From the nosebleed seats, the turf of Etihad Stadium has a distinct glow to it. Thousands upon thousands of passionate sports fans fill this stadium all year. The roar of the crowd when the stadium is at capacity is unlike anything that you can imagine. It’s a spectacle like no other.
The UFC is looking to replicate this very scenario when thousands of passionate fight fans fill the seats at Etihad Stadium on Nov. 15 for UFC 193. The spectacle is there. The star power is certainly there. There are 26 professional fighters set to be part of the biggest mixed martial arts event to take place on Australian soil. Melbourne born and bred Daniel Kelly is going to be there. For him, the UFC putting on an event in his hometown has been a long time coming.
A long time.
“I’d always hoped,” Kelly admitted to Combat Press. “With the change of government a couple of years ago, I thought there’d be no chance in hell, but as soon as Labour got in, or looked like they were going to get in, a bit of momentum started with that and I was hopeful. It’s fantastic, and it’s a fantastic opportunity.”
With his bout taking place on what the UFC has coined as a “historic” card, it’s an opportunity for Kelly to potentially compete in front of a whole new array of fans. Any time that Ronda Rousey fights, people tune in from all over the world to get a glimpse of her handiwork.
“The occasional fans are still just gonna look at the main card,” Kelly said. “I’m pretty early on the card. There’s gonna be 60,000 people at the stadium watching, and I mean there’s probably not going to be that many when I fight, but even if there’s half of that, it’s still big exposure.”
For his hometown clash, Kelly is set to square off with Steve Montgomery, who will be making the step up to the middleweight division. In Montgomery’s UFC debut, he was defeated in the first round when he met Tony Sims at UFC Fight Night 70.
“I think we’re gonna see a lot of guys coming up the weight divisions since they can’t use the IVs anymore,” Kelly said. “I expect a few welterweights to jump up and I expect a few middleweights to jump up to light heavy[weight] as well. I’ve never used IVs. I’m against them completely, so it’s good for me. I make weight normally and I rehydrate normally.”
In his last bout inside the Octagon, Kelly fell short and suffered the first official loss of his professional career. At UFC Fight Night 65 on May 10, he was defeated by Sam Alvey in under a minute. With his first official career loss now over and done with, regrouping was the next obvious step for the judoka.
“I probably didn’t do some things that I should have done,” Kelly explained. “I made some tactical errors. I didn’t do the things that I used that got me to the UFC and that I’ve used my whole career, but it gave me a good opportunity to go back to the drawing board and refocus and restart again.
“You don’t wanna lose two in a row in the UFC. I reckon if I lose another one, I’m out. They’ve just cut a whole lot of people, and you don’t wanna lose two in a row in this organization. If I lose the next one, [my UFC record is] 2-2, and we don’t wanna be there. You wanna stay above the 50 percent mark. I win this and it’s 3-1 and we carry on on our merry way. It’s very cutthroat and ruthless, but let’s be honest, I’m an older guy [and] if I get dropped out now, it’s highly unlikely I’ll get back in. I’ve just gotta make the most of the opportunity that I have.”
Before his loss to Alvey, Kelly met Pat Walsh in a bout that the two men — and many countless fans — would like to forget. Kelly walked away from that bout the victor, but he is still conscious of what went down in Denver and how things could have been a whole lot better.
“There’s a bit of a background to that,” Kelly revealed. “Yeah, look, it wasn’t a pretty fight. He came in three kilos overweight. I couldn’t tape my knee or ankles, which I do for every fight; we found out about that the day before. I played it very safe that fight and it wasn’t pleasant. All my other fights, even my last one, even though I Iost, all my other fights apart from that Pat Walsh fight have all been exciting. It was one of those things. I was happy to come away with a win. I’d prefer to get the win and it be an ugly win than lose the fight ugly and then be punted from the UFC like he did. I made weight. I showed up and did my job. That’s it.
“I started doing judo when I was seven years old. So that’s, what, 31 years. And it is a useful combat sport if it’s used properly, and I transitioned over well, not only from a defensive side in not getting taken down but also on the ground side of it and the control. I didn’t push forward enough for the clinch in my last fight, and that was a mistake in my opinion.”
With UFC 193 taking place in his hometown of Melbourne, Kelly has an opportunity of a lifetime ahead of him. The 38-year-old will be fighting on the undercard of the first UFC pay-per-view event to hit Australian shores since 2011, as well as the very first UFC event in the state of Victoria.
“Getting to the UFC is awesome and then being able to fight in your hometown and in a stadium show — that’s perfect,” Kelly said. “I’ve watched the footy there a few times and been there for the press conference and the announcement of the UFC being there as well. It’s a massive stadium. It’s gonna be pretty cool.
“I assumed that if there was ever going to be a UFC in Melbourne, it would be at Rod Laver [Arena], or something like that. Having it in a stadium is huge, and, as the UFC has said, you only get one chance at a first impression. And they’re making a big first impression [in Victoria]. I’m excited to put on a really good show and really wanna make a good impression and have a good fight.”