The road back to the Ultimate Fighting Championship has been a long and eventful one for middleweight Tamdan McCrory, but “The Barn Cat” has found his way back home.
More than six years after exited the Octagon and went on a five-year sabbatical, McCrory returns to take on “The Ultimate Fighter” Season 17 semifinalist Josh Samman as part of the UFC on Fox 17 undercard on Saturday at the Amway Center in Orlando, Fla.
“When I left UFC, it wasn’t on bad terms,” McCrory told Sherdog.com. “I was just told there was a thin roster and I needed to get some wins. It took a lot longer get the fights I needed to prove myself, but [the UFC] knew I had talent then and I’ve showed that I still have it now. I’m not sure if me being back in the UFC is redemption because I’m more focused on the future, not the past. I’ve still got to get out there and get a win, but it’s good to be back. I’m not going to get too excited until I get out there and I perform.”
McCrory last fought under the UFC banner in August 2009, when he lost a split decision to former Ring of Combat champion John Howard at UFC 101. It was his second loss in three fights and left him with a 3-3 mark inside the promotion.
“I was rather deflated when I got released,” McCrory said. “I wasn’t interested in going back to 170 pounds, and a part of me was like, ‘You know what? Let’s take some time in the gym and get bigger. Let’s put on some mass and see what happens.’”
McCrory had opportunities to fight soon after his release from the UFC, but injuries and issues away from the cage kept him from competing.
“I was getting some deals, and I look back now and wonder if I should’ve taken them,” the 29-year-old McCrory said. “Right out of the UFC, I had chances to make some money, but I wasn’t ready. There’s a saying that goes, ‘Life is what happens to you when you stop training.’ I never really stopped training, but my momentum was stopped. I thought about competing, but I’d get injuries. I had a hard time getting momentum back, and at the same time, I got involved in a martial arts gym. Some of the most backstabbing people are in martial arts. I chased down a bad investment, and it wasn’t as much about money as it was about my time. Now I know time is a more valuable asset than money.”
Having lost both time and money with the bad investment in a martial arts gym, McCrory found himself struggling to make ends meet. However, in 2012, he re-committed himself to the fight game and managed to finally get some momentum going in the right direction before an injury the next year sidelined him again.
“The gym really hurt me financially, which put me in a hole,” said McCrory, who sports 12 finishes among his 13 professional victories. “You can’t fight at a high level if you can’t pay to put gas in your tank. There were times where I wasn’t able to fight just due to the money involved. After my business deals went south, I said then that if there was ever a time to get back to fighting, this was it. Fighting was going to be my focus. Ever since then, all of time and money went towards having the ability to train and compete. I wanted to do it, not just because of the money but [because] I was more concerned about the mark I made on the sport. When they write the next UFC Encyclopedia, I don’t want to just be a blurb. I want to be a two-page spread.”
His comeback hit some unexpected roadblocks.
“I was training and got into a car accident,” McCrory said. “Complications from that made me stop training. The subsequent surgery kept me out of the gym for the rest of 2013. People don’t understand how great it is to have momentum and how much of a bummer it is to lose it.”
After recovering from shoulder surgery, McCrory signed with Bellator MMA and made his promotional debut on Sept. 5, 2014. He did so in stunning fashion, knocking out highly regarded prospect Brennan Ward in just 21 seconds at Bellator 123.
“When I fought in September 2014, it was two years in the making,” McCrory said. “It was a long, arduous grind. It was satisfying. I always believed that was what was going to happen -- to come back and totally kill it -- and I told myself that. I showed to everybody else what I and all my training partners know: I’m a straight killer. Knocking out Ward wasn’t a shock to me. It was satisfying and just a fulfillment. When everybody doubted me and said I was washed up or wouldn’t achieve success, for me to do everything I said I’d do, that’s what made it so good.”
McCrory remains unsure whether or not Bellator expected him to win so convincingly in his debut and believes it may have upset some of the organization’s plans.
“I’m totally thankful for Bellator, but I think I was meant to come in and get slaughtered,” McCrory said. “When I didn’t get beat, then they thought I didn’t fit in with their look or something. I don’t know about that. I’m just mild-mannered and kill people.”
Following a 66-second armbar submission of Jason Butcher at Bellator 134, McCrory appeared to be in line for a title shot. However, negotiations between McCrory and Bellator stalled, and he found himself on the outside looking in.
“This is what happened,” McCrory said. “My manager went to Bellator”s matchmaker before my second fight and said we wanted to talk about my future and [asked] would a title shot be out of line depending on my performance. I performed, so we thought we’d hear about a title shot, but we got pushed to the back burner. After the [Brandon] Halsey-[Kendall] Grove fight [in May], nothing happened. Then we got thrown a contract in mid-July and were told we needed to sign it on very short notice. I knew my original contract was only good for a year and Bellator had no right to match. I knew I could leave. I was going to stay if I could get what I was worth, but I decided to make a stand. The best thing Bellator did was give me an opportunity to establish my stock again, and I thank them for it.
“I paid my dues like I should have, but then I have to get paid,” he added. “I feel like I should have gotten paid more. I wasn’t asking for crazy money, but they didn’t see any value in me. Now Halsey is talking smack on Twitter. I was waiting for a bout contract for six months. The only thing Bellator said was they anticipated me getting a title shot. The only chance I’d have stayed with Bellator is for good pay and to have the next shot at the title. Bellator didn’t put that in front of me. They made a lot of empty promises. Thank God I didn’t re-sign or else I’d be waiting a long time for that title shot.”
Once it became clear McCrory was not going to stick with Bellator, his management made contact with the UFC and struck a deal a short time later. McCrory did not discuss the specifics of his contract with the company but did claim he would be making as much as an undercard fighter in the UFC as he would as a champion for Bellator.
“I got a release from Bellator on a Tuesday,” McCrory said. “That day, my manager emailed [UFC matchmaker] Joe Silva. Silva and he talked on Wednesday and I had a contract on Thursday. For what the UFC offered me and what Bellator offered me, the money is relatively equal without bonuses, but you have to remember that the money in Bellator was to be the champion. I become champion in Bellator [and] I’m making the money that undercard fighters make in the UFC. Put me on the undercard in the UFC because that gives me a chance to earn a bonus every time. You really going to call your top guys world champions? Don’t come at me with UFC undercard money and act like I should be thankful. I could be a champion in some small-town promotions and make the same money I’m making in the UFC.
“It boggles my mind and the minds of a lot of people involved in this,” he added. “If you look at a lot of Bellator salaries, you can’t defend them. At least the UFC is honest. Bellator has guys fighting for $4,000 to show, $4,000 to win and $3,000 and $3,000. They have guys on their main card making $4,000 and $4,000, but that’s obscene. Somewhere down the line, someone has to look and say, ‘Is this the No. 2 promotion out there or are they a really-far-away No. 2 when it comes to dollar for dollar?’”