Paul Bradley competed in the final fight on his Bellator MMA contract at Bellator 148 earlier this year. Despite heading into a rematch against Chris Honeycutt as the underdog, he pulled off the victory with a stunning first-round TKO.
After the win, one could assume the Viacom-owned organization would be more than willing to sign Bradley to a new deal. But that was not the case. Instead, officials delayed the re-signing of "The Gentleman."
"It was one of those things where I'm coming off that big win against [Chris] Honeycutt, and I'd been told for awhile I was getting a new contract," Bradley told BloodyElbow.com. "That was the last fight on my contract with Bellator. They kind of kept dragging their feet. They told me they'd get me a contract in April; then they said they'd get it to us in June, nothing there."
Bradley was actually on a list of fighters who were potentially not going to be re-signed by Bellator MMA, despite currently riding a three-fight unbeaten streak. He wasn't aware of that until contacting Bellator MMA's matchmaker, Rich Chou. Although the news was very surprising to him, it explained the delays.
"Finally, I kept hounding Rich Chou. He called me, and he basically told me that there were too many fighters and not enough events. And I was actually on a potential list to not be re-signed," he revealed. "I'm not the only one; I've talked to a few other fighters. But I don't want to bring their names up. I'll be very surprised when I see more names on that list that are coming out that won't be re-signed. I have one guy in my head in particular, and I'm just like, 'Wow, really?' The guy's on a two-fight win streak with two nasty knockouts. I'm not the only one.
"I'm not really sure what direction Bellator is headed in. I think they're more focused on building the stars they want to build -- the MVPs and the Honeycutts and the Josh Thomsons, and all the other guys, who are still winning, are going to be on that list."
Bellator MMA explained to Bradley that it wasn't able to accommodate his need of three fights per year, but Bradley doesn't buy that. He believes the organization, headed by Scott Coker, was unhappy with him because he defeated a top prospect it was looking to push in Honeycutt.
"I think the big thing about it was, they kind of tried to make it seem like they were doing me a favor. I need to fight three times a year is what they told me and that they're not able to do that," he said. "When we get down to the reality of things, let's be honest. I took a big crap on their party with the golden boy. That was their guy that was supposed to be the next big thing. After he beat me (or so Bellator MMA thought), what I was hearing was, he was either going to get the No. 1 contender fight or a title shot with an impressive win.
"Everything I had heard through the grapevine was they just weren't real happy with me winning that fight. I don't think that helped, but at the same time, I went out there and did my job, and here I am getting punished for it. It's one of those things. It's crazy. You go out there and put on the show that people want to see. I don't want to sound like a disgruntled employee but some of the stuff, it was kind of obvious that they didn't want me, or they were upset with me winning, or something. Heck, all companies do the birthday thing for the fighters, and I didn't even get one of those. So, when that happened, I was kind of like, 'Man, they must really not like me, or there must be something going on.'
"Had I lost to Honeycutt, yeah, of course, they were going to cut me. It just put them in a really weird situation because they were planning on trying to use me and my name as credibility for him to get the next big fight or title shot."
Bradley wasn't pleased with Bellator MMA throughout his tenure with it, especially when its executives were in negotiations with him after his contract expired. But that was far from the only problem Bradley had with the organization.
"Honestly, no, not at all," he said, when asked whether or not he was happy with Bellator MMA. "They did some things -- and I kept my mouth shut. I wasn't like the former champ at 155 pounds, [Will Brooks]. I wasn't outspoken against how I was being treated.
"But a lot of people don't know that I was actually supposed to fight Chris on Dec. 4 because obviously I'm supposed to have three fights a year. That was supposed to be in San Jose. I had already started training camp; I had already flown to Illinois to start training camp with a buddy of mine and their wrestling team out there at the University of Illinois. I was out there training and unfortunately my manager, Jason House, gave me a call saying they were going to reschedule it to Jan. 29.
"Essentially, my contract was just shredded with no sense of getting reimbursed for any of the expenses I acquired when I was out there or my plane ticket. I kept my mouth shut and, although I was pissed and had to do the whole Christmas thing not having any money and all that, went out there and performed on Jan. 29. It was one of those things where I wasn't even getting any respect. So, it was just better off I got the heck out before it got any worse or I didn't even get re-signed."
After waiting for a new contract with Bellator MMA for months and then finding out there was an extreme possibility the organization wasn't interested in his services any longer, Bradley did, in fact, decide to test free agency. After contacting several organizations including the UFC, he landed upon WSOF, which seemed very on board with promoting and marketing him, according to the welterweight fighter.
"[After Chou told me I was on the list], I was like, 'You know what, man, if this is how it's gonna be, I'm gonna go test free agency.' That pretty much was the icing on the cake to get out there and see what was out there," he said. "I went out and checked around and talked to World Series of Fighting. They seemed very interested and very happy to talk to me about possibly going with them. It just honestly made sense. Instead of just waiting for an answer from Bellator about possibly not even being re-signed, I decided to be proactive, get out there and go find someone who wanted to see the value in me.
