Top prospect Losene Keita explains turning down multiple offers from UFC, PFL: ‘I know my worth’

It’s not often a regional fighter declines multiple UFC offers, but that’s exactly what top prospect Losene Keita did before signing a new deal to stay with Europe-based promotion Oktagon MMA.

The 26-year-old fighter, who moved to Belgium from Guinea when he was just a boy, always dreamed of shining under the brightest lights in the UFC. It’s a fantasy he still hopes to fulfill one day, but Keita just didn’t feel the time was right when the UFC came calling.

“Oktagon is like a home for me,” Keita told MMA Fighting. “Oktagon gave me a lot of chances and the fans love me and I’m very popular there. For me, the UFC was my first option, but I’m like, why should I leave my home to go somewhere else?

“I’m 26 years old, I have a good record, I’m still learning everyday. I can still have a lot of experience before going to the UFC. I never say the UFC dream is done, but for me, Oktagon is now my home and I’m happy there.”

Keita admits it’s impossible for money not to play some part in where he fights, but it’s not the only factor in his decision to stick with Oktagon over the UFC. While he certainly appreciates that the UFC sees him as an asset worth multiple offers, Keita felt like Oktagon really understood his value to the organization.

Keita is currently the featherweight and lightweight champion of Oktagon.

“[UFC tried to sign me] three times already,” Keita revealed. “It doesn’t happen, but I don’t think a lot of fighters are in my shoes. That’s why it doesn’t happen [very often]. I’m getting paid and I’m getting paid well in Oktagon. I am one of the biggest stars there.

“Going to the UFC, fighting for $12,000 [to show] and $12,000 [to win] or $15,000 and $15,000 is crazy. I know the UFC is the biggest organization and I know my worth. In Oktagon, they know my worth, they respect my worth. That’s it.”

Perhaps the closest example of another athlete opting for a route similar to the one Keita travels now is current UFC star Paddy Pimblett, who also turned down multiple offers from the promotion before finally signing there as a free agent in 2021.

Pimblett openly stated that he wanted more time to develop his game and feel truly ready for the competition he’d face in the UFC. The decision seemed to work out well for him; Pimblett is undefeated in five UFC appearances and has become one of the promotion’s biggest names over the past couple of years.

Keita understands the comparisons he’ll get to Pimblett because they both passed on UFC offers, but he promises they couldn’t be further apart outside of that lone similarity.

“I know if I go to the UFC, I don’t want to be a contender. I want to be the champ,” Keita said. “I want to be a double champion in the UFC. It’s not the time yet to go to the UFC. I’m learning everyday. I’ve been six or seven years in MMA, I’m still young, so now is not the time. Also, financially, it’s not the time.

“I’m not arrogant but I’m confident. I can be in the UFC right now and be in the top 10. Paddy, I could beat him in the first round right now actually. I’m ready [for the UFC]. The first time [UFC reached out], they gave me an opponent, I already had the date, everything, but financially I feel great in Oktagon, it’s my home. I walk on the street and everybody knows me. I go to the UFC, I’m nobody there yet. I know that can change quick, but I’m attached to the fans of Oktagon so I don’t want to change that yet.”

Keita says he also passed on an offer from PFL to join the company’s featherweight season, where eight fighters compete for the chance to win a $1 million grand prize.

As much as he appreciates the interest, Keita commends Oktagon for putting up that same amount of money for their own lightweight tournament, which goes down Saturday in Germany. Keita is, of course, a part of that tournament.

“The most interesting one was actually PFL, because PFL wanted me in the $1 million featherweight tournament,” Keita explained. “It’s a great deal actually. But I said I can win a million there or I can win a million here, but one place I’m home and one other place I’m not home.”

Keita knows there’s risk attached to staying in Oktagon rather than just taking the offer to join the UFC. He already faced that kind of adversity in his only professional loss after Keita broke his leg in a fight back in July 2023, which serves as the only defeat on his record.

He bounced back rather quickly with a knockout win this past December, and now Keita is laser focused on the lightweight tournament starting for him on Saturday.

Keita expects the UFC will eventually seek him out again, and if the time is right, he’ll obviously listen to the offer. But for now, he’s happy hearing his name being chanted by 20,000 rabid fans closer to home.

“Imagine a kid from the street, walking into an arena with 20,000 people screaming your name. It’s crazy,” Keita said. “So imagine going to PFL now and I need to walk out and nobody knows me. I know I can change that around quickly, but I don’t want to do that to the fans.

“Every time I see the fans chanting my name, there’s just a feeling walking into the arena with 20,000 people screaming your name, it’s just crazy.”

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