Brian Kelleher spent more than a year waiting for a particular phone call.
When it finally came a few weeks ago, he missed it. And the several ones that followed in the next few minutes. The text messages, too.
Not until his brother showed up at the L.A. Fitness pool in Centereach did Kelleher gain the career accomplishment he so wanted.
“I’m swimming back and forth, I’m kind of praying and manifesting the moment,” Kelleher said. “I’ve kind of been doing that for a while now, just kind of thinking it was close. I was getting in the zone and I get to the end of the pool and there’s my brother. He’s like, ‘You gotta get out of the pool.’ I’m like, ‘What’s going on? What are you doing here?’”
Kelleher, from Selden, got out of the pool and grabbed his phone. He saw all the missed messages from his managers. He called them back.
“They said, ‘What do you think of Brazil and Iuri Alcantara?’” Kelleher said. “I’m like, ‘Let’s do this.’”
Still dripping wet, Kelleher became a UFC fighter.
“I got off the phone with them after the call, I’m like, ‘I gotta swim harder now, I gotta swim some more laps,’” Kelleher said. “It was really hard to continue to work out. Wow, this is happening. My dream is happening right now.”
Yes, Kelleher finally made it to the UFC after 10 years of training and 23 professional MMA fights.
Kelleher will face Iuri Alcantara in a bantamweight bout at UFC 212 in Brazil on Saturday. It will be the first bout of the prelims airing on FS1 beginning at 8 p.m. in New York. Jose Aldo and Max Holloway headline the pay-per-view main card in a featherweight title unification bout.
At age 30, Kelleher has been around long enough to know one of the more common ways of entering the UFC is on short notice. Kelleher had about three weeks to prepare for Alcantara, the 13th-ranked bantamweight in the UFC with back-to-back submission victories.
“I figured if it’s going to happen, it’s going to be random and it’s going to be short notice, so I’ve been keeping the diet on point, the training on point,” Kelleher said. “I haven’t really stopped.”
Kelleher came close once before in another way. In November 2015, Kelleher fought on a Ring of Combat card in Atlantic City. He won by knockout via a spinning back fist in the third round. Attending the fights that night were UFC president Dana White and former champion Matt Serra for an episode of “Lookin’ for a Fight,” where they travel to different cities in search of new fighters.
“I had such good spirits after that night,” Kelleher said. “I thought it couldn’t go any better with a flashy knockout like that and that was my fifth win in a row. I got in Dana’s face and I was preaching my case. He even mentioned on the show how he loved it and everything. I was like, man, they gotta call me now, it’s gonna happen.”
The UFC signed Queens’ Randy Brown that night.
Kelleher (16-7) fought once more after that, in March 2016. He submitted his opponent in the third round for his sixth straight win.
Still, no phone call.
Not until more than a year later.
After he got the call, Kelleher finished his workout and went in the sauna.
“That’s where it really hit me,” Kelleher said. “I started crying in there. I was just like, ‘I hope nobody walks in here right now.’ I broke down, just filled with emotions. It was a beautiful feeling.”