An industry expert would probably watch as Daniel Kelly made his way down to the Octagon in Sydney on Nov. 7, 2014, and dismiss the experienced judo player and former Olympian. His physique isn’t that impressive. Not that it really matters, this is a prize-fighting experience, not a show-pony display after all. However, all the same, it’s likely that not many expected much out of the 37-year-old fighter who failed to shine in The Ultimate Fighter: Nations competition.
The thing is, sometimes, experts are wrong. Kelly was able to shock the world and put his performance while competing on the UFC’s reality series behind him. He showed that the experts aren’t always right.
“It was a bit of retribution for how badly things went in the house,” Kelly admitted to Combat Press. “It was very, very satisfying. It went really well. Not better than expected — I mean, we trained for that — but what went on in the fight was good. We made an impression on him standing, and he had good boxing. And then I got the takedown and the quick submission.”
Kelly’s UFC debut win came against fellow former TUF competitor Luke Zachrich. When Kelly makes his return to the Octagon on Feb. 14 at UFC Fight Night 60, he faces another TUF alum in Patrick Walsh. There’s something about fighting TUF competition, though. It’s often just the first step for a fighter. Graduating to the next step — fighting opponents who were never part of the reality series — is typically the sign of an established UFC fighter.
“I couldn’t care less,” Kelly exclaimed. “A fight in the UFC is a fight in the UFC at the moment. I just wanna try and build up through the ranks a little bit and then fight whoever they put in front of me. I don’t mind at all. I think a fight in the UFC is a fight in the UFC. I think they obviously wanted to send me over. It’s not like Patrick Walsh is a local boy there [in Colorado]. He’s from Boston. I think you’ve made it when you get over to Vegas and you get on the main card of a numbered card. At the moment, I’m still pushing.”
The Feb. 14 bout will be the first time in Kelly’s professional mixed martial arts career that he has fought outside of Australia. Kelly, however, is no stranger to competing in sporting events outside of his native land. His decorated career in judo has taken him to many corners of the globe.
“I’ve actually competed in judo at Colorado Springs, which is about an hour and a half drive from Denver, so I know what to expect in terms of altitude,” Kelly said. “I know what to expect in terms of time difference and all that kind of thing. It’s exciting to get the chance to fight in the UFC in America. I’ve competed all over the world in judo. I’ve had full stadiums in places like France and the Olympics with people not cheering me, so that kind of thing doesn’t bother me.”
Kelly made his MMA debut in 2006. However, due to his commitments in judo, he only started to put together back-to-back fights in 2012, at the age of 35. With his late start in the sport, Kelly is realistic on where he is in his career, but he certainly doesn’t see himself calling it a day any time soon.
“I’m still improving, and that last fight I had showed that I’m still improving in MMA and as a martial artist as well,” Kelly said. “People can say what they like. I’ll stop when I’m ready. I don’t consider myself undefeated. Everything is still going well and the body is holding itself together okay.”
Kelly enters his UFC Fight Night 60 bout as the underdog on most sports books, but he has grown accustomed to the role in his years of competing. Leading up to his last bout, the criticism toward the 37-year-old was that he didn’t belong in the famed Octagon. Kelly didn’t let what others thought get to him too much. All the words that were written and spoken about him were certainly not forgotten, though, and it’s something that he is more than ready to deal with all over again come Feb. 14.
“I saw all of it,” Kelly laughed. “I’ve been an underdog a lot of times in judo tournaments and things like that, and I’m hard on myself as well, to be honest. I wasn’t happy at all with how things went in the [TUF] house, and they’re perfectly entitled to their opinion. I didn’t show anything really. I’m happy to be the underdog. They can write and say whatever they like. They said that I didn’t deserve to be there and that I had no chance, and it’s nice to prove them wrong.
“A lot of the internet haters have quietened down a little bit, and they always do after you win. I haven’t seen any odds yet. Nothing has jumped out that has been offensive or anything like that. It’s gonna be a tough fight. He’s a high-level wrestler and he won his last fight in the UFC. He won his debut as well. I think he’s dangerous if he shoots at range, but I’m comfortable with anyone in the clinch, so it’ll be a matter of who gets to impose their game more first.”
Dan would like to thank Resilience Training Centre and MMA All Stars Group. He would also like to thank his wife. Follow Kelly on Twitter: @DanKellyJudo
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