMA sphere.
“It’s almost to the point where they can’t really control McGregor anymore,” Larkin said. “They let him get to this point where, you know what I mean, they can’t really tell him what to do anymore, because he’ll do something that’s not in contract and still make money. That’s the main thing with this whole MMA thing is, there’s a point where, these fighters aren’t making that good money, so they can’t really hold out. They can’t really speak they mind, they can’t be, ‘I won’t fight for the whole year.’ They don’t have that. They don’t have that ability to pay that, because these guys aren’t getting paid a certain amount of dollars.
“Now McGregor’s at that point where, okay, you don’t have to fight,” Larkin continued. “If McGregor wants, he can hold out for two years if he really wanted to and he can still make good enough money to where he’s not worried about it. That’s what the thing is, a lot of the fighters don’t get that, and when you don’t get that, that’s when you’re forced to make dumb decisions and have financial problems.”
Larkin finds himself somewhere in the middle. He’s not making McGregor money, but he’s much happier with things now than he was in the past. And if he had to get through a turbulent time to get there, so be it.
“It’s crazy, all the years this has been the most I’ve been marketed,” Larkin said. “Everything happens for a reason, I’m glad everything happened, and I wouldn’t change it or I wouldn’t be here right now.”