Tony Kelley burst into the headlines last month, after comments he made while working in the corner of girlfriend Andrea “KGB” Lee at UFC Vegas 54 were amplified online.
Now, he makes his own return to the octagon, looking to make a statement as part of this Saturday’s UFC Austin card.
“A lot of people talk, a lot of people haven’t seen the best of me, and I plan on showing the whole world,” bantamweight Kelley (8-2) told Cageside Press in a recent exclusive interview.
It’s nearly impossible to remove last month’s corner controversy from the conversation surrounding Kelley’s return. While working with Lee between rounds, he replied to her concern about an illegal eye poke by Viviane Araujo by saying “that’s what they’re going to do, they’re dirty f*cking Brazilians, they’re going to f*cking cheat like that.”
In response, a number of Brazilian fighters threw their support behind Adrian Yanez, Kelley’s opponent this weekend. Gilbert Burns went so far as to offer money to Yanez for a finish. In short, there’s a bounty on Tony Kelley this weekend, and aside from that, he’s been accused of being flat-out racist.
— GILBERT BURNS DURINHO (@GilbertDurinho) May 15, 2022
Kelley initially blamed cancel culture for the backlash, but he recognizes that people haven’t been very satisfied with that response.
“People feel like I’m blaming cancel culture or whatever. No, ultimately, I’m talking sh*t about cancel culture because my job is to relay information in the corner, and I’m really not focused on if I offend somebody or not,” Kelley explained when asked about the situation, and given the floor to tell his side. “That’s the last thing on my mind. If you go back and you actually watch the fight, everyone’s like ‘aww you’re a dumbass, why would you say that on international television? Well I didn’t. If you watch the fight, you’ll never hear it air. It was not aired. So somebody clipped that out and sent it off into the Twitterverse just to get at me.”
That’s not to say the comments didn’t happen. “Yeah of course I said that, but obviously I misspoke and everyone who knows me knows that. But at the end of the day, to give a little bit of clarification on that, it was just regarding an eye poke, I don’t mean to categorize a whole nation of Brazil. I think most people understand that, but there’s other people who just want to play the victim on that.”
Kelley went on to add that he has nothing against Brazilians, or against anyone else. “Actually I dislike everyone equally, I’ll put it that way. So I think pretty much I’ve answered all that, much love to my Brazilian fans and friends. If you don’t like what I said, I don’t know what to tell you on that, sorry. Sorry if you got your feelings hurt.”
When it comes to fighters taking sides and offering Yanez money for a finish, meanwhile, Kelley sees it as opportunistic.
“I think they’re just trying to ride the wave, honestly. To be really honest with you, it’s just something to talk about,” he suggested. “I think everyone who knows me, knows the diverse group of friends and the circle I’m in. They obviously know that racist is like the stupidest thing to say. There’s real racism going on in the world. Perhaps I may have misspoke in the minute that I have with my girlfriend, who I’m highly invested in, [who] in a fight tells me in the corner ‘hey I got gouged in the eye, I’m having trouble seeing.’ I’m thinking ‘that’s dirty, that’s some dirty sh*t.’ Maybe I misspoke, we’re facing Brazilians, what do you want? I don’t know. Throw him some money, I don’t care, I’m getting my hand raised either way.”
In the end, Kelley fights Adrian Yanez this weekend, and there may even be more eyeballs on the match-up as a result of the controversy. But it’s a fight Kelley wanted, that he accepted even before he was cleared to compete, because he likes the match-up that much.
“I’m not even cleared til July. I wanted this fight, they offered this fight to me, I accepted this fight. He’s ranked #20 in the world, I really just like the match-up. He’s an exciting fighter, I just think that I’m better. And I think that I’m going to show that, I’m going to show the whole world that.”
Watch our full interview with UFC Austin’s Tony Kelley above. The event takes place this Saturday, June 18, 2022 at the Moody Center in Austin, Texas.