Brendan O’Reilly still has his old rodeo gear, and he probably has his moments of looking longingly at it, but these days, it’s all about fighting for the Brisbane product, whose thoughts of riding again took a backseat – perhaps permanently – when he received a UFC contract.
“I was talking about getting back into it when I got contacted by (UFC matchmaker) Joe Silva and got my UFC contract,” he laughs. “That kind of put everything on hold a little bit. I think my days of competing in rodeos are done now and I’m putting all my energy and all my efforts into being a UFC fighter.”
The time is certainly ripe for the 27-year-old to make his move. A veteran of the Ultimate Fighter Nations series, O’Reilly may be coming off the first loss of his professional career against Zhang Lipeng last August, but this Saturday he returns – in his home country no less – to face fellow Aussie and TUF Nations teammate Vik Grujic. It’s a fight that has gotten the folks Down Under pretty excited, as they’ve campaigned to get the bout elevated to the main card in Adelaide, and that kind of support means a lot to the “Badger.”
“It’s great to have that support from the fans and it’s something I really love,” he said. “I have an amazing fan base and I’m thankful for that. Everyone out there knows that Vik and I are gonna put on an awesome fight for the fans, so I think everyone’s excited to see it.”
O’Reilly is even more excited to put the Zhang fight in the past, especially since he is now back at 170 pounds and not in the lightweight division he tested out in his last bout.
“Obviously, the last fight I did my best under the circumstances,” he said. “I had a few things go wrong with my weight cut, but I still met my obligations and made weight and went in there and did the best I could, but it was far from a performance I was happy with. As far as this fight goes, I guess you could say it feels like a bit of a fresh start. I moved up a weight division, I’m feeling strong, I’m feeling sharp and feeling excited to fight in front of my home country and put on a great performance and show them why I’m in the UFC. All I want to do is put on a great fight and create a legacy where the fans want to watch me fight.”
As for facing some of the welterweight division’s monsters while only standing at 5-foot-7, he’s not concerned. In fact, he takes inspiration from some of his peers who may not be giants height-wise, but who are making an impact in one of the sport’s most competitive weight classes.
“Obviously there are a lot of people around giving different advice, and I probably listened to some people saying that for my size I should be at 155,” he said. “But I’ve always been a thick-set fighter and I’ve always had that as an advantage and I guess I forgot that and went away from that. I look up to guys with similar builds, guys like Johny Hendricks and Tyron Woodley and those sort of guys, and I see their success at 170, and I know I can do the same. So I think this is the weight division I’ll be sticking at.”
Some would call that a fearless attitude, and O’Reilly wouldn’t necessarily disagree, as anyone who could ride for eight seconds on a horse in a rodeo without getting thrown has very little fear in his heart. So how good was O’Reilly?
“I was okay,” he laughs. “When I was at college, I got to the National College finals, but back in those days I had a bit more of a wild man side and I didn’t take it as professionally as I could have. I did it just to challenge myself. Since coming over to MMA I’m a lot more professional about my fighting and my career as an athlete than I was about being a rodeo cowboy.”
That doesn’t mean he hasn’t taken several lessons from those days that he can apply to life in MMA.
“I think I can relate a lot of it to my fighting,” O’Reilly said. “If you’re smart and you know what you’re doing, it’s not that dangerous. It’s about being confident and professional in what you do and that was what I doing with my horse work. Crossing over into MMA, I want to be as professional as I can be and cover all bases, and it makes it a lot safer.”
At least on Saturday Grujic isn’t going to throw him and possibly step on his head.
“Yeah, I guess it’s got its danger factor,” O’Reilly said of the rodeo life. “But that taught me to handle pressure as well too, which I’m also bringing over to my UFC career.”
Notice he said career. Yes, rodeo world, your loss is MMA’s gain, and Brendan O’Reilly already knows what kind of career he wants in the Octagon.
“I hope people just take away that I’m a guy that turns up every time to fight as hard as I can and puts on a great show for them.”