The UFC’s #15 middleweight Dan Kelly spoke with Bloody Elbow about his UFC Auckland fight with Derek Brunson, why he is constantly labeled an underdog, and his relationship with fellow Judoka Ronda Rousey.
Four-time Olympic Judoka for Australia, Daniel Kelly, has made his way up the UFC middleweight ranks, and currently occupies the #15 slot. Fresh off of a split decision victory over the former UFC light heavyweight champion, Rashad Evans at UFC 209, Kelly is headed to UFC Fight Night: Lewis vs. Hunt in Auckland, New Zealand on June 10 to face the #8 Derek Brunson. Before heading into battle, Kelly caught up with Bloody Elbow to discuss why he constantly sports an underdog tag, Ronda Rousey’s fall from grace, and plans of dispatching Brunson inside of the distance.
Transitioning from an Olympic Judoka to a Mixed Martial Artist?
“I’ve always been interested, always been a fan of Mixed Martial Arts, and thought I’d dip my toe. Then, because of my personality probably, I couldn’t help but get a little bit more involved. When I cut down to 84 (kilos, or 185 lbs), my first 3 fights or 2 fights were at heavyweight and light heavyweight, and when I cut down to 84 I thought, ‘maybe, maybe we can give this a go.’ Then the Ultimate Fighter opportunity came up, even though that didn’t go that well, it was kind of a starting point for me to go a bit further.”
TUF Nations didn’t go your way, and afterwards you expressed your thirst for redemption. Here you are ranked inside of the UFC’s Top 15; do you feel redeemed?
“I think I can go a little bit further, now that we’re on a little bit of a roll. Obviously, the next match is really hard, but the last one gave a lot of confidence and faith that I can compete at the top level against very good guys. So, this is just another big test coming up.”
The oddsmakers consistently label you as the underdog, yet time and time again you prove them wrong. Why do you think the bookies keep selling you short?
“Well, I look really bad at the moment. Look at all the gray hair. I’m not exactly chiseled. I don’t move with a lot of fluidity, so I’m sure they look at me and go, ‘ugh, he’s not going to win; it’s going to end at some point.’ It probably will [end] at some point, but hopefully not just yet.”
Does being a consummate underdog remove any pressure?
“Not really, because I expect to win. So, I’m the one who puts the most pressure on myself. The external factors are nothing to me. It’s the work and the sacrifices I put in, and the pressure I put on myself is what is the most important, and that gets worse and worse every fight. I know I’ve made some people some good money… It’s good to be making some people some money, and I’m sure I’ll be the underdog again against Derek Brunson.”
Do you ever drop some coin on Dan Kelly?
“No, no, no never. I think I’d curse myself if I did that.”
Is gambling big in Australia?
“Yeah, it is. Horse racing’s big. All of the sports betting is big now, so yeah, there is a bit of gambling now. I mean, people are betting on everything. They bet on darts, the bet on everything. You can bet on anything. You can bet on the outcome of elections and things like that, so it’s pretty big here, too.”
Did you have a relationship with fellow Olympic Judoka Ronda Rousey?
“She was traveling around the same time I was. I’m good friends with her coach, Justin [Flores]. I knew her before, and she actually trained at the gym here in the lead up to the [Holly Holm] fight. So, yeah I know her, and I’m still in contact with Justin. Justin’s an American coach now for Judo for the U.S.A.”
Thoughts on Rousey falling from grace, and having a lot of fans turn on her:
“Look, I was very sad because I knew her, and always want a Judoka do well. She’s been a great champion, and also, she has done so much for the women in the sport as well. It’s sad, it’s sad anytime you see a champion lose, or anyone lose, and yeah, it was a shame how some of the fans turned. It’s the nature of the beast I suppose.”
You came into MMA as a grappler, but just held your own on the feet against Rashad Evans UFC 209. Assess your striking development:
“I think it’s always going to awkward. I’m a little bit limited in what I can do, body wise, because I’m a little bit older and butchered my body in Judo, before crossing into striking. I work really hard on it. I was very happy with my last fight with my striking because I won that fight on the feet; there was nothing on the ground. We work really, really hard. I mean, I spend probably 60% of my time doing the striking, so it’s more than half. It’s coming along; it’s coming along well. Well, it’s a work in progress; let’s put it that way, haha.”
UFC Fight Night 110 opponent Derek Brunson and his berserker style:
“It’s no secret, he won 4 in a row, and the longest one of those 4 went 2.5 minutes. In his last fight, he came out very tentative against Anderson Silva, after he did the berserker thing with [Robert] Whittaker, and Whittaker weathered the storm and actually finished him in the first round. I expect him to come out the same way he was before, and try to get me out of there early. If he doesn’t, it’s going to be a really long night for him, because I get better as the fight goes on, and in the past, he hasn’t.”
“Haha, I think I finish him in the 2nd or 3rd round. I think he’ll get tired.”
“I think I win this fight, I get into the Top-10. I think there will be about 3 or 4 guys who are around 5 to 8 who would be good matches. There’s Anderson Silva, there’s [Chris] Weidman. [Kelvin] Gastelum will probably come back, depending how he goes against Weidman. Jacare is floating around that group after he lost to Rob [Whittaker].”
The top of the middleweight division has become the over-30 club:
“With the exception of Rob [Whittaker] and Gastelum when he pops back up, most of them are over 30. Bisping is a year younger than me. Romero is my age. Brunson’s 33. I think Rockhold is late 20’s maybe. So, there’s a lot of older guys making a run still. So, it’s good.”
Watch the UFC’s #15 middleweight Dan Kelly wage war with the #8 ranked Derek Brunson, at UFC Fight Night 110 from Auckland, New Zealand on June 10, 2017. Stay tuned to Bloody Elbow for all of your UFC event coverage including interviews, play-by-play, highlights, and more!