Tristan Connelly burst onto the UFC scene in one of the least expected ways. A guy who had fought exclusively at lightweight and featherweight over his career, Connelly made his debut on five days notice and up at 170lbs. And to make it even a little crazier, he did so against high flying, spinning,cage-defying Michel Pereira. All the British Columbian did was something nobody else in the UFC had done before or since — he grounded the bigger man and forced him into a gruelling fight, which Connelly took by unanimous decision.
While that was a fairy tale beginning to a UFC career, it hasn’t been all roses for Connelly since then. Cancelled fights, a car accident and a global pandemic have combined to keep him out for nearly a year and a half. While this did give him some time to spend at home following the birth of his daughter, he’s also used that time to focus on getting back from a neck injury stemming from the car crash.
“For me, all I’ve been thinking about other than my daughter, is how do I get back and fight, and what am I going to do,” Connelly shared. “Everything in my life has been planning for getting back for a fight. So I wasn’t just going into a three-month camp.”
Instead of thinking of it as a three-month camp, Connelly sees the surgery as the beginning of the work for this fight, which dates back to a year ago. From the minute he decided to go into surgery, he started thinking about what he’d need to do when he got back.
“I was going into surgery saying ‘okay, I know I have a timeframe after surgery’. The surgeon is telling my three months before I can get back to any kind of contact. I have to do three months of absolutely no contact,” he remembered. “So what can I be doing in this time where I can’t be training? I can not be eating any food. I can be dieting. I can be doing cardio. I can be doing strength exercises. So every minute of every day that I had free was preparing for my return.”
And that careful attention to his diet paid off. Not only did it become much easier for him to make it down to the lightweight limit, where he had been envisioning his next fight, but he soon realized, he may even be able to do more.
“When I wasn’t able to train hard, I was eating almost nothing. I was fasting 24 hours a day – eating one meal,” he said. “I think I could make 145lbs, but I don’t think I could do it in a camp. When I’m training three times a day, that actually gets harder because it’s harder to eat less when you’re training more.”
Now ready to make 145lbs for the first time in half a decade, Connelly reports feeling great. However, despite the fact that he sees this cut going well, he doesn’t know if this is a sustainable weight for him – which is largely due to the circumstances that allowed him to make it.
“I can’t do that in two months. It took me six months to get there,” Connelly said. “I don’t know that it’ll be a long term thing realistically, but this is kind of an attempt. I know I can make it, but it’s going to be after the fight. Can I maintain this? I would like to, but again, this is kind of a test. I’m going to fight this one at featherweight and see what happens after that.”
This featherweight foray will take place this weekend at UFC 261 in Jacksonville this Saturday. Connelly will face Pat Sabatini on the prelims on ESPN and ESPN+.
You can hear the entire audio of this interview at 2:44.