After fighting three of his five UFC bouts against fine folks from Brazil, with two of those matchups taking place in the South American MMA hotbed, Brian Kelleher is back home in New York and actually taking on a fellow American when he faces Montel Jackson on Saturday’s UFC 230 card in Madison Square Garden.
“It’s nice to not have to go through all that travel for the weight cut,” said Kelleher, who is coming off a May loss to John Lineker in Rio de Janeiro. Instead, he gets to make a short trip from Long Island to NYC to fight in the iconic MSG and that’s a big deal for “Boom,” who won’t really make it a big deal until his career is long over.
“When I was younger I saw a couple Knicks games and my family are big sports fans,” he said. “I’m no longer really following any other sports besides fighting, but when I was a kid, it was an arena I had been to and it’s definitely going to be epic to be able to compete in that arena. I just look at it as just another fight, but when I get to look back in retrospect I think I’ll be able to soak it in and say, ‘Wow, I fought in Madison Square Garden and what an honor it was to do so.’”
Kelleher’s insistence on seeing this as just another fight may be the key to victory should he turn back the challenge of the Milwaukee native, who replaced the injured Domingo Pilarte on short notice. That mindset comes with experience, and with 28 fights under his belt, the 32-year-old Kelleher certainly has that edge over his 6-1 opponent.
“I think experience plays a huge role in many different ways,” he said. “I think you can stay more relaxed, you’ve been under the big lights many more times, and that experience is something that can weigh heavily on you. You can let the pressure and nerves get to you, but if you’ve been through it many times, you know how to handle those nerves and redirect them and turn them into excitement. You know when to stay calm and relaxed throughout the process leading up to big fights, you just try to stay unfazed and I think that’s what experience has done for me.”
View this post on Instagram
So fighting in front of family and friends at home in an arena that has hosted some of the biggest combat sports events in history won’t make the knees shake a little bit?
“I’ve been in so many fights at this point that realistically I know that once I get into the cage, I have no clue where that cage is or what arena I’m fighting in,” Kelleher said. “All I know is that I’m in a fight with someone who’s trying to take my head off. So there’s no time to really be taking it in. Once you’re in there fighting, nothing else exists. I’m aware of that, and that’s something that takes a little of the pressure off and makes it easier to deal with all the other extra stuff.”
The extra stuff will always be there, at least as long as Kelleher keeps climbing the bantamweight ladder, and while his UFC slate currently stands at 3-2, those three wins have come over Iuri Alcantara, Damian Stasiak and Renan Barao, and when you add in victories over Julio Arce (twice) and Andre Soukhamthath outside the UFC, it’s clear that Kelleher’s upside is real and that he’s here to stay.
“I wouldn’t say I’m in the perfect spot, but I would agree with the fact that I’ve made my case,” he said. “I have five fights in the UFC, I feel like I’m used to it now, I’m used to being in the big show and being under the lights and being able to perform in front of a lot of fans. I have a good amount of experience in there, I’ve been through wins and losses, I fought really top-level guys, so I’m going in there with that edge.”
And if he picks up his fourth Octagon win this weekend, Kelleher is gearing up to make 2019 the Year of Boom.
“I’ve got to get this victory,” he said. “I’ve got to get a big win, an impressive performance and get that new contract. That will relieve me of the last fight (against Lineker) and the pain that one gave me, and then 2019 is looking good. We’ll be coming off a win, and we’re looking to fight back into the top 15, break into the top 10, and make my way back up. I really just want to get myself back into relevancy, where people are talking about me making a run for a title again.”