A 24-day turnaround between fights fits Brian Kelleher’s vision of staying active this year.
After not fighting at all in 2019, the Selden-bred mixed martial arts fighter wanted 2020 to be different. That plan was devised in January — before the coronavirus pandemic affected the health of hundreds of thousands, closed schools, altered the economy, suspended sports and otherwise changed how 2020 will be looked up in future yearbooks and documentaries.
“I'm honest with myself,” Kelleher said. “I'm not a young buck that’s coming up, like a 23-year-old that's trying to work his way up slowly anymore. I'm trying to make a quick statement here, make this year a really crazy story for me. Starting in January with my back against the wall with my job on the line to now fighting a top-12 guy and potentially putting myself in a title picture.”
Kelleher will face Cody Stamann, the No. 12 ranked bantamweight, at UFC 250 at the UFC Apex in Las Vegas on Saturday night. No fans will be in attendance. This is the second event at the UFC’s facility in the span of eight days. The Nevada State Athletic Commission had approved both events after reviewing the UFC’s health and safety protocols and issuing their own set of restrictions.
The bout, which will be contested at featherweight to help the fighters minimize their weight cut amid training facility restrictions in some states, will air as part of the preliminary fights on ESPN and stream on ESPN+, beginning at 8 p.m. Amanda Nunes defends her featherweight title against Felicia Spencer in the main event on pay-per-view.
Kelleher, 33, last fought on May 13 in Jacksonville, the second of three UFC events in eight days in that city as the promotion returned from a two-month pause because of the coronavirus. Kelleher earned a $50,000 performance of the night bonus for his second-round knockout of Hunter Azure.
That clean, crisp left hook started Kelleher (21-10) off in style on the new four-fight contract he signed after a first-round submission win over Ode Osbourne at UFC 246 in January.
“I love momentum,” Kelleher said. “Winning is a great feeling and I take that into the gym with me and I keep rolling with it. I feel the energy of victory and I want to keep this going.
“Also, for me, fighting back-to-back, I just went through this so I don't have to deal with that heavy wave of nerves again, where, the unknown, what is it going to be like without a crowd? And what's it going to be like to fight again? When you take so much time off, sometimes it's hard to know what it's going to feel like again. You have to get used to it. For me, I'm already used to it. I'm like, hey, let's keep rolling with it.”
Stamann (18-2-1) is coming off a draw against Song Yadong last January. The 30-year-old from Michigan is 1-1-1 in his last three bouts, dating to a September 2018 submission loss to Uniondale’s Aljamain Sterling (who faces Cory Sandhagen on the main card Saturday.)
“He’s only really been finished by Aljo,” Kelleher said. “He’s got a great wrestling base, he’s athletic. He’s well-rounded. He’s not like a terrible striker or anything.”
Though this fight will take place at featherweight, as was his win against Azure, Kelleher’s future remains at bantamweight. UFC 250 features five of the top 12 bantamweights in the promotion, led by No. 2 Sterling against No. 4 Sandhagen.
“For me, it's about putting myself in a position to put myself back at the top again, to make a run to that title” Kelleher said. “I’m 33, I’m in my prime. For me, I don't care to like who it is that I fight. I just want to make forward progress and I think Stamann is a great matchup for me to prove that I belong amongst the top guys.”
UFC 250 main card, 10 p.m. Eastern on ESPN+ pay-per-view
Women's featherweight champion: Amanda Nunes vs. Felicia Spencer
Bantamweight: Raphael Assuncao vs. Cody Garbrandt
Bantamweight: Aljamain Sterling vs. Cory Sandhagen
Welterweight: Neil Magny vs Anthony Rocco Martin
Bantamweight: Eddie Wineland vs Sean O’Malley
UFC 250 prelims, 8 p.m., ESPN and ESPN+
Featherweight: Alex Caceres vs Chase Hooper
Middleweight: Ian Heinisch vs Gerald Meerschaert
Featherweight: Cody Stamann vs Brian Kelleher
Middleweight: Charles Byrd vs Maki Pitolo
UFC 250 early prelims, 6 p.m., UFC Fight Pass
Flyweight: Jussier Formiga vs Alex Perez
Light heavyweight: Alonzo Menifield vs Devin Clark
Lightweight: Evan Dunham vs. Herbert Burns