Earlier this summer, when Lorenz Larkin made the leap from the UFC to Bellator — becoming the latest marquee free agent to jump ship from the world’s leader — he wasn’t shy about explaining one of the major driving forces for his move. A lack of respect, Larkin said, was underneath it all. A lack of respect he felt from the UFC and its decision-makers, and a lack of desire he felt from the promotion whenever he asked them to push him in any perceivable way.
So how have things changed under the Bellator umbrella?
“Shoot, in my last fight, I probably got promoted more in that fight than in my whole UFC career,” Larkin told MMA Fighting ahead of this weekend’s Bellator 183 event, where he faces British powerhouse Paul Daley. “It’s just one of those things where we’re taking advantage of it, and I’m just like, I’m here to work. Put me to work. You want me to do media? I’m down for it, but I just never got the chance in UFC.”
In a strange way, this past summer’s Bellator debut served as a homecoming of sorts for Larkin, a California native who cut his teeth as a youngster under the Strikeforce banner and was reunited with plenty of familiar faces in the lead-up to Bellator NYC.
It was Strikeforce founder and now-Bellator president Scott Coker who first targeted Larkin as a blue-chip prospect with championship potential, bringing Larkin up slowly in Strikeforce Challengers before unleashing him on the main roster in 2012 with a planned title fight against Luke Rockhold. Coker never got his chance to fulfill his vision with Larkin, as the Rockhold matchup ultimately failed to come to fruition due to the UFC’s purchase of Strikeforce and subsequent dissolution of the promotion, but now Coker gets a second crack at things with Larkin in the Bellator fold.
And after establishing himself as one of the premier welterweights in the world with impressive wins over Jorge Masvidal and Neil Magny in the UFC, Larkin says the differences between fighting for Coker and fighting for his Octagon equivalent, UFC president Dana White, were like the differences between night and day.
“The big difference for me is that I’m able to hit up Scott,” Larkin said. “And don’t get me wrong, there’s probably people in the UFC who are able to hit up Dana, and just hit him up on any type of call and really talk about stuff, like about what they need. But with Scott, I can just give him a call on the phone and there will be an answer. Or if not that, it’ll be a callback in like 20 minutes and I can talk to him about anything, about the fight, it’s not even an issue.
“There’s probably a handful of guys in the UFC that can do that, but with me, that wasn’t the situation. But it is what it is, and [I was] in a position where I couldn’t do all of that and I couldn’t talk business with my boss.
“It’s just, it’s freedom,” Larkin added. “Everything is freedom. Me being able to pick out what I want to wear — it’s originality. I don’t have to just conform to what people want me to wear, to do. It’s just freedom of expression.
“One thing for fighters, especially people that are in this industry, we’re in there for 15 minutes and you want to be as comfortable as you can, and this is a big way of feeling comfortable. We get to pick out what we’re going to wear, we get to choose what’s on our shorts, our walkout. It’s a great feeling.”
Included in that freedom is also the ability for Bellator fighters to test their mettle in other forms of combat sports.
Bellator Kickboxing has featured plenty of crossover appearances from the brand’s MMA roster, and fellow Bellator welterweight standout Michael Page is currently readying to make his professional boxing debut on Oct. 20. It’s an allowance historically unavailable to UFC fighters — with the exception of Conor McGregor’s recent pugilistic dalliance — and Larkin hopes to one day take advantage of it.
“I always told myself that before my fight career is over, I would like to have one boxing match,” Larkin said. “And I’ve been saying that since before this whole Conor sh*t, so I don’t want to be like this guy, ‘oh, you want to do boxing,’ because I was boxing before I even started MMA, but I just never went pro. I stayed amateur. So I would like to do one and get that itch out of the way.
“I’ve told Scott, if the match up is exciting, man, I’m down. That’s what I told him. I just want to do exciting fights, and if it makes sense and it’s exciting, then I’m down.”
As it stands, the next step of Larkin’s Bellator journey will unfold on Saturday, when he takes on hard-hitting welterweight veteran Daley in San Jose, Calif. at Bellator 183.
For Larkin, it’s a chance to get back on track following his unsuccessful title challenge against Douglas Lima at Bellator’s summer pay-per-view, and Daley has been more than willing to let his feelings known regarding the contest. In various pre-fight interviews, the Brit has dismissed Larkin as an opponent below the standard Daley is accustomed to facing — a curious comment considering Larkin’s résumé — and has implied that Larkin simply doesn’t have much to offer if he’s bold enough to keep things standing.
And all of that talk has worn thin on Larkin.
“He can (overlook me), man. I don’t really know what to say, because I don’t have to prove it to nobody,” Larkin said. “The proof is in the pudding. I’ve done what I’ve done, so if that’s what he thinks, then he can think that for a couple more days. The good thing about this sport is we’ll be inside of the cage, and we’ll be placed across from each other. This is not something that you can just talk about and you’ll never see the person. We have a set date, so the only cool thing about all of this is everything that he says gets documented. It doesn’t go away. So he’ll have to answer for all of this after the fight.”
Larkin said his ultimate goal is to work his way back into title contention. He figures that he is two big wins away from earning another chance at Bellator’s 170-pound strap, regardless of whether that title shot comes against Lima or the division’s next challenger, Rory MacDonald. But in the meantime, his growing dislike for Daley will be front and center at Bellator 183. Larkin admitted he genuinely dislikes Daley more than anyone he has ever faced, and he plans to make Daley pay for everything he has said.
“He did the same thing with Rory (MacDonald),” Larkin said. “He’s just one of those characters, man, that will get mad — what’d he get mad at Rory about? He get mad at Rory for taking him down? Not wanting to bang with him or something like that? An MMA guy getting mad because he got taken down. Oh man. It’s kind of hilarious. Like, it’s MMA. It’s mixed martial arts. Dude got mad at a guy for taking him down. So that’s the kind of stuff you’ve got to deal with when you fight this guy.
“I don’t get it,” Larkin added. “I really tried to wrap my head around it, I just don’t get it. He’s getting mad because it’s MMA. It’s what this game is. Go to kickboxing and try your luck in Bellator Kickboxing.”