The 30-year-old Riverside native has been stuck on sidelines since completing the final fight of his UFC deal last August with a stunning first-round knockout over Neil Magny at UFC 202, and although his jaunt through free agency took far longer than even he expected, Larkin admitted Monday that he was not shocked to ultimately land outside the UFC.
“I’m not that surprised,” Larkin said on The MMA Hour. “It’s been a long little journey to do the whole free agency thing, and I think the more and more the time went by, the more and more I kinda knew that I was probably going to move on to another place.
“I was hoping, at the most, (it would take) two months and then I would be able to figure out my future, but I guess it all happens for a reason. I made the right decision. I’m content with myself mentally about everything and I feel good about it. I didn’t feel like I just did something because I had to. I felt like I had options and it went good.”
After struggling early in his UFC run, Larkin (18-5, 1 NC) turned his prospects around in early 2015 with a drop down to the welterweight division. “The Monsoon” has since put together a sizzling 4-1 record in the land of 170 pounds, including a pair of massive victories over the UFC’s current No. 5 and No. 6 ranked welterweights, Jorge Masvidal and Magny. That résumé, along with a fan-friendly striking style, gave Larkin good enough leverage to test out his opportunities on the open market, and ultimately he indicated that the UFC’s offer just didn’t stack up to the rest.
“I had a deal on the table (from the UFC), and it just didn’t feel right,” Larkin said. “My whole reasoning for testing free agency was to see what I was worth and get somebody behind me. I want to feel like an asset to a promotion, and I want to feel like the promotion wants to really drive me and really use me. I’ve made this point a lot of times that I’m ready to work. Anything you can use me for, let me know. I’m here. And it just wasn’t happening for me (in the UFC), so I don’t know if it was just the timing or, just, there was no interest in that. But that’s a big thing that I was focused on.”
Larkin voiced similar frustrations with the UFC last year ahead of his UFC 202 fight against Magny, expressing dissatisfaction with receiving a promotional push that he believed to be less than fair from the Zuffa offices. Then, stuck in contract limbo, Larkin voiced even further frustrations last December in an interview on The MMA Hour, stating that he was disappointed with the long delay between his final fight and the UFC’s contract negotiations.
Larkin elaborated somewhat on that point on Monday, claiming that it was only recently — almost a half-year since the Magny fight — that the UFC submitted an official offer.
“I didn’t even get an offer from [the UFC] until maybe two-and-a-half weeks ago, something like that, maybe a little bit more,” Larkin said.
“I felt like, personally, it was just kinda a take it or leave it (type of offer) and that’s it. To me, there was no welcoming. It was just like, it is what it is; if not, then okay. And that’s what I felt like. I’m not in this sport just to take whatever. I feel like I’ve fought my way to where I’m at now and it’s just one of those things where it can’t be like that. I can’t just be one superpower and that’s it. And luckily I’m in this sport at a time where it’s starting to not be like that anymore.
“I was just able to talk to (Bellator president) Scott (Coker), me and him on the phone, and we worked out something within, I don’t know, 40 minutes, man,” Larkin added.
In addition to the UFC, Larkin said he also fielded offers from Russian promotion ACB and the Japan-based RIZIN FF before ultimately settling on terms with Bellator.
Larkin indicated that his new contract represented a monetary raise from his old UFC deal, and after getting his start with Coker and current Bellator matchmaker Rich Chou under the Strikeforce banner, Larkin was pleased to be back alongside the same crew that first targeted him as a prospect to watch back in 2011.
“I’m happy, man,” Larkin said. “Everything has just been welcoming. With me, it’s more about the respect, type of thing. Just a big thing for me — and it’s not really a big deal, but it is for me, for me and who I am — when [Bellator] released the story (of my signing), they wanted to make it a big deal that the Riverside press released it first. And that just says a lot. It shows that they’re worried about what I care about, and that was a big thing for me. I really respected that and it really meant a lot, even though it’s something small. But just for them to do that, just from the get-go, it says a lot to me.
“Don’t get me wrong, every fighter should say a big part of this is about the money, because that’s what we fight for,” Larkin continued. “But a lot of it, for me, is respect too, and it’s the understanding that a promotion wants me there. I don’t want to just be among a bunch of people who, they just, who cares about them. I’d rather fight for somebody who really wants me there and who really is excited to see what we can do together.”
Larkin now joins a fast-growing Bellator welterweight division that already includes plenty of top-level talent, from Bellator usuals Paul Daley, Andrey Koreshkov, Michael Page, Brennan Ward, and champion Douglas Lima, to fellow recent free agent signing Rory MacDonald. Larkin said he is unsure who and when he will fight first, but after already sitting out seven months since he defeated Magny, he simply wants to get back into action as quickly as possible.
“I don’t know, to be honest with you, who I was thinking about fighting for the debut,” Larkin said. “I know that the top guys that in 170 that are making some noise are MVP, they have Daley, they’ve got Rory, Lima, he’s the champion, and Brennan Ward. So, I know there’s some tough guys in there, but to tell you the truth, man, I really don’t care who they put me against. I just want to fight, man, and just get this whole journey started.”