LFA Lightweight Champion Robert Watley: From A “Nobody” to A “Somebody”
Legacy Fighting Alliance (LFA) is known for molding a tremendous amount of UFC prospects every year. Formerly the two promotions RFA and Legacy FC, the newly-merged promotion has produced dozens of high-level fighters that have gone on to compete in the UFC, Bellator MMA and Professional Fighters League. At almost every event LFA puts on, there is at least one fighter that MMA scouts have their eyes on. At LFA 17 this past July, Thiago Moises was the prodigy on the radar of the UFC’s matchmakers Sean Shelby and Mick Maynard. It was almost unanimous among MMA experts that a win over his opponent Robert Watley would project him right into the world’s largest mixed martial arts promotion. Being a 3-1 underdog who was relatively unknown to most, it was safe to say that Watley was being counted out by many.
However, the Maryland native served as the spoiler in what was expected to be a showcase fight to elevate the Brazilian. Watley cruised to a clear-cut decision, dominating the champion from beginning to end and winning the inaugural LFA Lightweight Championship in the process. Still, it is all seems a bit surreal to the humble 28-year-old. “It still even is surreal,” chuckles Watley. “When I perform and I’m in there, I’m in the moment. To do what you have practiced, you almost have to take yourself out of it. I’m still watching it on film like ‘Oh my gosh that was me! That’s crazy!’ But getting that win in that venue with what he had behind him and the fact that nobody thought that I could have done that? That’s a testament to what hard work, dedication, having a great support group of people around you, and believing in something can do. The lord has put me on this path for a reason, and I’m going to keep rolling for as long as he will let me roll!”
On that life-changing night in July, all of the passion that Watley had felt for combat and fighting over the years had finally culminated into something special. Growing up home-schooled, Watley was unquestionably close to his father, who helped inspire his love of martial arts. “I came up watching movies and hanging out with my old man,” remembers Watley. “He showed me the Bruce Lee‘s and the Terminator‘s and I thought that there was nothing cooler than being a warrior, so the first sport I picked up was karate.”
Following his entry into karate, Watley began practicing taekwondo. When he felt he had exhausted all that the two martial arts could provide for him, Watley ended up pursuing an avenue in football. While Watley sought out a college football career for himself, he was unable to shake the seemingly impending welding with the sport of martial arts. After football practices, Watley recalls viewing episodes of the Ultimate Fighter with fellow teammates. It didn’t take long for Watley to reconnect with his roots and fall in love once again.
Following the conclusion of his football career and looking to re-venture into martial arts, Watley caught wind of a gym ran by his old taekwando instructor called Royal Martial Arts. The gym not only had the more traditional forms of martial arts, but had added a mixed martial arts program with a fight team. Watley is still with Royal Martial Arts, but has also joined forces with Conquest BJJ and Level Up Kickboxing respectively. “I’m bouncing all over the place and just getting different looks and seeing different styles,” says Watley. “I’m really enjoying the martial artist’s life style.”
Despite being on an eight fight win streak to date, Watley is a bit of “never give up” story. Back in 2014, Watley dropped his first professional bout to Anthony Dabbondanza, a fighter he had beaten in his amateur career. “I had lost last my last amateur fight before my debut, so I was really at a place where I had to make a change,” recalls Watley. “Or else I would have to make a real big change, as in find something else to do because this fight thing is going to go away.”
The fact that he had defeated Dabbondanza on the amateur circuit definitely made things more difficult on Watley. “The fact that I had already beaten the guy as an amateur meant that there were a lot of thoughts and feelings and emotions. I’m like ‘I’m giving this one more go.'” It was at this point in his career that Watley had a pivotal conversation with a teammate which caused him to add the aforementioned Conquest BJJ to his lineup. Watley has not looked back, winning all eight of his professional bouts since his professional debut.
On November 10th, Watley will look to extend the streak to nine, as he makes his first title defense in the main event of LFA 27 against opponent Daryl Wilson (8-1). Wilson’s track record mirrors that of Watley’s in terms of wins and losses, and most recently he defeated Jarrod Card in his promotional debut at LFA 18. Watley knows Wilson poses a threat and is not taking him lightly.
Watley likes the idea of fighting someone “who brings something new to the table,” and believes to have found that in the 25-year-old, Wilson. “I like any matchup against an opponent who is going to help test me and bring new things,” explains Watley. “Moises, while very well-rounded, there was no real deception about what it was he wanted to do. The dude is a submission specialist. As you’ve seen from Daryl’s last fight, the dude has some strikes. He one punch KO’d his last opponent.”
Many fighters are often caught up in the technical and stylistic natures of upcoming bouts, but not Watley. Robert Watley views Daryl Wilson as a puzzle that will only help him evolve as a fighter. “I have to say that I’m very thankful to LFA for giving me an opponent like this so I can continue my maturation as a mixed martial artist. I want to be able to prove to everyone that I can beat a striker, a grappler, mixed martial artists and jiu jitsu players, because I am in this to be the best mixed martial artist I can be. This is a great matchup.”
Being an LFA Champion comes with a certain amount of pressure. LFA is unanimously thought to be the best American “feeder” promotion to the UFC, so Robert Watley understands there is a high probability the UFC will have eyes on him come Friday night. With a win against Wilson, it is quite possible that Watley will get the call he’s worked his whole career for. “You never know what people are looking for, so I can’t be to discouraged if I don’t get the call,” explains Watley. “I’m just going to keep doing what it is that I’m doing, and if it happens, it happens. If it doesn’t, it doesn’t. If I had to have one knock on myself I’d say that they probably don’t think that they can pull the trigger– that I can’t finish. They want to see guys finish fights. That’s what puts butts in seats. I think [Daryl] is going to make me beat him. This is going to be a good fight for either one of us that will elevate us to the next level.”
As for a final prediction, the always respectful Robert Watley had this to say: “I think that this fight will end with one of us getting finished, but we’re going to hug and embrace each other and walk out as friends at the end of that fight. I can’t tell you who’s going to win because I’m not foolish enough to think I’m invincible. We will get what we want out of this fight to push each other, and I think the fans and everyone in attendance will have an awesome experience!”
To learn more about Robert Watley, follow him on social media:
LFA 27 takes place Friday November 10th at 9pmEST and will air live and free on AXS TV in the US. The five round title bout between Robert Watley and Daryl Wilson will serve as the night’s main event.