All the Cage: Frustrated PFL champion just wants to fight; possible matchups for Masvidal

Kevin IoleCombat columnist
Yahoo Sports
A weekly look at MMA’s hottest topics.
A weekly look at MMA’s hottest topics.

PFL’s Palmer frustrated by lack of fights

Lance Palmer is in Abu Dhabi, and on Saturday, he’ll work the corner of Joseph Benavidez as he fights Deiveson Figueiredo for the vacant UFC flyweight champion on Fight Island in Abu Dhabi.

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But working the corner is as close as the Ohio State University Hall of Famer is going to get to fighting for the time being.

Palmer is the two-time Professional Fighters League featherweight champion, but he was left without a job on April 20 when the PFL opted to suspend its season due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Palmer won the $1 million bonus awarded to the champions at the end of the first two seasons on New Year’s Eve, but his issue isn’t financial. He is 33 years old and doesn’t want to waste the time he has left.

The PFL announced it would pay fighters a stipend when it suspended operations. Palmer didn’t sign that contract, but it was for $5,000, so hardly enough to cover an 18-month layoff.

But Palmer’s motivation in speaking out isn’t financial. He wants to take advantage of his athletic prime, and said if the PFL isn’t willing to put on at least one show by the end of the year, it should release him and others to allow them to compete.

“The UFC is putting on shows and there are regional shows going on everywhere, so it can be done,” Palmer said. “At this point, I’m speaking for a lot of people in PFL who don’t really want to speak up. People are getting antsy and don’t really want to wait 18 months to fight. The people who did sign that extension, yeah, they got $5,000 to sit for 18 months. The main reason I didn’t sign that extension is because it extends your entire contract through 2021 and there is no guarantee for a fight this year.

“That’s one of the things I’d talked to [PFL CEO] Peter Murray about when they originally canceled the season. He said their goal was to have at least one show before the end of the year. The coronavirus is the main reason [for the season’s postponement] but it got pretty frustrating when these other shows started happening. I know [manager] Ali [Abdelaziz] and some other managers are on their case about it, but there has been no movement with it. LFA just did a show in South Dakota. It’s not like it’s impossible.”

PFL featherweight champion Lance Palmer, 33, doesn’t want to waste the time he has left. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)
PFL featherweight champion Lance Palmer, 33, doesn’t want to waste the time he has left. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)

Yahoo Sports reached out to a PFL spokesman and will update with the company’s response if/when it is received.

Palmer said the PFL sent cease-and-desist letters to the UFC and Bellator about not interfering with its fighters’ contracts. He doesn’t want to be caught in a legal entanglement or in a situation where his promotion isn’t willing to put on shows.

Palmer just wants to fight.

“It’s not about a release, it’s about making it right for the athletes,” Palmer said. “… If I fight once this year, that’s OK. But you can’t hold a guy; I’m reaching my prime in my career as a fighter. I’m 33 years old and I don’t want to do this until I’m 40. This is something where, I want to reach the top and want to be done at an age when I want to walk away.

“I don’t want to wait for an organization that’s saying, ‘Oh, we’re not going to have fights this year. We’re going to wait till next year. You have to wait 18 months from your last fight to fight again.’ That’s not fair. If you’re really going to do that then, yeah, I’d like a release.”

Palmer noted that he’s supported the company strongly since its incarnation as the WSOF.

“I’ve been a company many since it was the World Series of Fighting,” he said. “I’ve stayed around since before PFL was even a thing. I believed in PFL since before the million-dollar tournament and everything else when nobody really believed in it. I’ve stayed there and been loyal and stayed by their side, but you have to take care of the people who are taking care of you. There were guys like Jon Fitch and other people who didn’t believe in it and left because they were getting the runaround, but I’m one of the people who stayed around.

“I don’t know why we’re not getting straight answers on getting a fight. If they’re not planning on scheduling anything, I’d like to be released and go somewhere where I can get a fight. It’s not about money. It’s about competition. I’m losing time, and time is the one thing you can’t get back. There’s always money to be made, but you can’t ever get lost time back.”

Jorge Masvidal’s future

According to The Athletic, the UFC sold 1.3 million pay-per-views for UFC 251, and most of the credit for that, deservedly, is going to Jorge Masvidal. The lure of Fight Island was a seller, and the show probably would have sold 650,000 to 750,000 had original headliner Gilbert Burns not tested positive for COVID-19 and gone on to compete against Kamaru Usman for the welterweight title in the main event.

