For at least the last 10 or 15 years, the UFC has been the major leagues of mixed martial arts. And so when the UFC comes calling, the majority of prospects jump at the opportunity to sign with the world’s leading promotion.
Paddy Pimblett, though, isn’t most people. He rebuffed the UFC twice before finally agreeing to terms last year.
Pimblett was one of the most highly regarded fighters on the regional circuit and had built a massive following with Cage Warriors.
In his UFC debut on Sept. 4, Pimblett took out Luigi Vendramini in the first round, more than living up to the considerable hype.
But all of the noise surrounding his UFC debut will sound like nothing more than a mouse scurrying across the floor when he walks to the Octagon on Saturday for his fight in London against Rodrigo Vargas.
It’s the first UFC card in England since March 16, 2019. Pimblett, who is from Nottingham, is likely to receive a rousing heroes’ welcome.
It took a while, though, for him to find his way to the UFC, and not because he wasn’t ready. The UFC felt he was, but Pimblett believed so deeply in his talent and his ability to become an impact performer that he declined the first two UFC offers he received.
“I always knew it wasn’t a question of if the UFC would sign me, but when,” Pimblett said. “I knew even if I turned them down a few times, they’d still come back with another offer after I won a few fights. That’s what happened. I turned them down twice. And eventually, when I got on a little win streak and caused a bit of a ruckus on the U.K. scene, they were like, ‘Yeah, we need to sign him. He’s the new kid on the block.’ I proved them right, didn’t I?”
Pimblett is about as outspoken and self-assured as any fighter you’re likely to run across, particularly one with so little experience at the game’s highest level.
And while many bow in servitude toward UFC management, that’s not Pimblett’s way. He admits he still wasn’t thrilled with some components of the offer he received, but had his own reasons for accepting when he did.
Asked if the wait paid off in accepting a UFC offer, he quickly said no, at least not in terms of contract. But he signed a sponsorship deal with Barstool Sports that a source said is worth a million dollars as a direct result of going to the UFC.
“I took a pay cut to sign with the UFC,” Pimblett said. “I was mentally and physically mature [when I finally signed with the UFC]. I was ready to fight then. I wasn’t ready the first two times. … But it was also the sponsorship opportunities that come along with being inside the UFC.”
There are a number of elite prospects from the U.K. and Ireland in the UFC now. Irishman Ian Garry is a highly regarded welterweight and heavyweight Tom Aspinall, who fights Alexander Volkov in the main event Saturday, has the look of a future champion.
Pimblett, though, is generating as much attention as any of them. He’s a lot like ex-featherweight and lightweight champion Conor McGregor in the way he is able to promote himself and fight an exciting style.
Scoring a first-round finish in one’s UFC debut would be more than enough for most, but Pimblett wasn’t thrilled by his performance against Vendramini.
Pimblett, who got into a minor skirmish Tuesday in the fighter hotel with Ilia Topuria, was hurt by Vendramini before finishing him.
He called Vargas “a brawler,” and said he’ll finish him in the first without being touched. He’s going to raise the hype to atmospheric levels if he’s able to do that. It’s a lot of pressure on a newcomer but he scoffs at the notion of pressure.
“I’m used to it and it’s just my life at this point,” Pimblett said.
If he keeps winning, and he’s a -500 favorite at BetMGM to do so Saturday, it’s going to keep getting crazier.