At the time of his debut, Joseph Duffy entered the UFC recognized by many as the last man to have defeated Conor McGregor. Fighting Saturday at UFC Fight Night 107, Duffy may leave the UFC as the latest small casualty the company will have endured as it marches forth in an era dominated by dollar signs and free agency.
Duffy faces Reza Madadi on the preliminary portion of Saturday’s card in London, the last bout on a five-fight deal with the Octagon show runners. He hasn’t made the sort of impact created by his more popular countryman, but he’s done enough to prove he belongs among the top 155-pound fighters on the planet.
“Irish” Joe is 3-1 in the UFC, earning all three of his victories in the opening round. In fact, his only loss came against Dustin Poirier in what was initially an entertaining, competitive contest before “The Diamond” opted to take a more intelligent route by grappling his way to victory at UFC 195 in January 2016.
Duffy, just 29 with 17 pro fights to his name, is a UFC talent through and through. No matter the outcome of his fight opposite Madadi Saturday, that notion won’t change. Whether his UFC-level talent remains in the UFC is another question, though.
“I’m leaving all doors open, obviously,” Duffy told Matt Erickson and Chamatkar Sandhu of MMAjunkie of entering free agency. “I think you’d be crazy to shut any of those doors after coming this far. I’ll fight the fight, see how the fight goes, and go from there. I love working with the UFC, I love all the staff, I love working with the USADA program. There are lots of pros and cons to it all, I suppose. So we’ll leave the door open and see how it pans out.”
At time of publication, there is nothing to indicate whether Duffy will stay or go. He’s certainly one of the more entertaining fighter at 155 pounds, but nowhere near the most popular. That latter characteristic is of greater importance when negotiating with the UFC.
It is a business, after all.
While the company may pride itself in housing the best fighters on the planet, skill isn’t always head and shoulders above other qualities these athletes can provide. Commanding viewership and selling pay-per-views is a very, very close second.
“I feel like I’ve done what was asked of me,” Duffy told Paul Dollery of The 42. “They ask us before every fight to go out and try to steal the show. I never hold back when I go out there, I try to put on the best performance possible.
“I feel like my fights have been pretty exciting. That’s our job — to go in and put on exciting fights, not the other stuff outside the Octagon. Obviously that’s a part of it but the priority is what happens in the fights.”
Just ask Ryan Bader, who recently accepted an offer to sign with Bellator MMA after winning two in a row and seven out of his last eight in the UFC. Despite being one of few light heavyweights on the UFC roster who could conceivably exist among the elite, he has been granted the opportunity to walk. He was perhaps one or two victories away from being the No. 1 contender, but was deemed expendable by the promotion after he received an apparently un-matchable offer by Bellator.
Same goes for Lorenz Larkin, who after bringing an emphatic end to Neil Magny’s three-fight winning streak, was also allowed to sign with Bellator. With wins in four of his last five, Larkin goes from being a rising contender in the UFC’s 170-pound division, to a viable title challenger in Bellator’s.
That’s what happened to the following fighters, anyway: Phil Davis, Benson Henderson, Matt Mitrione, Rory MacDonald, Chael Sonnen and Josh Thomson.
Neither Bader, Larkin nor Duffy are game-changers in any sense of the phrase. Not for the UFC; not for Bellator. They are top-level talents, though, and only under the most dire of circumstances do top-level talents belong outside the UFC.
“It’s hard to say what’ll happen from here,” Duffy said. “To tell you the truth, I haven’t looked further than this fight. Obviously it’s a possibility that it will be my last [UFC] fight. Hopefully everything will be resolved pretty quickly after the fight.”
Dreams of an eventual McGregor-Duffy rematch at Croke Park in Dublin, Ireland may have disappeared once Duffy lost his bout to Poirier. They would be permanently forgotten if he’s given the chance to sign elsewhere.