Brian Kelleher was primed for a fight with Ricky Simon this Saturday night at UFC Vegas 9. It’s a fight Kelleher (21-11) admits he was excited for, but with one of Simon’s corners testing positive for COVID-19, it wasn’t to be.
“I was excited to fight Ricky, I think a lot of people were excited for that match-up,” Kelleher told Cageside Press during the UFC Vegas 9 media day. The bright side is, all his hard work wasn’t for nothing. “I’m just happy to be fighting still. I put the work in to prepare. I got a new opponent that was willing to step up on a week’s notice, which is nice. So we’re here, we’re going to fight, and that’s what I trained to do.”
It’s Kevin Natividad that stepped up on short notice, a Hawaiian fighter who is a veteran of LFA. You might think of preparing for a short notice replacement as akin to cramming for a test, but that’s not really the case for Kelleher. “For me, improvisation is key in there, and this guy might fight me differently than he fought someone else,” he stated. “So I just focus on myself going in there.”
Kelleher also refuses to put too much stock into the time frame of Natividad accepting the fight. “For all I know, this guy was preparing for the best fight of his life, and he just happened to be a guy that was ready to take the fight,” he noted. “It’s a fight, anything can happened, you’ve just got to be prepared to beat anybody that’s in front of you.”
That said, “Boom” admits that he almost prefers short notice fights and opponents. “There’s a build up to these fights. That time that you’re thinking about the fight is longer when you have six, eight weeks,” said Kelleher. “And there’s this anticipation, and you finally get to fight week, and it’s just a whole long, drawn out process. For me, I kind of enjoy not even having to deal with that, just being ready to fight at all times.”
One side effect of the short notice fights Kelleher has been taking is that he’s now competing at featherweight. Both Kelleher and Natividad are bantamweights, but there was no grueling weight cut ahead of UFC Vegas 9. The same situation applied to his last bout with Cody Stamann.
Forgoing that cut, said Kelleher, “makes for healthier fights, number one, and more exciting fights. I feel stronger, I feel healthier, I feel [I’m] taking punches better, stuff like that, going in at 145.” So the plan, he said, is to “keep doing this as long as the UFC is down for it. I appreciate them being willing to do this with these circumstances. If I have six, seven, eight weeks notice, I can make bantamweight and we can go back down there, but why not? All that matters is winning, and once you win, that’s all that people notice and you move on and move forward.”
Watch the full UFC Vegas 9 media day press scrum with Brian Kelleher above. The event takes place this Saturday, September 5 at the UFC Apex in Las Vegas, NV, airing live on ESPN+ (TSN in Canada).