For Nate Andrews (15-1), it was always about making it to the UFC.
Andrews, 35, was a fan of mixed martial arts – and the UFC – long before he eventually began fighting professionally.
“I’ve always been a fan of MMA, so I used to watch it all the time on TV,” Andrews told The Body Lock. “I found out a friend of mine was already training and fighting, so I had seen him out and, you know, asked him about the gym he was training at, and then I decided to train in there.”
When Andrews, who had idolized such greats as Georges St. Pierre, Anderson Silva, and others, decided to turn pro, he did so under the Classic Sports and Entertainment (CES) MMA banner, a hallmark promotion of New England MMA.
Andrews fought all of his sixteen professional bouts as a CES fighter, amassing a 15-1 record and earning and defending the organization’s lightweight title in the process. The Rhode Islander had nothing but good things to say about the promotion.
“CES is a great promotion. I chose to fight for them, you know, it was great fighting, you know, in your own backyard,” said Andrews.
Particularly, Andrews liked that by fighting for CES, he’d be able to compete in front of a large audience.
“They got the deal with AXS TV, so that made it even better; to fight live on TV, and then when they switched from AXS to UFC Fight Pass, it was still getting that, you know, that publicity that you’re looking for, instead of fighting on, like, just smaller region shows.”
No call from the UFC
But as Nate Andrews progressed farther into his career, racking up wins – and finishes, to boot – he began to think more and more about fighting for the UFC, the promotion he had so often watched his idols compete in on television. With a record like his, Andrews thought, and the exciting nature of his fights, he was a shoo-in for the Octagon.
After submitting Bryce Logan (10-4) to defend his title at CES 54 in January, Andrews made his case to UFC president Dana White in his post-fight interview:
“Dana White, UFC: Give me my contract. I earned it. I’m 15-1 with 15 finishes. Nobody on your roster has that. Give me my shot. Give me my chance at the 155 division. And I promise you I will continue to keep doing the same thing I do in the CES cage. And that’s come out, perform, finish fights, and hype the crowd up.”
Yet, for whatever reason, the UFC never came calling. Despite the inherent frustration and disappointment of not getting the nod, Andrews is taking the decision in stride.
“Well, you know, some things just don’t happen for a reason, you know what I mean? I just look at it like that,” said Andrews. “I feel like I should have been in the UFC a while ago; I guess the opportunity just never came across.”
More importantly, says Andrews, is that another opportunity did: the Professional Fighters League (PFL).
Nate Andrews’ new home
Last year, the PFL took the MMA world by storm in their first full year as a promotion. Formerly known as the World Series of Fighting (WSOF), the organization re-branded in a big way, shifting its focus towards a more “sport-like” system.
The PFL, like leagues such as the NBA, NFL, and MLB, has a regular season. During the regular season, the fighters in each weight class fight for the chance to rack up points that give them a higher seeding for the post-season. A win gives a fighter three points, and extra points are allotted for finishes in the first (3 extra points), second (2 extra points), and third (1 extra point) rounds.
After the regular season, the fighters are placed into a seeded tournament a la March Madness, where they compete for the final prize, $1 million dollars.
Andrews, who is an avid MMA fan, quickly took notice of the PFL.
“I used to watch World Series of Fighting, and then I heard about them changing the platform, well, changing the name of the company; the style of how they do things. I watched some of last season’s fights, and, you know, I was pretty interested in the promotion,” said Andrews.
One of the PFL’s major attractions is that million-dollar prize at the end of the season, and that isn’t lost on Nate Andrews.
“Well, you know, the main thing is getting the chance to fight for some good money, you know what I mean? That stood out as soon as I got the offer. The opportunity to make some good money was definitely the main thing that stood out. I think the tournament style is really cool; I like it, but the main thing was definitely the opportunity to make a million dollars.
Of course, should Andrews take home the marquee prize, he’s already got a plan as to what he’d do with the money.
“I would definitely invest, and the main thing is definitely taking care of my family; taking care of my son. I’m not a homeowner yet, so that would definitely being one of the main things that would be taking place, would be buying a home.”
Perfect for PFL
For Nate Andrews, signing with PFL over the UFC might well be a blessing in disguise. Andrews pointed to the promotion’s emphasis on meritocracy, a sticking point for the CES veteran, who believes the UFC’s decision not to sign him was unfounded.
A tried-and-true finisher, Andrews believes his ability to score quick, dominant finishes could bode well for him as far as picking up extra points during the regular season.
“My style is definitely built for the style of [PFL’s] format because, like you said, I am a finisher. I don’t go out there and get crazy risky and take crazy risks to get finishes, but I do what I need to do, and once that opportunity arises, I hop all over it. I’m not hesitant when I can tell somebody’s hurt, or when somebody gets themselves in a bad spot to hop all over submissions.
I think [PFL] is really tailored to my style of fighting.”
But before that tournament even comes into play, Andrews will need to earn enough points to qualify for it. The first opponent standing in his way is sure to make that a difficult test, as Andrews faces UFC veteran Chris Wade (14-5) in his PFL debut.
Wade, 31, could be considered Andrews’ stiffest competition to date. The Illinois native signed with the UFC back in 2014 following an impressive 7-1 start to his career.
Wade, despite going 5-2 in the UFC and winning his last fight with the promotion, was released in 2017.
Like Andrews, Wade found solace in the PFL. Last season, he fought four times with the promotion, going 2-2 in the inaugural season. Both of Wade’s losses were to eventual tournament winner Natan Schulte, a sign of Wade’s top tier ability.
Andrews is taking the 2018 semi-finalist seriously, but he thinks he has what it takes to get the job done.
“My thoughts on Chris Wade are: he’s a tough fighter. Like you said, he is a veteran; he’s been around for a little while, but he has a lot of holes in his game. He’s not as talented as people think he is. You know, he has a good wrestling background, but he doesn’t really use it as much as he did early in his career.
I just see him having a really hard time with my reach and with my striking, and I see him starting to get desperate and having to revert back into his wrestling, and that’s where he’s gonna fall into my world in terms of submissions that he’s not going to really be ready to handle.”
Andrews pictures himself scoring an additional two or three points with a quick submission.
“I have a feeling he’s gotta come out really tough in the first round, really aggressive. I’m just gonna have to feel him out at first, not try to like I said, not rush into anything. Get my timing down. He’s going to have a hard time with my striking. So it’s either going to be – he’s going to get really clipped really bad in the first round striking, or he’s going to realize that he can’t strike with me.
That’s when he’s gonna try to revert into his wrestling, and I see myself at that point winning by submission, I’d say late first round, early second.”
As for what the future holds for Nate Andrews, he isn’t 100% certain. But, he says, he’s entirely focused on making the present the best it can be.
“I don’t know what the future holds for me with what companies, or whatever, but my plan is to make my mark here in PFL. If I’m here the rest of my career, I’m happy here the rest of my career. If bigger opportunities arise after this, if opportunities knock on the door, those are definitely things I would hop all over, but my main focus right now is winning these next five fights that I have and becoming a millionaire and becoming the PFL lightweight champion.”
Michael Fiedel is The Body Lock's deputy editor, a staff writer for FloCombat, and a Russell-Rice scholarship recipient at Vanderbilt University.