Moments after dispatching late replacement opponent Alex Reyes via first-round knockout in the co-main event of UFC Fight Night 116, Mike Perry started strutting around the cage like a rooster.
Perry put his hands on his hips, flapped his arms like wings and worked his neck back and forth in an exaggerated chicken dance. His feet scratched at the canvas—like a proud yardbird throwing seed—and then he let loose a maniacal laugh.
The message—that the 26-year-old is rapidly becoming the cock of the walk at welterweight—was obvious. For its sheer weirdness, the gesture was also pure Platinum Perry. UFC fans have become accustomed to his non sequiturs since he arrived in the Octagon in August 2016.
Ben Fowlkes @benfowlkesMMA
It's like Mike Perry's whole career is an audition to be the comedic bully in a Ben Stiller movie. https://t.co/4n1DIUDJTd2017-9-17 04:20:30
In just a bit more than a year, the hard-swinging Perry has established himself as the sort of 170-pound knockout out artist people either love or love to hate. The rooster strut was a new wrinkle, but Perry has been putting on bizarre shows and ruffling feathers—no pun intended—each step of the way to his 4-1 promotional record.
After blowing through Reyes in just one minute, 19 seconds, he let it be known he's ready for a step-up in competition.
"I'll give you a name right now because I know you're gonna ask," Perry told UFC play-by-play announcer Jon Anik in the cage. "Everybody wants to see me beat up Robbie Lawler."
This suggestion drew cheers from the announced crowd of 7,005 at PPG Paints Arena in Pittsburgh. Maybe there were a few groans mixed in there too. For audacity, the callout was also classic Perry since on its face a matchup between him and Lawler makes no sense.
But you know what? It's so outrageous it just might work.
The UFC needs all the sizzle it can get as it prepares to close out its relatively underwhelming 2017 slate with 13 events in 15 weeks. Lawler is a borderline legend among hardcore fans and Perry—whatever he is—has done all he can in a short period to make himself stand out amid the company's endless parade of cookie-cutter fighters.
Everything about Perry is in some way performative—from his gaudy collection of tattoos to Saturday's over-gelled mohawk to his deliberate and theatrical way of speaking. Even his fighting style is like something drawn up at UFC central casting.
RJ Clifford @RJcliffordMMA
Mike Perry has "God's Gift" tattooed on his stomach and that's only like the fourth worst tattoo on his body.2017-9-17 05:12:21
Not all of the press he's earned has been the good kind. Some of it has been ugly even by the low, low standards of professional cage fighting. Prior to his UFC debut against Hyun Gyu Lim at UFC 202, Perry's cornermen were caught on tape making racial comments about Lim. Later, a picture emerged online of Perry in blackface.
As Bleacher Report's Jonathan Snowden wrote in April, UFC fans have wrestled with Perry's presence in the company. His victories inside the Octagon have been electrifying. Outside of it, he seems like major league trash. As Snowden wrote:
"It goes without saying that none of the above passes for acceptable behavior. Frankly, it's more than a little disgusting. Perry is gross, unstable and probably not fit for polite company. If you wanted to picket UFC for employing a man like this, no matter how good he is at his job, I wouldn't be opposed. As a human being, Perry is an anathema, rightly shunned by decent folks. As the purveyor of violence inside a steel cage, however, he's exactly what I want to see. That's a thought that troubles me."
Put more simply: People would tune in to see Perry fight Lawler, either to watch Perry get some comeuppance from one of the organization's most popular fighters or just because the bout itself would be stylistically bonkers.
Lawler has been having slugfests in the UFC since a few months before Perry's 11th birthday back in 2002. His unlikely rise to the welterweight championship in 2014—after pit stops in organizations like Strikeforce and EliteXC—earned him MMA immortality. Even before that, his hard-nosed style had lodged him squarely in the hearts of fans.
As a fighter, Perry exhibits the same mindset. He has only one speed, he moves only forward, taking as many punches as he must in order to uncork his jaw-jacking right hand.
Putting him in the cage with Lawler would be like lighting a stick of dynamite and tossing it over the Octagon fence. Plus, Perry's peculiar antics juxtaposed with Lawler's stone-cold, monotone media presence would be just the kind of weird MMA fans tend to gravitate toward.
If Perry won, it would make him as a legitimate contender at 170 pounds. If he lost, it would most likely be because Lawler had done something terrible to him. From a promotional standpoint, that's a win-win—and may well be enough to outweigh the drawbacks.
Chief among those detractions is that, while Perry has been an outlandish presence, he hasn't done anything to earn a bout with a fighter the caliber of Lawler.
Perry came into the Reyes fight unranked in the welterweight division and just one fight removed from a unanimous-decision loss to Alan Jouban in December 2016. He was supposed to fight Thiago Alves on Saturday before Alves pulled out for undisclosed reasons.
Reyes, a natural lightweight, made his UFC debut on just a few days' notice and against one of the hardest punchers at welterweight. It wasn't the sort of fight he was going to win or the kind of matchup that was going to elevate Perry's standing at 170 pounds.
But it was fun while it lasted.
Reyes moved well and landed a leg kick or two before Perry tracked him down near the fence, roughnecked him in the clinch and landed a knee to the face that ended the night for his smaller opponent.
It went just as Perry might have drawn it up—and the KO earned him one of the UFC's $50,000 performance-based bonuses—but it didn't mean much.
Lawler, meanwhile, is a former champion and a perennial top-of-the-food-chain performer. He's ranked as the No. 1 contender at 170 pounds and, in July, defeated Donald Cerrone via unanimous decision on the stacked UFC 214 pay-per-view card.
Perry's biggest win to date in the UFC was his second-round KO of Jake Ellenberger in April, but he's never fought someone with the profile or the skill set of Lawler.
Perhaps it's time that changed?
If anybody can stop the chicken dance, it's going to be somebody like Robbie Lawler.