Tristan Connelly talks through dream debut victory over 'perfect opponent' Pereira

VANCOUVER, British Columbia – Tristan Connelly may have taken his UFC debut assignment on just five days’ notice, and he may have had to jump up a weight class to do it, but he said all the conditions were perfect for him to go out and produce the performance of his career against Michel Pereira at UFC on ESPN+ 16.

For starters, he was fighting in his home town of Vancouver, where he enjoyed the raucous support of the packed crowd in the Rogers Arena stands. But, more interestingly, he felt Pereira (23-10 MMA, 1-1 UFC) was ideally suited for him to go out and spring a shock on his octagon debut.

“He was the perfect opponent,” he told reporters, including MMA Junkie, backstage after his victory. “He’s super-exciting. He likes to throw the rolling thunder, the front-flip kick. It’s called the rolling thunder – I got to steal his thunder tonight.”

Connelly (14-6 MMA, 1-0 UFC) was as comfortable in his post-fight scrum as he appeared during the contest, and he gave off the air of a man who knew he belonged. He vocalized that belief after the fight.

“I’ve known I’ve deserved to be here for a while,” he said. “I had a rocky start to my career. My first fight wasn’t until I was 25, and I think I was 29 years old and 5-5 was my record. There was no reason to keep fighting other than the fact that I just love fighting, so I kept doing it and I kept getting better. Now I’m here.”

That pre-fight confidence only grew during the fight after Connelly tasted Pereira’s power and felt his strength first-hand.

“I was a little worried about his size and his early power, but he hit me with a clean punch in the first round and I was like ‘Yeah,’” Connelly said. “And when I grabbed my arms around him, he didn’t feel all that much stronger, and I was like, ‘OK. I can do this, I can keep coming forward,’ and my confidence raised the longer the fight went.”

While some may suggest that Pereira’s spectacular spinning, flipping style may come across as a little disrespectful to his opponent, Connelly had a different take.

“Absolutely not,” he said. “He’s here in the UFC because this is what’s got him here. It’s a fight. However you want to fight, if it can win you the fight, that’s not disrespectful; that’s doing your job. He did his job, I did mine, and I was the guy who came out on top.

And while the Canadian admitted his skillset was markedly different from the Brazilian’s, he said he believed his style, while less spectacular, was more appropriate for life inside the UFC’s octagon.

“If doing backflips was what I believe was important in fighting, I’d be great at backflips, but I couldn’t do them to save my life.“ he said. “I practice punching people, choking people and kicking people, because that seems to work in most of the fights I watch.”

Now with a UFC win under his belt and a six-figure paycheck in his wallet, Connelly is hoping to drop back down to his regular weight class of 155 pounds and look to climb the ladder as a UFC lightweight.

“I really liked the matchup,” Connelly said. “It’s crazy, he had so much hype behind him, but I saw a lot of holes. I’d be way more terrified to fight a welterweight that was just a fundamental boxer-wrestler. That would have been way harder for me to deal with, with the size discrepancy.

“But I knew the way he fought. I know how durable I am. I know he’s big and cutting weight, and flashy – I’m used to flashy guys. I figured if I have to fight a welterweight, I think this is the one to do it. But I’m definitely going back to lightweight. I don’t want anything to do with the rest of the welterweights in the division!”

Connelly now has his sights set on a lightweight UFC debut later this year – possibly in Las Vegas – and joked that he finished his night disappointed at seeing his fight go to the scorecards for the first time in his career.

“This is the first decision that I have won, so I’m kind of choked that I’ve just ruined my perfect finish streak,” he grinned, before reporters reminded him about his chunky bonus check of $100,000.

“I guess I’ll take it!” he laughed.

Source: USA Today – MMA Junkie

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