But Masvidal, who figures to make upward of $10 million for Saturday’s work in which he lost a unanimous decision to Usman, clearly impacted the number in a positive way.

Had he won, he’d have been off-the-charts big, but he still remains a lucrative draw.

Here are four potential opponents for Masvidal for his next bout, with my speculation on how well each fight would sell on pay-per-view:

Conor McGregor: The Irishman is the UFC’s biggest draw, so his inclusion at the top of the card against Masvidal would skyrocket that number. I think it would have surpassed two million had Masvidal beaten Usman and then defended the welterweight title against McGregor. Given his loss, I’ll put the number at 1.75 million.

Nate Diaz: Masvidal and Diaz drew well for their BMF fight in November at Madison Square Garden, and the rematch would do even better. Masvidal won’t have the benefit of the freshness of Fight Island to help him next time, but a Diaz fight would be big. Let’s say the rematch would hit that same 1.3 million number if it were next.

Leon Edwards: Edwards is the least-known of the potential Masvidal opponents. Pay-per-views sell big when the general public that doesn’t ordinarily watch tunes in. That probably wouldn’t be the case with an Edwards fight, despite the heat generated by the altercation between them after Masvidal’s win over Darren Till. I’ll tap this one for 650,000.

Colby Covington: This would be big. Two former teammates who now don’t like each other and both are among the biggest trash-talkers in the game. Coverage of this fight would be everywhere. It’s not easy to hit 1 million, and I don’t think this would, though it could surprise me. But I’ll say 800,000, which would be an extraordinary number.

Give me more Ribas!

There were few fighters who did more for themselves on Saturday than Amanda Ribas. The Brazilian strawweight moved up to flyweight to take on Paige VanZant in the opener of the UFC 251 pay-per-view, and scored a slick belly-down armbar in the first round.

But where she really shined was in the post-fight interview with Jon Anik. It was almost impossible to not grin ear-to-ear when watching her. She was so bubbly and so enthusiastic and so much fun, and she reminded us what sports are supposed to be: fun.

Asked about Ribas, UFC president Dana White said via text message, “She killed it in every possible way.”

She’s young in her UFC career and has to lot of work left to do. She dreams of being a two-division champion, but the divisions she competes in are led by a pair of dominant champions: Zhang Weili and Valentina Shevchenko.

Ribas, who has black belts in both Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and judo, is ranked 12th at strawweight. We’ll see the kind of success she has when she advances and starts competing against the likes of Claudia Gadelha, Tatiana Suarez, Joanna Jedrzejczyk and the like. 

But if you didn’t know her before, you had to like what you saw of her on Saturday’s pay-per-view. And she’s willing to fight in either division.

“If I fight next at 115 pounds, I hope I get the winner of [the July 25 fight between] Marina Rodriguez and Carla Esparza,” Ribas said. “If the UFC puts me at flyweight again, I hope to get a Top 10 or Top 15. Now, it’s time to eat my chocolate.”

Felder’s dual role

UFC lightweight Paul Felder, a rising star as a broadcaster, missed out on the opportunity to call the UFC 251 pay-per-view because he had sat next to Din Thomas on a flight to Las Vegas. Thomas, an MMA coach, later tested positive for COVID-19.

Felder was quarantined briefly in Las Vegas, but after getting another negative test result was permitted to fly to Abu Dhabi. On Wednesday, he’ll join Anik and Michael Bisping on the call for the Fight Night show on ESPN headlined by Calvin Kattar against Dan Ige.

But that won’t be Felder’s only job.

He’ll also corner his friend, Jaren Gordon. Gordon’s coaches at Sanford MMA all tested positive for COVID-19 and none of them traveled to Abu Dhabi with him. 

Felder will leave the booth and go to work Gordon’s corner for his fight against Chris Fishgold.

“No way I’m letting my man go into a fight alone,” Felder wrote on Instagram.

He said it

“Fight Island is an amazing place. Dana White and his team made something amazing. There were no sports in the world right now. This is amazing and I’m very glad to be part of it.” — Light heavyweight Jiri Prochazka after his second-round KO victory in his UFC debut over Volkan Oezdemir on Saturday at UFC 251.

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