While many MMA fans around the world were happy to hear Michel Pereira will remain on this Saturday’s UFC Vancouver card, his new opponent Tristan Connelly is ready to enter the Octagon, in his backyard, and play spoiler.
Connelly signed with the UFC earlier this week and will make his short-notice debut on the main card at Rogers Arena. “Boondock,” who is primarily a lightweight fighter, will jump up to welterweight to take on the surging Pereira.
The 33-year-old Connelly found out last weekend that he was a possibility to replace Sergey Khandozhko, who was forced to withdraw with VISA issues. When he got the call that he was in, Connelly celebrated by yelling and screaming around the weight gym he was working out at — much to the delight of the others in the gym. It may have been a dream realized for Connelly, but in the midst of a four-fight win streak, and winning eight out of his last nine — all by finish — the call was something he had prepared for.
“It’s music to my ears but it sounds like it makes sense,” Connelly told The Body Lock. “I feel like I deserve to be here, I’ve felt like I’ve deserved to be here for a while so it’s awesome. It’s exciting, but it’s also expected.”
Connelly recently fought in July when he faced 32-fight veteran D’Juan Owens in the main event of Rise FC 4, capturing the promotion’s lightweight title with a fifth-round TKO win. Owens was coming off of a win over former TUF finalist Joe Giannetti for the Cage Titans promotion in New England and Connelly halted the surge.
Standing across the cage from him is Pereira, who is no stranger to the highlight reels. “Demolidor” made his Octagon debut at May’s UFC Rochester event, finishing Danny Roberts with a flying knee and a follow-up punch to violently introduce himself to UFC fans around the world. Connelly may not have a lot of time to prepare for Pereira, personally, but he is well-versed in the capoeira skill set that his opponent will bring to the cage on Saturday.
“Honestly, I am the luckiest person in the world because I have guys that are way better that I train with all the time,” Connelly said. “We have the best capoeira guys in the world living in Vancouver.”
“You know Marcus Aurelio, or ‘Lelo’ as they call him, the original viral spin wheel kick knockout, the double spin wheel kick in the ring that killed the guy pretty much? I’ve been training with that guy for years, and he’s not the best one. His brother is better, another kid, Ravi, is better than that. They’ve been flipping, jumping and spinning at me for years. They all tell me, ‘Dude, you’re the hardest guy too spar. You’re so good at dealing with all of our s**t and you don’t fall for any of our tricks.’ I tire them out and I beat them up.
“The same thing is going to happen with this guy and I honestly don’t think he’s as good as them. And, honestly, I think he’s a quitter. He’s had a minute and a half in the UFC and everyone’s got all of this hype. Don’t get me wrong, he looked awesome. I’m a fan. I hope after I whoop his ass, he won’t hold a grudge and we can take a picture, maybe give me his autograph because we’re all fighters and we love that s**t. At the end of the day, it’s a fight; he’s practicing front flips, I’m practicing punching people in the face. If being able to do backflips is what it took to be a fighter, I’d f****n practice backflips, but it’s not. So I don’t.”
With having a short notice opportunity against a fighter the UFC is trying to build, Connelly feels that the situation lines up perfectly for an upset. Connelly is used to traveling around Canada to different regional promotions as the underdog; expected to lose to the region’s top lightweights. Once again, fans expect Connelly to go in there and lose, and for those who feel that way about his Octagon debut, Connelly is looking forward to disappointing you.
“People are always asking if I’m nervous, and I’m not really at all,” Connelly said. “I know I’ll be way more nervous for my next one. Whatever happens in this fight, the next one where I fight at my weight class where I have a camp prepared, will they give me an opponent that’s newer to the UFC, things like that. There’s no pressure on me. I’m expected to go in there and lose, that’s what everyone is expecting. So if that happens, then whatever, my stock still goes up. That’s not gonna happen. I’m gonna beat him and, when I do, he likes to throw rolling thunder and I’m gonna steal his thunder.”
There are certainly some geographical advantages for Connelly, since he is from Vancouver and will have plenty of support in the building on Saturday. He will share the card with teammate Cole Smith, who faces Miles Johns, and while that may be a bit of an advantage for most fighters, Smith and Connelly corner each other for fights. With one less person in each corner on Saturday, both Connelly and Smith hope to never have to share the same card again.
Other than that, there isn’t a whole lot of negative in Connelly’s mindset heading into this fight with Pereira. Connelly has been grinding, working and improving his game since making his pro debut in March 2010 for this moment. Confidence levels are high and the pressure is low for the UFC newcomer who plans to weather the early storm and get his hand raised in his Octagon debut.
“I think he’s gonna want to make a statement,” Connelly explained. “I’m a smaller guy coming in on short notice, I think he’s gonna want to come at me and front flip at me, do all sorts of crazy s**t right off the hop. He’s gonna use a lot of energy real quick and I know he looks bigger than he is, I know guys like that. They all look the part, they have all that muscle, but then when you kind of push them around, they’re not really that heavy. Yeah, they’re strong, you can feel the contractual force of their muscles are strong, but it doesn’t have that weight behind it.
“Guys like that, I find they break their bones a lot. If he hits me, I think he might break his hand, and if he breaks his hand, he’s going to be even more hesitant. All he’ll have is kicks at that point. I have not been impressed by any of the grappling I’ve seen in his fights. This is a black belt in jiu-jitsu? I know blue belts that are way better than that. I’ve never seen him attack one submission, one transition. He’s got a few guillotine chokes but any meathead can f****n do a guillotine choke.”