Joe Duffy will be the latest UFC fighter to test free agency.
The 29-year-old Irish lightweight completed the final fight of his UFC deal on Saturday at UFC Fight Night 107, soundly defeating Reza Madadi to cap off a sterling 4-1 Octagon run. And just days afterward, Duffy confirmed what many observers within the mixed martial arts world already suspected: he intends to see what kind of opportunities await him on the open market.
“I suppose we’ll have to wait and see now,” Duffy said on The MMA Hour. “I’ve come this far. I’m definitely going to test free agency. I’m going to see what offers come in. I believe there’s something like, maybe 90 days, before I can speak with other promotions or something. Obviously I know the UFC has a window now where they can make some offers, so who knows what offers they’ll make.
“So, I suppose I’m just going to wait and see. I’m going to look at my options. This sport is not a sport we’re in for the rest of our lives, so I’m definitely going to try to make the most of it in the short space of time we’re in it. It’s not like we’ve got a pension plan or anything else, so I’ve got to try and weigh out the options and go for the best option.”
Duffy (17-2) has thus far impressed over the course of his UFC run, scoring a trio of first-round finishes — highlighted by a 25-second submission of Mitch Clarke — while only faltering once in a contest against top-10 ranked lightweight contender Dustin Poirier. Duffy also is a native Irishman with a built-in storyline of being just one of three men to defeat reigning UFC lightweight champion Conor McGregor, having done so in just 38 seconds back in 2010 under the Cage Warriors umbrella.
But stalled contract talks with the UFC led to a protracted delay in competition for Duffy following his July 2016 victory over Clarke. So after spending eight months biding his time on the shelf, and with the stakes looming of how a win or loss at UFC Fight Night 107 would affect his next potential payday, Duffy admitted that his meeting against Madadi felt different than any other fight during his UFC tenure.
“I think I’d be lying if I said I didn’t feel the pressure,” Duffy said. “Certainly through camp, every session, it felt like it mattered a little bit more. Even fight week, it was slightly different. There was definitely a different feel to it. The pressure was there in the background. I felt maybe my mind would wander now and again, but I knew I had a very tough fight, and I think the fact it was (against) someone like Reza helped, because I had to really focus on the fight itself.”
Duffy ultimately did what he needed to do against Madadi, outclassing the veteran en route to a one-sided unanimous decision win. The performance, along with Duffy’s status as a top up-and-comer in the 155-pound division, helped boost a résumé that certainly seems to justify Duffy’s hopes in securing a worthwhile new deal, whether it’s with the UFC or elsewhere. But the pressure of the past weekend also prevented Duffy from thinking too far ahead about the particulars of what he is looking for.
“[My manager] kind of asked me the other day just after the fight, and truth is, I haven’t got a set figure,” Duffy said. “Especially with this fight, I felt like leading up to the fight, that was kinda of lingering in the background. When that was lingering in the background, I would have to push it away and I would have to concentrate on the fight. And because I was concentrating solely on the fight, I didn’t talk about anything after it. No aftermath. As far as I was concerned, my life stopped after the fight.
“Then, after, [my manager] said ‘what type of figures do you want to talk about?’ And the truth is, I’ve got no idea. I’ve got no idea. It’s not like I’ve got a set figure in my head. Obviously the purse should be different now to what it was before, because before I was 3-1 (in the UFC), now I’m 4-1. But, it’s not like I’ve got a figure in my head. At the minute, I’m still trying to get my head around just being a free agent, obviously the whole weekend, the whole experience. It’s only now I’m kinda settled.
“It’s not like I’ve gone to university or anything else,” Duffy added. “After this, I haven’t got a job waiting for me. Since I’ve been five years old, this is what I’ve done. This is my college, this is my university, and this is what I’m trying to do. I’m trying to get paid for those years now, so that’s what I’m trying to do. I’m trying to set myself up financially, and hopefully when that’s taken care of, I can relax a little bit more and just enjoy the fighting.
“But I would gladly sign with the UFC if we come to a good deal and everything. I’ve enjoyed every second of working with them so far. I said it all week, I’ve got a great relationship with most of the staff of the UFC, and I love the USADA program and this type of thing. So it’s not like it’s 100 percent done or anything else; I’m just open to all offers and I’m interested to see what offers are on the table.”
Regardless of how his situation plays out, Duffy now joins a long line of UFC fighters to recently gamble on themselves and test the free-agent waters rather than re-up with the UFC early. For some, like ex-UFC contenders Ryan Bader and Lorenz Larkin — both of whom officially signed with Bellator over the past week — the gamble has paid off. However, in Larkin’s case, the process took far longer than Larkin initially expected, forcing the welterweight to sit on the sidelines for seven months and counting.
So, having already experienced one lengthy wait between fights, Duffy acknowledged that he could be in for another long layoff if talks hit a snag.
“Hopefully it’ll get done quickly, but whatever time it takes, it takes,” Duffy said. “This is the business side of things, and with business, you’ve got to be patient. For every moment I’m waiting, I’m in the gym, I’m improving things, so it’s not like that’s ever time wasted.”