"I took a lot of things into mind when I started talking with World Series. Being on the win streak and having some pretty solid wins in Bellator, being ranked top five, I just felt it was time to find someone new who actually appreciated me and valued me. It sounds like they're behind me, they're backing me. From all the social media posts they've been re-posting and posting, and all that stuff. It's awesome. I [didn't get] this kind of support with Bellator."
Bradley was confident that signing with WSOF was the right decision after the organization's president, Ray Sefo, personally reached out to and had a lengthy conversation with him.
"It wasn't a hard decision at all after I talked with Ray Sefo on the phone," he said. "I don't know many presidents that will call up a potential client and talk to them for 45 minutes. That's for sure. When Ray called me, that just basically sealed the deal. I was like, 'Man, this guy's awesome.' He understood all my concerns I had with Bellator and how I was being treated.
"It was kind of a funny conversation. I actually got in touch with [WSOF] through Twitter. I follow them, they follow me. The guy who runs their social media passed it over to Ray, who said he was very interested. So, we just went about it that way and got the ball rolling. Sure enough, within a week or so, we were in discussions."
Bradley was initially in negotiations with WSOF a few years ago, but things did not work out because of the organization's matchmaker at the time, Ali Abdelaziz. Abdelaziz is a controversial figure because he matched-up and managed several fighters during his tenure with WSOF, which was a clear conflict of interest. This eventually led to him parting ways with WSOF late last year. Several former and current WSOF fighters have claimed that Abdelaziz was tough to deal with during negotiations, and Bradley is the latest fighter to add to those accusations.
"I kind of had something going on with [WSOF] when I first moved to San Diego three years ago. I actually signed a contract with them," he said. "But Ali couldn't give me a date, couldn't tell me when I was ever going to fight. I don't really know the guy, but, like I said, we signed a contract with him, and the guy just couldn't give me any answers to when I was going to fight. At that point, I needed the money, and I needed to fight. So, I ended up taking a fight in a regional show down in Florida. I lost a very controversial split decision and essentially lost my job for it.
"That's the only interaction I've had with Ali, but after talking with Ray, he brought that up, that Ali was matchmaking and managing fighters at the same time. It just wasn't in their best interest to have a guy like that in that position. Even if you don't want to think you're favoring your fighters, there's always going to be that in the back of your mind. Like, 'Oh, I gotta get my guy in here soon.'"
There was a good chance Bradley would not have signed with WSOF, had Abdelaziz stayed with the organization.
"I don't know that I would go that route with him still being in there," he said. "I think it could've been a lot different if he was still in there, but I don't know enough about the situation to really dig deep down in there to really know what's going on."
One of Bradley's biggest concerns with Bellator MMA was a lack of fights, as he addressed above. It doesn't look like that will be an issue in his new home.
"Thankfully, I definitely brought that up to Ray and expressed that I want to be active," he said. "Two fights a year wasn't really cutting it and they put right in the contract that I'll definitely be getting those three fights a year. They put a six-month clause in there, which is nice."
Bradley was also loosely told a title shot could be coming his way sooner rather than later, depending on the outcome of his WSOF debut, which will likely occur in November unless "something else falls out" and he fills in for an injured fighter on short notice.
"It sounds like it could be within one or two fights -- [that] is how it sounded with Ray," he said. "They've got guys like Yushin Okami, Jake Shields, Jon Fitch [and] they just signed John Howard. I think I rank right up there towards the top. I'm hoping with an impressive win in my first fight, maybe have one more, but it sounds like it could be as soon as my second fight, possibly fighting for the title. At this point in my career, that's the goal, to win a world title.
"There's only four organizations, I think, where world titles really count: UFC, World Series of Fighting, Bellator, and ONE FC. I wanted to win the title in Bellator -- I expressed that after my last fight. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to get that shot, so coming over to World Series, that's the goal. First and foremost, go out there, win my first fight, do it impressively, and hopefully get a title shot after that. Or do one more fight maybe, and get that title shot."
It is still very early to tell how pleased Bradley will be with WSOF. That said, unless his treatment drastically changes in the future, he expects the organization will be his long-term home.
"The way I've been treated already, I feel like this is definitely my home," he said. "I'm happy to fight for a company that is backing me. Only time will tell, but I feel like this is the right decision, this is the right place for me. I get to fight on TV so I can keep all my sponsors and all that good stuff. NBC is a huge company, NBC Sports. I'm definitely happy, and like Ray already told me, I'm a televised fighter. It's good news, very good news. As far as the future goes, I can't look that far ahead, but right now this is the right spot, and this is where I'm happy."