Joe Duffy believes it's "the perfect time" for him to test free agency

Ahead of his fight with Reza Madadi in March, Duffy is looking to the future

BY Peter Carroll 23:37 Thursday 19 January 2017, 23:37 19 Jan 2017

©INPHO/Cathal Noonan

Joseph Duffy is approaching the most important fight of his life against UFC veteran Reza Madadi in London on March 18th.

At his best, the Donegal man has been scintillating under the UFC banner, stopping three of his four opponents inside the first round with a dynamic mix of knockouts and submissions. Such was the fanfare surrounding Duffy that UFC were willing to give him a headline slot in Dublin in October 2015, in just his third fight with the promotion.

Fans were crushed when his much-anticipated bout with Dustin Poirier was canceled at the eleventh hour, but despite UFC medics pulling him from the event in the Irish capital due to a concussion, Duffy was back in the Octagon and facing a title-bound Poirier just three months later.

The war that the lightweights waged showcased the durability Duffy had, and even though he clearly lost the fight, the Irish contingent still believed he would be worthy of bouts at the top end of the bracket in the future. ‘Irish Joe’ backed up their sentiments with a 25-second submission victory over Mitch Clarke last summer when he returned in Las Vegas.

It was then a shock for many to hear that the softly spoken Irishman had come to an impasse with UFC when they looked to negotiate his second contract. The terms the promotion offered Duffy were not what he was looking for.

in explaining why he hadn’t signed on the dotted line, Duffy stated that the UFC had offered him an opponent that would do “little to advance” his career for promotion’s event in Belfast.

On Thursday, UFC finally revealed that the last fight on Duffy’s current contract would be against Madadi. While a lot of people were anticipating a name from the higher echelons of the division, at this stage, Duffy just wants to fight.

“Any level of opponent would have suited me,” he said when considering Madadi.

“I’m still on my first contract, it doesn’t make sense for me to fight a massive name. Of course, in that situation, I would have a lot to gain, but I’d also have a lot to lose too.

“Reza is not someone I’d take lightly. Every time he’s in there he comes to fight. He’s hard-nosed and he stays in his opponents’ faces. It’s never an easy night’s work against him. He’s never been finished. He has a win over Michael Johnson too, a lot of people forget that.”

For Duffy, finishing Madadi, a man who has never been stopped, could prove enough to see UFC come back to negotiating table with him. But even at that, he is not confident that an emphatic win will do enough to secure him the terms that he wants.

“I assume UFC will revisit the terms if I finish Reza, maybe then we can talk some more? Who knows, though? I don’t know anything about the company’s business plan or anything like that.

“It’s not something I waste too much time thinking about. When the news first broke about this contract situation I found it very draining, but I suppose that’s just business. You’re always going to come to these points.

“Right now, I’m not spending any of my time worrying about it. Winning my fight in London is taking priority over everything. That’s all I can do, that’s my end of the business. I’ve got to go in and win this fight, and then the rest will take care of itself. I’ll think about that stuff after this.”

Duffy’s absence was felt in Belfast back in November. Outside of McGregor, ‘Irish Joe’ is the only fighter from the Emerald Isle of a high enough caliber to justify a headline spot on a UFC card. Despite the cries from the Irish fan base, the lightweight’s name was never confirmed for the SSE Arena date.

He remained hopeful that UFC would come back to him with a more relevant opponent, but the call never came. To make matters worse, Duffy was in Belfast on fight week, which only made him focus on the fact that he wouldn’t be in action that weekend.

“I didn’t even watch it to tell you the truth. I was actually back home for the fight week because it was my mother’s 60th birthday. I flew back to Montreal on the Saturday, so while the card was on I was in the air. I didn’t get to see any of it.

“Every time talks would come up about Belfast I was getting excited. The thoughts of fighting at home, especially after getting pulled from the Dublin card, I really wanted to be on the card.

“By the time it was a few weeks out from it, I knew I wasn’t getting a fight so I made peace with it.

“Saying that, I was doing some tourist stuff in Belfast on fight week, and I was a bit sickened being there knowing that UFC were in town and I wasn’t fighting.

“The time on the shelf is never wasted. I’ve been working hard in the gym. I felt I had huge room for improvement when I first came over here, and that’s exactly how I still feel now. I’m happy to keep working towards where I want to be.”

Duffy will become a free agent regardless of the result against Madadi, which will allow other promotions to come in and field contracts for the Tristar fighter. Cage Warriors have already talked about what an asset Duffy would be if he returned to their banner, and Bellator president Scott Coker also declared an interest in him recently.

With more and more promotions - including the UFC’s closest rival - looking to put on shows in Ireland, Duffy believes he’s well placed to enter the market.

“This is probably the perfect time to test free agency. Irish MMA is blowing up and there are a lot of promotions looking to put on shows. Taking free agency is always a risk, though, but I’m looking at it like it’s an opportunity. It’s a good opportunity for me to put my name out there and see what my value is.”

Many fighters re-sign with UFC based on them wanting to test themselves against the best fighters in the world, but Duffy sees that mentality as narrow-minded and believes many of his peers will begin to test the free agent market in the future.

“Look at some of the names that are fighting in Bellator, WSOF and all of these other promotions. There are some very high-level guys that could more than hold their own in the UFC.

“Look at Rory (MacDonald), he’s changed over now and he’s undoubtedly one of the best welterweights in the world. He’s got a win over the current UFC champion.

“I think more and more fighters are going to test the free agency market. As you progress through your career you have to start thinking about setting yourself up for life after fighting.

“Another thing is, with these others promotions like Bellator, you have sponsorship options that aren’t available to UFC fighters. There are positives and negatives to all of it. UFC have USADA drug testing, and as a clean fighter, I want that to be in place.

“These are all of the things that I have to weigh up when London is said and done, and I guess I’ll have to go from there.”

Duffy seems very laid back, given the amount that will be on the line for him in March. He admits that the situation was getting on top of him when it first emerged, but he knows now that the only thing that he can control is the outcome of his fight.

And so, that’s what he’s doing.

“I guess different people might let things like this affect them ahead of a fight, but depends on an individual’s mindset. I’ll admit that last year this was doing my nut in.

“I was in limbo for a very long time and that tough going at times. I’ve had plenty of time to think about it and plenty of time to get over it, but now all I’m interested in is fighting and making sure I go out and perform to the best of my ability.

“Everything else is out of my hands, all of that other stuff is going to come after. I’m definitely not taking my eye off Madadi. I need to make sure that when I step in there my focus is 100% on him and nothing else.”

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