The 1940 novel You Can’t
Go Home Again riled up the residents of Asheville, N.C., because
of how the town was portrayed by the book’s author and native son, Thomas Wolfe.
Almost 80 years later, one of the most well-known fighters to come from the
Maryland-based Shogun Fights promotion is looking to prove Wolfe wrong and show
that in fact, yes, you can go home
After a yearlong hiatus, Robert Watley will return to Shogun Fights at its home at Royal Farms Arena in Baltimore for Shogun Fights 23 on Saturday, Nov. 2. Watley fights again after a stint in the inaugural season of the Professional Fighters League last year — an opportunity that actually came thanks to his father’s due diligence.
“My dad was looking at the MMA landscape to see if it was
still possible for top-tier guys to make a living at it,” Watley told Combat
Press. “We saw guys receiving a tough time from their promotions with turning
down fights and not getting paid. I read about some guys who had to work two to three
jobs while fighting.
“My dad found out about PFL and took down their contact
information and saw that you needed at least 10 fights to be considered. After my 10th fight, I contacted them, and they offered me the opportunity.”
Watley was familiar with the PFL’s former incarnation, the World
Series of Fighting, but it was the PFL’s willingness to partner with fighters to
improve their environment and offer both health care and $1 million to the
winners in each weight class that won him over.
“I always knew
who I would fight and where I would fight,” Watley explained.
Watley won his first fight at the PFL’s second show of 2018 after an
accidental groin strike rendered his opponent, Thiago Tavares, unable to
continue. However, Watley’s quest for $1 million ended after back-to-back
decision losses to Will Brooks and Chris Wade.
“Those guys were UFC veterans and had been around the block,
and I was maybe a little full of myself and maybe ‘fanboyed’ out a little,”
Watley said. “It was a little surreal to fight Brooks; I watched him before I
started fighting and admired his ability to dig deep in fights.
“I think I was just worrying about countering what they were
doing instead of focusing on what I needed to do. If you worry
about the other guy, you fall a few steps behind and you can’t do it. I was
waiting to see what they did, and I felt I was outwrestled. I got caught up
watching the fight and not doing enough fighting.”
Despite the disappointment of losing out on an opportunity to win $1 million, Watley’s PFL stint still provided an important learning experience.
“I learned to appreciate every moment, breathing and walking
and spending time with my friends, wife and son,” said Watley, who became a
first-time father at the beginning of the year. “I think I took that
opportunity for granted, and I kind of crapped the bed and then had to lie in
“When my son was born in January, I also realized how
selfish I was. Now I see my son and his joy, after I had become
disenchanted with life, and see the joy through my son and help him walk
After spending 2019 as a stay-at-home dad and thinking that the PFL was possibly his last opportunity in MMA before he needed to get a full-time job, Watley received an offer to compete at Shogun Fights 23 on Nov. 9.
“I originally asked to fight [Shogun Fights lightweight
champion] Tucker Lutz at a catchweight, but he didn’t want to do that, so I
decided to step in and replace a teammate who withdrew,” said Watley, who sports
a record of 11-3 and will face Jerome Featherstone, who is 2-0 with one no-contest, in a 160-pound catchweight bout.
“This is what I love to do,” Watley admitted. “When I fought in
PFL, I got to fight in New York, Chicago and Los Angeles, and I wanted to fight
on their card in [Washington] D.C. Now I get to come back to where it all
started and get a fresh start.”
The Maryland native previously competed five times for Shogun Fights, and even though he has a clear advantage in experience over Featherstone, he is not taking his comeback bout for granted.
“This fight has 100 percent of my focus,” Watley said. “It’s
been a year for me out of the cage, and I can’t look past Jerome. It’s a big
test, but it’s one I’m ready for.”
Watley also continues to advocate for better working conditions for fighters and hopes that he and his fellow fighters will eventually band together to improve MMA for all competitors.
“I’m still passionate about it, but there is only so much a
few people can do,” Watley said. “It would be great if we had a situation like
the NFL, NBA or Major League Baseball. But I also try not to alienate myself
from my fellow fighters.”
Robert would like to thank his wife, son, parents, siblings and God. Follow Watley on Twitter: @RobertWatley89
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