Every fighter near the top of his or her division clambers for a championship opportunity.
Well, almost every fighter.
See, Brennan Ward has got Logan Storley, Bellator’s top-ranked contender at 170 pounds, in his sights for the Bellator 298 main event Friday (10 p.m. ET, Showtime) in Sioux Falls, S.D., and a victory over the former interim champion would seem to clear the way for a shot at welterweight champion Yaroslav Amosov.
Ward just isn’t sure that’s truly what he wants.
“I’m gonna be honest with you, dude: I didn’t even want to fight, I still don’t maybe want to fight for the title,” Ward told The Post during a recent Zoom interview. “I’m just taking fights, dude. I’m out for a paycheck.”
That’s not the sort of candor one tends to hear from a fighter in Ward’s position.
But the 35-year-old, who returned to MMA competition for the first time in five years last February, further explains his trepidation with accepting the opportunity with an acknowledgment of all the added “pressure” that comes with increased visibility.
“A lot of pressure comes along with wanting that belt,” Ward says after a breath to gather his thoughts. “All the pressure is what gets to me, dude; all the social media s–t and all this and that. Like, dude, I just want to get a paycheck fight. That’s it. That’s what I’m trying to do.
“I hate having to f–king try to, like, blow up on social media and all that. Core fight fans know who I am, and they know what’s up. So, will I fight for a title, I don’t even know. I don’t know. We’ll see.”
Fighting to support Ward’s growing family — his girlfriend and two young daughters including a baby born in March — is the clear top priority over proving his supremacy at 170 pounds.
So, while expressing doubts over whether Ward (17-6, 16 finishes) wants to deal with all the noise that comes with fighting for a belt, the potential for increased financial compensation could twist his arm.
“If the money was right, I’d do it. I’ll do anything if the money’s right,” said Ward after considering whether he might turn down a title shot if offered. “… I don’t even know if Bellator would want me to be their champ.
“We’ll see what happens ’cause I’m gonna beat Logan. Who knows? They might want me to fight someone else. I can’t see another one in between this and a title [fight]. I can’t see another one. He’s ranked No. 1.”
Ward is 3-0 during his second run in MMA, which comes after he spent years battling addiction that overlapped even some of his biggest success in the sport.
Saying he’s been sober now “for a while,” Ward has reminded those “core” fans he spoke of why the Waterford, Conn., native was such a must-see attraction for Bellator since his arrival as a prospect in 2012.
His last three victories came via second-round TKO, with the most recent started by a head kick and finished with punishing punches to stop Sabah Homasi to kick off the televised portion of Bellator 290 in the promotion’s debut on CBS — the first time the network aired live mixed martial arts since a 2010 Strikeforce event.
Should Ward get through the 30-year-old Storley (14-2, eight finishes), a four-time All-American wrestler at Minnesota who has earned a finish in just two of his last 10 fights — and do so by the knockout he so often achieves and believes he’ll get here — a fight against champion Amasov sure does make a lot of sense, provided he wants it.
Ward suggests “that’d be a good one” to watch if he were to face off against Amasov, the 29-year-old Ukrainian whom Ward says he likes to watch fight.
“He’s real good; super calm, super collected,” Ward says of the champion. “He’s a sportsman, for sure.”
That’s not to say Ward is looking past or isn’t wary of what Storley brings to the table, even as a fighter with some amateur wrestling in his background.
But Ward is confident in the danger his brand of fighting poses to any man who stands across from him in a cage.
Given Ward hasn’t gone the distance since his third pro fight, it’s easy to see where that confidence originates.
“I’m almost positive this fight’s gonna end with me knocking him out, and I think he even knows that. I think even his people know that,” Ward said of Friday’s opponent, who will compete in his home state. “At the same time, he poses the threat of that takedown.
“… If he gets me down, there’s a possibility he could hold me down for a round. But I don’t see him being able to do that for five rounds.”