By Raphael Garcia
The lightweight division is widely considered the deepest division in the sport. There are a number of men throughout the weight class that are not only top contenders, but would be viable champions. One individual who isn’t quite there but is quietly pushing his way up the ranks is Chris Wade. MMA Ratings had the opportunity to talk with the Long Island native and see what is going on with the lightweight prospect.
Wade is 11-1, which includes a four-fight win streak in the Octagon. His next fight is scheduled for May 8 where he’s scheduled to face Rustam Khabilov at UFC Fight Night 87. He was originally slated to fight Rashid Magomedov, which would have been his first opportunity to face a ranked opponent. Still, Wade is preparing for this bout in the same fashion.
“It’s work as usual. We don’t treat any particular day differently. As soon as my last fight ended, I was right back in the gym and right back to practice,” Wade said. “I’m working more than I ever have before.”
That work is coming along at the right time for the 28-year old fighter. Wade’s Octagon run has gone widely unnoticed, but winning this fight will certainly help him garner some of the attention that has yet to come his way. Wade recognizes that the opportunity for a new face to emerge in the division is sitting right in front of him.
“It is definitely more open than it [the lightweight division] has been in the past,” Wade said. “There’s some opportunity to dive right through. I haven’t hit the gas yet, and I’m ready to show everything that I can do as a complete fighter.”
Wade isn’t looking past his upcoming fight with Khabilov, but he’s certainly not shying away from any of the other big attractions in the division. He’s called out both Sage Northcutt and Conor McGregor at various points in hopes of talking himself into what many would consider a “big-money” fight.
“I saw that he [Northcutt] was getting a really nice push, everyone saw it,” Wade said. “He has hype behind him and people were paying attention to him more so than anyone else. It’s about where the eyes are and that’s what’s going to get you to another point in this game.”
However, since Northcutt’s recent defeat at the hands of Bryan Barberena at UFC on Fox 18, Wade’s tune has slightly changed about the young fighter.
“I wouldn’t want that fight anymore. We saw what happened,” Wade said. “He’s still young and it changes things. Had he won that fight, it would be something different but I need to keep moving forward with what is in front of me.”
“These are business moves and if guys don’t want to make them, someone is going to take that opportunity,” Wade said. “It was a very short time frame and many guys won’t jump in on a short notice. I know I was behind a few people. I just wanted to let them know I will fight someone on short notice. I had just as good as a chance as anyone.”
That’s an important stance for Wade in the UFC and mixed martial arts as a whole. The sport is changing into a world in which fighters who are more willing to promote themselves are creating opportunities outside the reach of those not willing to speak up. Entertainment value is slowly eclipsing fight value and Wade sounds like he’s ready to take advantage of anything thrown his way. And as fighters such as Benson Henderson, Josh Thomson, and others lead the way in MMA free agency, Wade understands the importance of that movement.
“I think that it’s great for the fighters to have more options, to potentially make a living in in their craft,” Wade said. “You have the UFC or you can’t make a living. To see that change and to see that people are able to do well in other places it just means it will be better for other people.”
The legalization of mixed martial arts in New York is another development that plays into the growth of opportunities for fighters outside of the UFC. Wade was excited to hear that the sport is finally sanctioned in his home state, and he is looking forward to the chance to fight in front of the hometown crowd.
“This is huge, this is going to change fighting and mixed martial arts period. On a global scale. You don’t realize the gravity of it when it first happens,” Wade said. “This is a major moment and I want to be a part of it. I want on that first New York card. I don’t care, bring me somebody. I’ll go.”
But before that opportunity comes to fruition, Wade must first get past Khabilov in May. This is an important chance for Wade to cement himself as a lightweight to watch for the rest of 2016 and beyond, as the division readies itself for the next wave of challengers to chase the title.
UFC Fight Night 87
• Chris Wade vs. Rustam Khabilov
Click the stars to rate your anticipation for this fight.
UFC Fight Night 87: Overeem vs. Arlovski takes place on May 8, 2016 at Ahoy Rotterdam in Rotterdam, Netherlands.