Rob Watley (second from right) (Facebook)

LFA 17’s Robert Watley: Fighting For Change

The idea of a fighters union in mixed martial arts is not going away. Fighters in the UFC and elsewhere continue to battle for better compensation that would put them closer to athletes in other sports. In fact, it’s an issue that one of the newest members of the Legacy Fighting Alliance wants to help lead.

The LFA recently signed Maryland-based fighter Robert Watley. He will face Thiago Moisés for the inaugural LFA lightweight title on Friday, July 21, in Charlotte, N.C. Watley previously expressed the desire to help out his fellow fighters through either an effort to organize a union or by other means. He believes it’s his way of paying it forward in the fight game.

“I want to help those behind me, because others have pushed me and then reached back to help,” Watley told Combat Press. “I think it would be selfish not to help the next generation of fighters. I tend to make friends with my opponents, when people just think we’re ruffians and meatheads. But we’re not. We’re a family, and we can help each other. We need to understand when we’re being used up — the sport doesn’t last forever — and we need to make sure we have proper compensation.”


Watley would like fighters to continue to be independent contractors who are allowed to have their own sponsors. However, he also believes MMA’s biggest names could play a significant role in helping out their fellow fighters.

“The big-name fighters — the Conor McGregors; the Jon Jones — they could help make things trickle down to the other fighters,” Watley said. “We need to stick together, because without us, there is no MMA. You have to go through the crappy times to enjoy the good times, and you have to be that change.”

Before Watley can help lead the charge to make MMA a better sport for his contemporaries, he must continue building his own profile. He expressed a desire to improve in all areas, both inside and outside the cage. Watley cited improving his social-media presence as one example, but he also noted the need to improve his skills as being the most important focus.

“I want to see what caliber of fighter I can be,” said Watley, who has an overall record of 7-1. “Your evolution of being a fighter ties into your evolution as a person. We all strive to be a better version of ourselves, daily. There was a time when I was OK with what I was doing and I wasn’t pushing myself. I thought if it wasn’t broken, then why fix it. But I decided I wanted to improve everywhere, and I especially wanted to sharpen my striking and wrestling. The purpose is always to grow.”

You can’t blame Watley for thinking there wasn’t much to tinker with when it came to his skills. After all, he only has one blemish on his resume. His fight with Moisés for the LFA lightweight title will be his chance to add a third championship to his current collection. Watley won the Xtreme Caged Combat lightweight title in February, and he is also the reigning Shogun Fights lightweight champion after winning the belt last year.

There were rumors that Watley was having difficulty finding a challenger in Shogun Fights because there weren’t many fighters willing to step up and fight him. Watley extolled his relationship with Shogun Fights owner John Rallo and said he would be more than happy to fight again for the Maryland-based promotion.

“I love Shogun Fights and fighting in front of my hometown crowd,” Watley said. “It always has a big-fight feel, and they make great match-ups where both guys are evenly matched, and they take care of their fighters. But sometimes people are two or three fights away from getting the call to a bigger organization, so they try to protect their record so they don’t take a loss. It would be devastating to their career.”

Watley doesn’t buy into such fear, since he is gunning for his third title belt against Moisés, an opponent who also only has one loss in his 10-fight career and has won his last four fights.

Watley’s previous opponent in the XCC, Josh Visel, “was one of the toughest I’ve faced,” he said.

“I hadn’t fought in four or five months, and [XCC matchmaker] Ryan Kerwin called me and asked if I wanted to fight for the title against an undefeated fighter,” Watley said. “I wanted to show this guy how to lose. His corner ended up throwing in the towel, but that helped me grow as a martial artist. I was exhausted.”

Watley is now thrilled to get an opportunity to fight for the LFA, which he described as a “huge developmental league. With a good performance, there’s no telling what can happen. It seems like they get guys signed to the UFC every other day.”

As for his opponent?

“[Moisés is a] young, well-rounded guy with a great camp at American Top Team,” said Watley. “I have to go in there knowing that I’ve honed my skills and to use them. I also know I don’t have to stress and I can just have fun. I have blessings from the Lord, and he has given me a chance. I know I’m going to be the underdog, so I just have to show people what I can do.”

Watley would like to thank Iridium Sports Agency and his sponsors, teammates at Conquest BJJ, friends, family and his fiancé. Follow Watley on Twitter: @RobertWatley89