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Todd Duffee's New Year's Gamble

For a certain kind of MMA fighter, New Year's Eve in Japan represents a simple math problem. It's about risk versus reward, money versus pain and embarrassment, and, more often than not, overflowing optimism versus some very long odds.

Mostly though, it's about money.

That might not be the only reason Todd Duffee reportedly agreed to end a tumultuous 2010 with a fight against Alistair Overeem on this year's Dynamite!! New Year's Eve show, but it's definitely one of the reasons.

By all indications, Duffee stands to make a nice chunk of change (somewhere in the neighborhood of $60,000, according to various internet reports) for shipping off to Tokyo at the last minute. For a guy who hasn't fought since being released from the UFC following his first career loss to Mike Russow in May, the chance to end the year with some money in his pocket must seem like a difficult offer to refuse. But does that necessarily mean it's a good idea?

Sometimes, for some fighters, the answer is yes. For instance, last year when Gary Goodridge got offered a chance to make a quick thirty grand just for showing up in Tokyo and letting Gegard Mousasi pound on his skull for about ninety seconds, there was no reason not to take it. It wasn't as if the loss would hurt his career or his legacy. Plus, he needed the money.

Then again, here we are a year later and Goodridge says he still hasn't been paid for that fight, so maybe it wasn't such a great idea after all.

The point is, sometimes you might as well get on the plane and hope for the best. Sure, you might get beat up, but sadly, at a certain point in a fighter's career his willingness to take that risk is the only commodity he has left to sell. That and his name value, if he has any to begin with.

But that's not Duffee. At least, not yet. He's a 25-year-old heavyweight with an action figure physique and only one freak loss on his record. He's suffered some setbacks, but he's still got more tomorrows than yesterdays. So why, when he reportedly turned down a chance to face Antonio "Bigfoot" Silva in Strikeforce on short notice, would he accept a much tougher fight against Overeem in Japan?

For one, there's the money, which is generally better in Japan for these types of fights. Of course, there's always the chance that, like Goodridge, you may never actually see that money, which is why Duffee should take every precaution to make sure his payout is secured before he ever steps into the ring (two words for you, big guy: escrow account).

But the money's only part of it. If, in Duffee's mind, he's just there to take an expensive beating on New Year's Eve, he's making a colossal error. Few people might be expecting him to beat Overeem, but one of those few had better be Todd Duffee. If not, he'd be better off staying home and watching the ball drop on TV, because there's still plenty for him to lose in this fight.

You see, taking a fight like this on short notice is a little like not studying for the SAT's and spending the night before the test shotgunning beers instead. If things go badly, you tell yourself, at least you have a built-in excuse. Only when things really do go badly, no one wants to hear your excuse, especially not when the excuse comes as a direct result of your own poor decisions.

Showing up in Japan underprepared and overmatched this weekend would be a good way for Duffee to damage not just his face, but also his future earnings potential. Right now Duffee is the interesting prospect who lost one fight because of one punch. His sudden UFC firing actually made him more of a sympathetic, if slightly enigmatic figure, neither of which is such a bad thing for a young fighter.

That would all be useful if he was planning on parlaying it into a contract with an organization like Strikeforce. It would even work in his favor if he was just building himself up in one-offs against lower-tier opponents in tiny promotions, which seemed to be his plan right up until the Japanese called with the offer of Overeem.

But by accepting this fight with Overeem, Duffee has put himself back in the spotlight. Whether he's doing it for the money or because he genuinely believes he can surprise everyone by beating the Strikeforce and K-1 Grand Prix champ, it doesn't matter. Regardless of his motivations, he's still put himself in a situation where the odds are stacked against him and anything but a victory is bad news for his immediate future.

If you think you're going to win – and every fighter, somewhere in the dark parts of his mind, thinks he can win any fight at any time – that's fine. It's a calculated risk.

But if you don't fully appreciate what you've gotten yourself into, and if you're just looking for a quick payday that will help you end the year in the black, you're gambling with your own future.

For a bright, young prospect like Duffee who still has so much to lose in that department, it's like betting your savings on one spin of roulette. If it works out, you're a genius, or maybe just very lucky. If it doesn't, everyone is going to wonder what you were thinking to begin with.

Taking a short notice fight with Overeem might be a sign of great courage and confidence, but that's not what people tend to remember once you're on your back staring up at the lights. Duffee's already done that once this year, and it didn't do his career any favors. If he ends the year in similar fashion against Overeem, even at a hefty price tag, he'd better be prepared to make that money last.

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