British welterweight Michael Page looks like he would be a sponsor's dream.
Page, 27, is charismatic, intelligent and pretty marvelous to watch fight. He has been dubbed the "British Anderson Silva" amongst some circuits, due to his unique striking style in which he carries his hands at his hips.
In his most recent fight, a first-round TKO over Ricky Rainey at Bellator 120 in May, he purposefully looked away from Rainey and into the crowd during exchanges. Just because.
And yet, Page (6-0), who fights Nah-Shon Burrell on Friday in Thackerville, Oklahoma, says a major sponsorship deal has eluded him thus far. He believes he knows why. As much fun as his style is, it worries potential investors.
"It's weird, because my style carries some backlash," Page told ESPN.com. "A lot of people are like, 'Yeah, you look amazing,' but they query how long I'm going to last. I think everyone is at that point with me. Sponsors say, 'We like you and want to spend money on you, but we don't know if you'll last.'"
It does feel like, sooner or later, Page's tendency to showboat, dance and "play" in the cage will cost him. He's not the first fighter in the world to compete with his hands down and he certainly wouldn't be the first to pay for it. Sticking with the Anderson Silva reference, just remember what happened to the former UFC middleweight champion when he dropped his hands against Chris Weidman in July 2013.
Page, however, has always said that if that day comes, he'll still come out in his next bout hands down -- even if it does mean certain sponsors won't take a shot on him.
"I'm not going to change anything," Page said. "I'm more about enjoying myself and putting on a show. There are different ways of putting on a show. Some guys lose, but because they attract a crowd and run their mouth, they still draw sponsorships. I believe my fighting style speaks very loud and I'm going to continue doing what I'm doing."
Enjoyment has always been big for Page. It was a lack of it that forced him to drop his first love: freestyle kickboxing.
After getting his start in martial arts at 3 years old, Page became something of a prodigy in freestyle kickboxing, which operates on a semi-contact, points-based system. Its tournaments are configured similar to wrestling, with multiple matches occurring at the same time in one venue.
As much pride as Page has in his original discipline, there is much about it he hates. In his view, politics between various associations and a lack of big-picture promoters have severely limited the sport's growth.
For years, Page cultivated a rivalry with American kickboxer Raymond Daniels, who now competes for Glory World Series. According to Page, the rivalry was something that, "everybody in the room would turn and watch."
No money was ever made on it, however -- at least none that Page saw. His experience was similar to many amateur combat athletes in that he spent far more money competing in freestyle kickboxing than he ever made.
In 2010, after being declared the loser in a match in Ireland against Daniels that he thought he won, Page planned his exit from the sport.
"I don't feel like there are a lot of business-minded people in the sport," Page said. "They're happy to make a quick buck and that's it. I'm used to being treated badly in kickboxing and then I come [to MMA] and they pay for you to fly over to partake in shows. When I qualified for the England [kickboxing] team, I had to pay to fly to Italy to represent my own country.
"I was getting sucked into politics because of the level I was fighting at. The different associations arguing among themselves. I got to a final in Ireland in 2010. [Daniels] was being treated very differently than I was. Everything was paid for him. After that, I said, 'I don't want to do this anymore.' That was one of my last fights. I was part of the team, so we had a couple team events but individual, that was about it. I just stopped going."
The following year, Page started going to MMA training at London Shootfighters. His first day there was jiu-jitsu practice, something he had never done. He did the best he could and promptly "got destroyed" by everyone he went with.
After the session, coach Alexis Demetriades approached Page.
"He saw me doing ground work, absolutely terribly, and asked me if I had done anything else because I had good instincts on the ground," Page said. "He said, 'As much as you don't know what you're doing, you have good instincts.' That's when I explained to him who I was and that's where the relationship started really."
A strong level of trust has been built between Page and Demetriades since. The 27-year-old fighter says he leaves his career completely in the hands of his coaches -- which should get interesting if he continues to win. Bellator MMA already thought highly enough of Page to have him open their first pay-per-view main card.
Page believes he is about "70 percent" of the fighter he needs to be to challenge top-tier welterweights. The last 30 percent, he says, will be the most difficult, but he's confident in his approach.
And despite what any potential sponsor may think, he believes he's in MMA for the long haul.
"You do the work and all of a sudden everything will click," Page said. "I want to make sure that last 30 percent is covered, and then I'll go for any title and fight anybody.
"For me, the decision to move [from kickboxing] was a big thing. For me to spend so many years in a sport that was treating me like crap shows my dedication. And this sport [MMA] is treating me real nice, so I'm definitely going to be here a long time and show my support back to MMA and the fans."