Rhadi Ferguson is an undefeated fighter, an Olympian and a man with a doctorate. So why can’t he get a fight?
By Joshua Molina
Rhadi Ferguson is a very smart man. But that might be exactly why he’s having trouble finding fights.
Ferguson, a four-time national judo champion with a Black Belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, and a doctorate in education from Capella University, is a fighter who knows what he’s worth. And he’s not going to settle for anything less.
The 35-year-old resident of Boca Raton, Florida has not fought since Jan. 7 when he submitted John Richard in the second round of a Strikeforce Challengers fight in Nashville, TN. That’s because, according to Ferguson, Strikeforce wants to put him back on Challengers, MMA’s version of the minor leagues, where young fighters look to make a name for themselves before they are elevated to Strikeforce’s championship series.
Ferguson stated that Strikeforce has offered him a fight on a Challengers card for a guaranteed $4,500 payday. That’s just not enough money, he said.
“My wife would put me on the street if I do that,” said Ferguson, who sports an MMA record of 3-0. “I just can’t see myself fighting on a Strikeforce Challengers card unless the pay is different. I got two kids, a wife, a couple of assets. I come to the table with a lot more intangibles and things that I believe organizations would love to have.”
Ferguson finds himself locked in a battle perhaps even bigger than any opponent he could ever face inside the cage. As MMA’s popularity has soared, overshadowing boxing and pro wrestling on pay per view, most of the fighters, with the exception of a handful of marquee names, have struggled to establish power and parity in the sport. Breaking through is tougher than ever.
The fighters are also finding fewer and fewer options to market and brand themselves since Zuffa, LLC, the parent company of the UFC, acquired Strikeforce in March and effectively eliminated any substantial competition. In the blink of an eye, the athletes lost most of their ability to negotiate their values. Gaining leverage in a sport that is dominated by one promoter is a lofty challenge for nearly any fighter.
Ferguson, who competed in the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens, Greece, said Strikeforce brass tells him that he needs more experience before being brought up to the championship series. But that’s a line that he doesn’t totally buy into.
When addressing this subject, he refers to Roger Gracie, who’s 4-0, but has fought on the big show. Likewise, football legend Herschel Walker is 2-0 and has never fought on a Challengers show. Gracie, of course, benefits from his last name and Walker’s status as a football legend and larger than life celebrity immediately earned him a spot on the Showtime televised portion of a Strikeforce championship series card in 2010.
“It depends on if they want to treat you like a Jon Jones,” he said. “This game is not about being the best,” said Ferguson. “It is about who they decide to market and push. I was hoping I would be one of those people.”
Ferguson, an articulate man also has a mechanical engineering degree and a master’s degree in teaching from Howard University, said even without Strikeforce attempting to develop a compelling narrative for his fight image, that he’s still one of the organization’s most popular fighters. With thousands of Facebook friends and Twitter followers, Ferguson believes he’s already mastered the art of self promotion.
“There’s not too many people who come to the MMA game with that type of marketing behind them,” Ferguson said. “Most of the stuff I have done, I have done without being on the television.”
With an authenticity behind him capable of reaching the African-American community, Ferguson believes he is capable of being a crossover star. But the idea of fighting for small change doesn’t appeal to him.
At the recent Zuffa summit for Strikeforce fighters in Las Vegas, Ferguson said it was hard to stand out from the pack. He left feeling like there weren’t many options. He was, however, impressed with the professionalism of the UFC management.
“I don’t have anything negative to say about Zuffa or the Fertitta brothers,” Ferguson said. “With UFC you know exactly who’s in charge. It’s quality.”
He’s hopeful that someone will recognize his potential. With a strong fan following from his Alumni Associations, Ferguson said there’s a lot of marketing potential behind him.
“There are so many things that could be done,” he said.Whatever happens, Ferguson accepts his fate and his role the MMA landscape.
“I don’t know what the future is, but I don’t’ have anything negative to say about UFC or Strikeforce,” Ferguson said. “I haven’t been treated badly. I am nothing more than a fighter. I am talented. I thought I would be on the main card after my first fight. If that’s not in the cards, I understand.”