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Chris Kelades: Under the Radar No Longer

"So what’s the next one going to be like? I’m just going to get in the gym, get better, and hopefully do it good enough to get another bonus." - Chris Kelades

The 23-year-old Chris Kelades probably would have agreed to a fight with heavyweight champion Cain Velasquez on less than a week’s notice, but the 33-year-old version knows better, so while he craved a shot at the elite in the UFC, he wasn’t about to give up any advantages by jumping up from flyweight to get one.

That doesn’t mean it was easy.

“I’m telling you right now, the hardest thing I ever had to do was to say no, because you dream about having that opportunity your whole fighting career, and then you’re sitting there with the opportunity for someone to throw your name in the hat with a good opportunity to fight, and you’re gonna say no,” Kelades said. “You kind of feel like ‘what am I doing?’ and I actually did that twice.”

What he did was respectfully turn down late-notice UFC fights at bantamweight, including one where he would step in for Rob Font last Saturday in his home province of Nova Scotia against Mitch Gagnon.

“I’ve got the attitude that I will fight anyone, anytime, anyplace, but I’m not stupid either,” he laughs. “I was doing the math in my head and not coming in with a very good number for me, so I said no to that one too.”

Less than a day later though, the poker-faced negotiator got presented with a fastball right down the middle of the plate. This time, he swung for the fences.

“It was like winning the lottery. That was the fight that I waiting for.”

The fight was on last weekend’s Halifax card, at flyweight, against Ireland’s Paddy Holohan, whose original opponent, Louis Gaudinot, took ill and was forced off the card. It was everything coming together at the perfect time for Kelades, and he jumped on it.

Five days and 15 minutes later, Kelades was 1-0 in the UFC and he had a Fight of the Night bonus to go along with his paycheck after his stirring three-round decision win over the previously unbeaten Holohan. It wasn’t easy though, as he had to survive a rough first round to get to the finish line. So what went through his mind as he dealt with a tough five-minute start to his UFC career?

“Just to not let that happen again,” he laughs. “That first round was me starting late and not pulling the trigger like I needed to. Usually I like to tell myself, ‘think about what you’re gonna do for the first 30 seconds to a minute, and then everything just goes on autopilot.’ This one, it was getting used to it for the whole round, and once the second and third came, it was autopilot and I didn’t have to think and the body just took over. But it took me a while to kick into that gear.”

Once he did though, the crowd that erupted from the moment he left the locker room at Scotiabank Centre got even louder. It was a Hollywood story of epic proportions, and one made even better knowing that before he got the fight, Kelades was at a crossroads in his fighting life, despite his stellar 7-1 pre-UFC slate.

“I told my wife that everything in my life has been coming to a head in the last two months where it was a s**t or get off the pot kind of thing,” he said. “You’ve really got to pick something and figure some things out. And I was like ‘if something doesn’t happen before Christmas, I don’t know what I’m gonna do.’ But three’s the charm.”

It was, and now he’s confident that he made the right call in waiting for the best opportunity.

“I think it has to do with maturity and just being realistic with who you are as a fighter too,” Kelades said. “A lot of guys are so full of piss and vinegar that they can’t really look at it from an objective standpoint and be critical about it, and you have to.”

Yet despite all the madness of the first week in the UFC, with a major weight cut, paperwork, interviews, and everything else, Kelades showed off plenty of fighting spirit before the bout when it came to gamesmanship with Holohan. The Canadian says it wasn’t planned, but at the same time, he wasn’t going to be a shrinking violet under the lights either.

“I don’t want to say it was a plan, but the more that he talked to me and opened himself up to me, I could tell by his body language how it was affecting him,” Kelades said. “I was thinking ‘this guy’s really getting amped up when we talk about this stuff, and it’s hitting a nerve.’ I guess he didn’t like some of the things I said in the paper, but I wasn’t disrespectful. This is the fight game, we’re both there to beat each other up and that’s basically what I said. He didn’t like that aspect and he said he felt disrespected. Maybe that was him trying to play games with me, but once I saw how amped up he would get, I was thinking ‘well, I’m going to use this to my advantage because if he gets to fighting emotionally, that’s what I’m going to use to exploit him.’”

Whether it worked or not, only Holohan knows, but the end result was still a win for Kelades and a bright future in a wide open division. But how can he possibly top the rollercoaster ride that ended with a win in the sport’s biggest promotion in his home province and a life-changing bonus check?

“That’s a good question,” he laughs. “So what’s the next one going to be like? I’m just going to get in the gym, get better, and hopefully do it good enough to get another bonus. It’s going to take me a while to top this, but it’s may be nice to actually fly under the radar a little bit and go get a fight under my belt again.”

Under the radar? Not a chance.