Before throwing out the ceremonial first pitch at Wrigley Field on Wednesday afternoon, Islip’s Chris Wade declined to wear the Cubs hat he was given, electing to don a cap made by Island Strong, a Long Island-based apparel brand he co-founded.
There were two factors behind the mixed martial artist’s decision.
First: the die-hard Mets fan wasn’t planning on rocking another team’s regalia, regardless of occasion.
Second: Wade wasn’t concerned that promoting the wrong headwear could hurt his bottom line, at least not anymore.
“I just got some Island Strong exposure, some great content and nobody’s fining me,” Wade told Newsday after the first pitch.
Wade (12-3) earned the “bucket list” opportunity at Wrigley to promote his Professional Fighters League debut at PFL 2 on Thursday in Chicago, where he’ll face Natan Schulte (11-3) in Wade’s first fight since parting with the UFC last year.
“Just to be able to get on Wrigley Field while the fans are there and experience that, then to throw the first pitch, it was really, really cool,” Wade said. “I’m a big baseball fan and that’s a moment right there.”
Wade, 30, was thankful to PFL leadership for making the moment happen, a feeling he didn’t often seem to have with his old bosses in the UFC. Wade’s split from the promotion was preceded by contentious negotiations and claims of mistreatment made by Wade, who doesn’t withhold his feelings on his employer.
“It’s been awesome,” said Wade of joining PFL for its inaugural season. “They seem to be about the fighters. Everything seems to be in lockstep with the way they format the fight week in the UFC, but they’re just really accommodating and nice to everybody.”
During his time in the UFC, Wade was 5-2 with a pair of first-round submissions. He also criticized how the promotion scheduled bouts, the company’s exclusive apparel deal with Reebok and the manner in which fighters earned their way to the top of their divisions, relying on UFC matchmakers with little control of their own situation or schedule. He last fought at the UFC’s Long Island debut last July, winning a unanimous decision over Frankie Perez at NYCB Live’s Nassau Coliseum. But by the end of 2017, Wade was a free agent. In March, he found a new home with PFL ahead of its first season, which began earlier this month at the Hulu Theater at Madison Square Garden.
In PFL, fighters earn their way to a playoff tournament through a points system which incentivizes finishing the fight early, then fight their way through an eight-man bracket.
That’s right up Wade’s alley.
“This format is the format that’s for me and it’s the format for all fighters moving forward. It’s time to stop . . . not knowing when to be ready, being forced to train hard the whole year, 365 days a year cause you just don’t know if they’re going to even call your phone,” Wade said. “Now we know when the season is, we know when the season wraps up, we know when we can take our family on a little bit of a vacation and relax for a little bit.”
Wade believes these are basic rights for anyone, let alone a professional fighter.
“You deserve to know when you’re going to be competing, within reason. You deserve to know when you’re going to be off so you can enjoy time with your family,” said Wade. “Those other guys don’t care about anybody but themselves. They don’t care if you have to be ready all year long, breaking your body down and not getting paid just in case you get a phone call. You know where I stand with them.”
PFL’s strongest attribute, Wade believes, is having two fights guaranteed each regular season, which allows for some financial security and flexibility.
“It’s the most crucial element to the whole thing. I have a family, I own a home on Long Island, I’m not playing games with people or begging people to give me fights when I’m winning fights,” Wade said. “Now I know when I’m going to compete and I know when my family’s going to be taken care of.”