When Brian Kelleher steps inside the cage with Renan Barao this weekend at UFC on FOX 28, he believes that he will outlast the former UFC bantamweight champion and gain an edge in the later rounds.
Speaking to Ben Armendariz from Canvas Conversations, Kelleher discussed the significance of his upcoming contest with the 39-fight veteran in Orlando, Florida.
Time for the sharks
Brian Kelleher stunned the fans in Brazil with a quick first-round submission of Iuri Alcantara in his UFC debut in June last year. He then followed up his in-cage performance with a brilliant statement on the microphone by stating “feed me to the sharks; I’m ready.”
Kelleher might not have got his wish for a top-ranked guy in the division, but he scored a battle with Marlon Vera. Vera had won two fights in a row and managed to upset Brad Pickett while doing so. Unfortunately for Kelleher, however, he fell victim to the same lightning-fast finish that he managed to get the better end of in his first bout. He was submitted by Marlon Vera in 2:18 at UFC on FOX 25 and was forced to go back to the drawing board.
Kelleher wouldn’t be out for long, though, and he returned to the cage in a big way at UFC Fight Night 118 in October. The 31-year-old defeated Damian Stasiak in Poland then shifted his focus to securing a matchup with a top #15 guy.
He got his wish when the UFC reached out to him with an offer to fight Renan Barao.
A “company guy”
Barao, a former champion of the UFC’s bantamweight division, has dropped three of his last four contests. However, his losses have been at the hands of some of the very best in the division. The Brazilian lost to T.J. Dillashaw, Jeremy Stephens, and Aljamain Sterling respectively.
Kelleher believes that Barao might be looking at this upcoming matchup as an opportunity to rebound against a lesser-known opponent. One thing is for sure, though, Barao is in for an extremely dangerous outing when he steps into the Octagon with Kelleher who is “more motivated than ever to fight this guy.”
The matchup is a dream come true for Kelleher, who has long been searching for that major matchup to come his way.
“I’m excited to take his name and make my name out of this fight. I couldn’t ask for a better opportunity. This is a guy that I was watching for a while when I was coming up. He was a killer that was unbeaten for quite some time.”
Kelleher also stated that he believes the matchup came his way because he is a “company guy.”
“The UFC know that I’m a guy willing to step up on short notice. I was trying to get the Jimmie Rivera fight. I think the company likes me. I’m a company guy. This is the next step, I can’t wait.”
Making the step
Now, in the biggest matchup of his 24-fight career, Kelleher understands that a dominant win over the former champion will boost him into the spotlight. In the featherweight division, Josh Emmett recently took his opportunity against Ricardo Lamas and has now been thrown right into the main event for the UFC on FOX 28 card.
“Finishing him inside three rounds means that I did something that many other top level fighters couldn’t do. I think that puts me in line for the top #10 guys.”
As for the fight itself, Kelleher feels as though Barao will be unable to hang in there with him as the fight progresses.
“He tends to fade in later rounds. I tend to grow. As the fight goes on, I get stronger. I will get stronger as the fight goes on and I’ll get the finish later on.”
Brian Kelleher vs. Renan Barao is a scheduled preliminary bout at UFC on FOX 28 in Orlando, Florida on February 24. You can watch the full interview with Ben Armendariz from Canvas Conversations below.