More and more athletes are using their platform for causes beyond just winning games. Whether it’s Colin Kaepernick kneeling to protest racial inequality or LeBron James giving back to his hometown and speaking out about injustice, it’s increasingly clear that many athletes see themselves as more than “just” a ballplayer.
Legacy Fighting Alliance lightweight champion Robert Watley is one of the hottest prospects in mixed martial arts. It’s likely just a matter of time before he signs a UFC contract.
“The UFC is the head of the class, but that’s not my goal,” Watley told Combat Press. “I want to change the game a little bit. I want them to value me as a person and as a man. I want them to shake my hand and look me in the eye, and if they can work with me, that’s fine.
“I want to grow my brand as a prospect, and I want to try a different approach than just taking short-notice fights.”
Watley revealed that the UFC had previously offered him a couple of opportunities to fight on short notice.
“I want to show other prospects that we need to value ourselves, because if we don’t, then no one else will,” Watley said. “I want to show that we can sit down as businessmen and come to an agreement on a contract. I’m very passionate about it — I want the UFC to say, ‘We’ll give you a full training camp and an opponent who fits your skill set.’ Some people might think I’m crazy, but the UFC is just three letters on a glove. Each cage that I step into is the same.”
Watley, who now holds a 9-1 record, didn’t just decline short-notice fights with the UFC in order to wait for the right opportunity, but the 10-fight veteran with a nine-fight winning streak still sees room to grow as a fighter.
“I still see some development for my skill set and marketability,” Watley said. “I want to achieve excellence in each art in martial arts. Most guys latch on to one art, but MMA is mixed martial arts. It’s a mixed bag. Guys like Jon Jones, T.J. Dillashaw and Demetrious Johnson set themselves apart from their peers by doing different things. T.J. was getting his head boxed off by Cody [Garbrandt], but he changed things up and went and got the belt. Demetrious didn’t even wrestle in high school, and he takes guys down left and right.”
Part of Watley’s desire to grow his brand as a fighter includes achieving a more authentic social-media presence.
“I don’t want to create a presence. I want people to see the real me and who I am and what I stand for,” Watley said. “I don’t have to give everybody everything, and I know I’m not for everybody. I want people to see what I really believe.”
Before Watley can pursue his goal of improving MMA for all fighters, he first has to get past Brandon Jenkins, who holds an 11-5 mark, at LFA 34 on Friday, March 2. Watley seeks to defend his lightweight title for a third time.
“Jenkins finished all but one of his wins and is a wild guy,” Watley said. “I think it’s underappreciated with Brandon that he stepped up to fight me. I had three or four other guys decline to fight me, and I think it’s honorable that he stepped up.
“It’s the most honest way to make money — you can’t lie in the cage. I’m blessed to share the cage with him and show people that I’m for real.”
In addition to the fight, Watley also has his upcoming wedding in May to look forward to.
“I can’t wait to learn to be a better man,” Watley said. “My soon-to-be-wife is my best friend and the coolest person I ever met, and I can’t wait to see where it takes us.”
Watley has been outspoken about his goals. The effort has picked up steam lately with the announcement of Project Spearhead by UFC bantamweight Leslie Smith. Watley expressed solidarity with the initiative and sees himself as a leader in the effort to give fighters more of a voice.
“It’s not about just making sure I’m secure. I want to elevate my fellow man and the sport,” Watley said. “We’re leaving so much on the table. Fighting is in our DNA and we can all relate to it. We worry too much about control, when we need to come together to strive for excellence. Everyone can be taken care of, and we can still attract the real good athletes. We’re not close to where we could be to help move the sport forward for everyone.”