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Thomson on UFC departure: 'I treated this like a business'

Lightweight Josh Thomson left the UFC to sign with Bellator. Jeff Bottari/Getty Images

Josh Thomson isn't trying to create headlines or cause drama between his former and current employers.

He's simply conducting business.

Thomson (20-8) recently announced he had signed a multifight deal with Bellator MMA, ending a four-fight run with the UFC. The announcement created a bit of a stir, as UFC president Dana White told MMAFighting.com the UFC had opted not to re-sign Thomson and effectively released him. Thomson stated he purposefully finished out his contract despite multiple attempts by the UFC to re-sign him, in order to test the free market.

These aren't marketing tools or an effort to make the UFC look bad, Thomson says. It's just what happened. Thomson says he's grateful for the time he spent in the UFC, but he didn't like their offers to extend his contract.

"I think people sometimes get the feeling that you're taking a dig at the UFC when you're stating facts," Thomson told ESPN.com. "You don't need to put another organization down to make your organization look better.

"I was offered a contract extension [two fights ago]. They wanted to re-up me then, and I declined. I wasn't very happy with the numbers. After my next fight [a split decision loss to Bobby Green in July 2014], they came back and offered another contract and even upped the pay a little. I still declined. I was willing to go ahead and fight out my contract. I don't have a problem with the UFC. They run their business. I treated this like a business negotiation."

Thomson declined to discuss specific details regarding his Bellator deal, but said it has the potential to be the most lucrative deal of his career "by far." He said the UFC's extension offer would have increased his pay through incentives, but would have actually lowered his "show money," which didn't sit well with him. He says he was attracted to the stability the Bellator deal offered.

Additionally, the UFC's recent apparel deal with Reebok affected Thomson's decision. Per the deal, UFC athletes are not allowed to wear individual sponsors into the Octagon, which prevents them from making significant sponsorship dollars per fight. The Reebok deal pays athletes to wear Reebok, but not nearly as much as some were making.

In his last fight, a decision loss to Tony Ferguson on July 15, Thomson fell into the second tier of the Reebok deal, which pays $5,000. Prior to the Ferguson fight, Thomson stated he was making between $60,000 and $80,000 in sponsors.

Based on those figures alone, Thomson believes the UFC wouldn't have even been able to exercise its right to match Bellator's offer, a right that is relatively standard in fighter contracts.

"My understanding is that we have to wear Reebok with the UFC," Thomson said. "There's no other option. Well, you get paid to wear Reebok but you only get paid in their program, whatever their pay scale is. I took my negotiations over to Bellator, where there is no sponsorship tax, so my sponsors can sponsor me directly.

"So, if I have a company that is sponsoring me for $20,000 per fight, my sponsors aren't getting taxed by Bellator, which is more money in my pocket. You can't say that the UFC can match that. They just can't."

Again, Thomson isn't taking shots at the UFC's business structure or the Reebok deal. He made that very clear on multiple occasions. Organizations run their operations differently. Bellator was just the right fit for him.

Of course, it didn't hurt matters that Bellator president Scott Coker is a longtime promoter of Thomson's. Coker, former CEO of Strikeforce, brought Thomson in from Pride in 2006 and he fought under the Strikeforce banner until late 2012, when the roster was absorbed into the UFC.

In 2010, Coker helped facilitate an opportunity for Thomson to fight Tatsuya Kawajiri at an overseas event promoted by DREAM. It remains one of the highest paydays of Thomson's career and it wouldn't have materialized without Coker.

"He's taken care of his athletes," Thomson said. "The way he's cross-promoted, and you're seeing it now with the Glory card [on Sept. 19], I was able to fight for Dream and he negotiated that deal for me. It was an amazing deal. He tried to do the best thing for me at that time."

Looking ahead, Thomson doesn't know when he'll make his Bellator debut. He says his eyes are always on the fighters at the top of the promotion, but he doesn't expect he'll jump into lightweight title contention immediately.

Thomson is on a three-fight skid and has only won two of his past seven, but three of those losses came via split decision to Gilbert Melendez, Benson Henderson and Green.

"[Champion] Will Brooks is unbelievable," Thomson said. "He reminds me of a smaller version of Georges St-Pierre. Obviously, the next guy is someone who beat Eddie Alvarez and that's Michael Chandler. Those are the two biggest names. Anytime you sign a contract with a promotion, you're looking to make your way to the top, but I'm not expecting to jump right in and get a title shot.

"I'm excited to be with Bellator. I'm excited about this contract. I'm excited to start working with my sponsors again and see those extra checks coming in. It's good."