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Tamdan McCrory happy to land in UFC after being 'dicked around for so long' by Bellator

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Bellator MMA

Six years after his last Octagon appearance, Tamdan McCrory is once again a UFC fighter. The cult figure inked a deal to return to the eight-sided cage earlier this week, parlaying his dazzling second life with Bellator into another chance with the promotion he once called home. But while the decision to split with Bellator ended up working in McCrory's favor, it wasn't exactly expected.

"I could say a lot of things about Bellator," McCrory told MMAFighting.com. "I can't knock them too bad because they definitely gave me a platform that I didn't have otherwise. I mean, they gave me a shot. But I think I was brought in to be the victim, and then when things went the way they did, I think they were like, ‘oh crap, what do we do with this guy now?' I don't know if I played into their narrative."

According to McCrory, the move to the UFC is the result of a lengthy and ultimately unresolvable contract standoff with Bellator officials, one which began in February after McCrory cruised to a 66-second victory over Jason Butcher. The win was McCrory's second in Bellator, and completed a stunning career turnaround that few saw coming in 2014 when the promotion snapped McCrory up from a five-year hiatus and signed him to a one-year, three-fight deal.

McCrory said that after the Butcher fight, Bellator officials approached him about fighting for the promotion's vacant middleweight title, but since he only had one fight remaining on his contract, the first priority was nailing down a new deal. And there didn't seem to be any urgency to do that.

"What aggravated me is that it took five months before we even got down to the nitty-gritty and actually were like, okay, let's make a deal come together," McCrory said. "There was always just talk. There was a talk here and a talk there.

"Then they came at us and said, we'll give you the title shot, but we're only going to pay you just horrible money. And I was like, dudes, I'm not going to take that money. You guys know that's not even close."

McCrory declined to elaborate on specifics, but described the offer as an "all-or-nothing deal," with escalators on the back-end that would take effect if he won the middleweight title, but would also reduce his purse to a much smaller sum if he failed in that effort. Such clauses are not uncommon in mixed martial arts, but after trading a few unsuccessful counteroffers and growing frustrated by the process, McCrory ultimately asked for and was given his release.

"Even if they were to come at me with a deal, by that point I was like, dude, I've been dicked around for so long for whatever," McCrory said. "Are these really the people who have my best interests (at heart), in building me and my brand? I had to ask myself, what is going on, man?

"It boggled my mind. I mean, to this day, I still think it was a dream. I was shocked. I'm literally like, did this really happen? Like, did I sleep through the past six weeks? What happened?"

The way the situation played out still surprises McCrory considering Bellator's demand for name fighters. McCrory may not be the most popular middleweight, but his is a face many longtime MMA fans remember from his barn storming days in the UFC. McCrory was assumed to be retired after spending five years away from the sport, but in reality those five years were spent trying to get his life back to a place where it could support professional fighting.

Once he finally did so, he announced his return by utterly crushing Brennan Ward with a spectacular 21-second knockout just months after Ward challenged for the Bellator middleweight title, yet McCrory's next fight ended up on the online-only prelims, while Ward secured a Spike TV slot on the very same card.

"My personal opinion is that they didn't know how to use me," McCrory said. "I thought they would say, ‘hey, this dude took five years off, he comes back and basically puts two guys in the dirt in less than 90 seconds. What mythical powers does this guy have? Like, what happened in those five years? Did he go train with some monks in Tibet or something?' I don't know, I figured they'd be able to sell that a little bit better, because I think that Bellator is more an entertainment business.

"They're not really building talent," McCrory continued. "I mean, I can list off every champion in the UFC. I can't do the same thing about Bellator. I don't know half of the fighters in Bellator. I don't think they do a good enough job of building guys up, and I think that maybe they weren't willing to do that and invest in me, or they didn't like my story, or whatever. Because I guarantee the UFC is going to use it for them. It's going to look great for them. When I come back in there and I start stomping in the UFC after what I did in Bellator, that's a great narrative. Everybody wants to see somebody who got cast aside and comes back out of nowhere with the RKO and just takes the world by storm. I don't really know what the deal is with Bellator.

"It doesn't make any sense to me, man. Maybe I'm not a good enough entertainer. I don't know. I'm a good fighter and I'd rather be remembered as a good fighter than a good entertainer. I'd rather be remembered as a guy who wins than the guy who jumps up and down and spews expletives and whatever. I don't know. I just shake my head, but at the end of the day I have to be thankful for the opportunity they gave me."

McCrory now enters a UFC far different than the one he left in 2009. Year-round random drug testing is the norm, while the Reebok uniform deal has effectively nuked the sponsorship landscape. McCrory said he isn't bothered by either change, and he actually is encouraged by the Reebok switch. While some UFC fighters have complained of losing six-figure sponsorships, McCrory has long detested the game of finding, securing, and hunting down sponsorship checks from sometimes unreliable sources.

With six fights already on his UFC ledger, McCrory enters the Octagon earning an even $5,000 clip from Reebok, a sponsorship figure comparable to what he earned with Bellator. That, plus the opportunity for $50,000 post-fight bonuses -- which he most surely would've won for at least one of his two most recent fights -- is why McCrory said he had to "go where the opportunity was" and chase his second Octagon run.

"If I had those two performances in the UFC, I'd have six figures in my pocket, plus any other bonuses they throw at you," McCrory said. "For as much as everybody wants to talk poorly about the UFC, they take care of people who need to be taken care of. You know who complains about the UFC paying them? Losers. That's who. The winners don't really complain.

"I always knew that when I left the UFC, it was on decent terms. I never wanted to released. Nobody does. I never wanted that to happen, but at this point it's been nothing but a benefit. I didn't get five years of wars or getting my head knocked in. I'm 28. This is usually when people are getting their first run going, if they get their first run going. So I have plenty of time left and my body is still there and ready to get going."

No one can say for sure how McCrory's unexpected second MMA life will play out, simply because there's not many parallels for it. The man who now calls himself "The Barn Cat" is a far cry from the baby-faced, bespectacled welterweight who seemingly doubled as an IT advisor back in the mid-aughts. Whoever that kid was, he's no longer around -- replaced instead by a 6-foot-4 middleweight with a growing highlight reel and miles of life experience, someone who's finally ready to give this whole fighting thing at least one proper shot.

"I wouldn't be back in the UFC if I didn't think I [belonged]," McCrory said. "I've been there once, had some mixed success. I'm a little bit older and a lot wiser now. This is a four-fight deal. By the end of these four fights, I'm going to string four wins together and then be looking to chip away at that top-15, top-10 and work my way up. There's no thought about it, I know I have what it takes to be in the top-10 and eventually rise to the top. It's just going to be the grind of getting there. And if you don't know my story, I've been grinding the past five years to come back to this point. What's a little bit more?"