Flashback two years and Brian Kelleher was a 3-1 UFC fighter with tons of steam behind him. With the exception of getting caught by a craft arm bar from Marlon Vera, Kelleher had a seemingly flawless run highlighted by a dominant win over former pound-for-pound great Renan Barao.
Then a loss to former top contender John Lineker set Kelleher back, but not just in the rankings or in his quest for a title. The losses set Kelleher’s mindset back to a place where it was affecting the way he fought and thought.
“I feel like it had a lot to do with the Lineker loss. To me it was more manifesting a certain outcome, visualization and believing in yourself to an extent where when things don’t go to plan, you don’t quite know how to handle it,” Kelleher said. “You’ve worked years and years visualizing this plan going a certain way and becoming a champion… It was hard to deal with it all and break it down why it happened and to allow myself to accept it.”
**Full interview starts at 2:15**
And while he knew he needed to deal with this type of disappointment, he instead worked to get another fight before the end of the 2018 calendar year. While the opponent was maybe less noteworthy than his previous two, the way he dealt with the Lineker loss impeded his ability to handle the newcomer.
“That last fight, I was honestly a shell of myself. I feel like I didn’t go into that last fight healed mentally,” he said. “I saw the effects in my training. I didn’t have that flair in my training - that fire in my sparring sessions where I was letting go and I wasn’t afraid to get into these exchanges.”
Although he was disappointed and still needed to get his head right, Kelleher wanted to push on and fight again - the desire for a win driving him forward. However, an injury would pull him from his only fight booking of 2019, leaving him with over a year long layoff.
This layoff wound up being one of the best things that could happen for Kelleher’s career. In that time, not only was he able to heal his physical injuries, but he talked to other fighters about dealing with losses. He discussed how to get back to that visualization point, and that has made all of the difference.
“Now I’m 100% healthy, feeling great. Everything has aligned perfectly. My mind state and my physical abilities - I feel great going into this one. Looking back, in retrospect, I feel like it was kind of a meant-to-be situation. I kind of felt a little bit burnt out from the game for a little while there,” he said. “I feel like that took a lot longer than I would have liked it to take, but that’s why I say the injury and the time out of the cage has been a blessing in disguise.”
Now with a bout with Ode Osbourne on the docket for UFC 246, Kelleher feels like a brand new fighter and he’s ready to get his momentum back all over again.
“I feel like I reignited this flame that I once lost,” Kelleher said. “Now I feel that old Brian back where it’s almost like it’s my UFC debut all over again, like I never made it here and now I’m here to make a statement.”