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Paul Hughes explains signing with PFL, says UFC ‘not as enticing to young prospects coming up’

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Paul Hughes barely had time to enjoy being one of the most sought after free agents in MMA before he had a new fighting home.

The former Cage Warriors champion won his most recent fight on April 6, entered free agency, and within days signed a contract to become the latest addition to the PFL roster. The entire process played out in rapid-fire fashion, but Hughes was appreciative that so many promotions showed interest and his new manager Tim Simpson, who also works with fighters such as Israel Adesanya and Leon Edwards, got a deal done rather quickly.

“It has been a whirlwind,” Hughes told MMA Fighting. “Probably the busiest few weeks of my life. Even the week prior to my fight in Cage Warriors, I had four opponent changes. Even before I became a free agent, it was hectic, never mind getting to fight night and doing the business and what comes with that. But then entering negotiations right after the fight, it’s been a whirlwind, but it’s been one of the best times of my life, to be honest.

“Look, Tim is the man, so I had full faith in him. I’ve known him for a few years now and I know that he’s one of the best. That’s why we work together now. I knew I was in the right hands. When it came to the Monday morning, it was just a case of, ‘Tim, go do your business,’ and I’m going to sit back and see what comes to the table.”

Hughes says he received multiple offers from promotions, but undoubtedly the two most intriguing options came down to UFC and PFL. Many immediately assumed Hughes would jump at the chance to join the UFC roster, because it’s undoubtedly the biggest MMA promotion in the world. But that’s not how things played out.

Instead, Hughes chose to sign an exclusive deal with PFL, and he argues it wasn’t really a difficult decision to make.

“It’s pretty simple — they had the best offer,” Hughes said of PFL. “I had offers from every major organization you can think of, UFC obviously included, but the PFL’s offer was just the best. It was something that, yes, we signed the deal just one week after free agency, but I had received an offer from the PFL six months ago. So I had a long time to think about this potential avenue, and to do my due diligence and really think about it on all levels.

“When it came to the negotiation stage, it wasn’t just purely a financial thing. It was a case of, I want to be active. I’m coming into the prime of my career. If there’s other promotions out there that want to sign me, they need to have a good plan in place, because I want to be active in this game.”

As far as passing on UFC’s offer, Hughes admits his plans for the future just didn’t align with the promotion’s, especially his hopes to compete multiple more times before 2024 is done.

Of course, there’s a financial factor in there as well, with the UFC rarely putting down a sizable investment into any prospect, which seemingly included Hughes.

“I wasn’t that surprised by the offer that came in with the UFC,” Hughes said. “Because I’ve done my due diligence. I study this game and I study the industry, and I think just the model of the UFC now is a little different than what it used to be. It’s not as enticing to young prospects coming up, like myself.

“If you don’t have the opportunity to potentially capitalize in the next couple of years, it’s just not as enticing. That’s where I’m at with it.”

On the flip side, Hughes already has his first fight booked under the PFL banner — he’s set to compete at the upcoming Bellator Dublin card in June. He’ll serve as the co-main event and have a chance to fight in front of a home audience.

From there, Hughes plans on staying busy for the remainder of the year, then enter the 2025 PFL lightweight season in pursuit of the $1 million grand prize. Hughes promises the money wasn’t the only driving factor behind his decision to sign with PFL, but he certainly won’t discount how much financial security that kind of payday provides.

“PFL, they came in with the best offer, they said they were going to keep me active,” Hughes said. “I’ve got a fight sorted already. But probably the main driving factor behind that is the million-dollar tournament. To have the opportunity to do that, in my opinion, the ultimate form of competition. Four fights in eight to 10 months against some of the best fighters on the planet is the ultimate competition for me, and it’s for the ultimate prize — a million dollars.

“To be a 27-year-old kid with a million dollars in the bank sounds pretty good to me and sounds like a pretty good start to my career.”

Because there was so much attention paid to his free agency and eventual PFL signing, Hughes knows there’s a whole lot of expectations heaped upon his shoulders moving forward. Truth be told, he wouldn’t have it any other way.

“Nobody puts more pressure on me than I do myself,” Hughes said. “Now it’s time to deliver on the things I’ve been saying. I have delivered my whole career so far. I’ve won the world titles and cleared out all the best guys in Cage Warriors, but now it’s time to continue that, and most importantly to prove it to myself. Because I’m out here right now telling people I’m the best in the world.

“I left the cage after my last fight saying, ‘I’m the best in the world,’ and I saw the comments. ‘Who the f*ck does this kid think he is? He’s fought nobody. Does he really think he could stand in there with [Islam] Makhachev and [Charles] Oliveira and all these people?’ I’m like, ‘Damn, f*cking right I do!’”

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