At 6:45am this morning I had the usual one-sided conversation with my alarm clock. As per usual it didn’t respond to my
“Fuck you and fuck working on Sundays”
Alas my phone just kept sounding away in bursts of Short, high pitched warbling like a robin red breast announcing the arrival of winter. As I dragged my aging bag of bones out of bed I comforted myself with the thought that at least a monthly pay packet is just around the corner.
Meanwhile somewhere in Derry Paul Kelly was already up and at it for over 90 minutes. 5:30 am and he is waiting for the Public transport system to arrive and take him the 75 odd miles to Belfast. Paul has a 9:00 am training session with his IFS team mates and it is in no way an inconvenience for him to make it. I guess that’s the difference between chasing dreams and chasing pay packets right there.
Paul Kelly and Aubrey Tarr will fight each other on November 17th in the Ulster hall at CLAN WARS 33.
This is an amateur fight on the Clan Wars event card. A 61kg bantamweight MMA bout. You probably won’t hear much about it – Just two guys and former stablemates having a fight.
Paul is 31 years old and is coming back from a 3 year lay off from the sport. Like a lot of athletes in the amateur ranks of any sport, finding the space to develop your craft is difficult. Most of the 3 years involved dedicating his time to family and work and a move back to his native Derry from Belfast. When i ask him what brings him back now he says
I just love the life and the lifestyle – The people at IFS are my family I love training with them and spending time with them. I know all fighters say this but I think IFS is the best club in the country
Paul does the 150 mile round trip to Belfast about 4 times a week and manages juggling work and family life as best he can. Paul quickly points out there are a number of very good MMA clubs in Derry and it’s surrounds; but IFS feels like family to him. He joined the club when he was based in Belfast and the camaraderie and friendships he has developed there are not something he was prepared to let go of in a hurry.
When i came back to MMA about 5 months ago my wife just encouraged me to go for it as hard and long as i could. She has been a huge support to me
Paul is a guy who knows the odds of a man like him coming back to the sport at 31 and making it to the UFC are pretty slim. But that’s not the point or the Northern star that is guiding his path.
I just want to be as good as I can be and learn as much as I can – for as long as I can.
The 5:30 am starts on a Sunday are something to be looked forward to, a chance to learn and hopefully help others coming up learn from him. If he has one regret it is that he is not coming into the sport now as a 17 or 18 year old. He feels MMA on the island is light-years away from where he started just 6 or 7 years ago.
When I asked him about the curiousity of the early morning Sunday sessions and it’s purpose he just says
You know I guess it gets everyone out of their comfort zone. For the amateurs it’s a case of how bad do you want to get better. Plus I don’t think any other club does it.
Paul McLoughlin is the Head Coach at IFS and Kelly is effusive in his praise of how well Paul runs the club. From having the best expertise across the various disciplines, to nutrition and matchmaking opponents. All of this is handled by the club and decisions are taken with the best interests of the fighter, his ability and his health in mind.
As we move on to discuss Aubrey Tarr and the upcoming fight in Ulster Hall it is quite clear that trash-talking opponents is not part of this fighter’s make-up. From what i can gather Tarr is a former IFS member and Kelly has nothing but praise for him describing him as a Legend up there.
Indeed Aubrey is away at the World kickboxing championships at the moment and i will be catching up with him on these virtual pages next week after he gets back.
The attitude of Paul Kelly to this fight and I suppose by extension the IFS attitude in general is:
I have respect and in many cases I am friends with my opponents. We go in and fight in the cage. Someone wins and someone loses and that’s it.
There has been much comment in recent weeks about the dangers of MMA and in some uneducated quarters there are people calling for it to be banned. I thought i’d ask Paul his thoughts on the dangers.
Look don’t get me wrong – I love boxing and I watch it all the time but in MMA there are bouts or sessions whether it be grappling or wrestling, where i don’t get one strike to the head. In boxing the only legal shots are head shots and body shots. In ways i can see MMA as being safer than boxing. I love both to be honest
I was curious to know if there were enough fights available for amateurs and if it was a struggle to get on Event Cards. In the first instance IFS handle all of that side of things for him. Paul’s observation was that at the amateur level he thought there were enough promotions running events and that IFS often send fighters across the water to fight at regional events in the UK. Although as you climb the MMA ladder it can get a little more difficult.
At this stage I want to give a shout out to two of Paul Kelly’s sponsors because sponsors are the life blood of the sport at this level of the game. It is easy for an Artem Lobov to get a sponsor but sponsoring amateur guys and gals or even athletes on the bottom step of the professional ladder is not a lucrative business.
Paul Kelly is in the middle of a 7 week fight preparation for his Clan Wars fight. Liberty Meal Plans have been providing him with his nutrition. What does this mean?. It means that for approximately 50 days and longer perhaps, Liberty Meal Plans have been sponsoring 3 meals a day. Meals that have the specific nutrition he requires. That’s 150 meals at least…So that deserves mention. Big Mention. As i am sure they help more athletes than Paul Kelly.
The other sponsor is AMC Fitness in Belfast. AMC help Paul with some additional strength and conditioning work and he is extremely grateful for their help.
A final point on Clan Wars 33 in The Ulster Hall. Go to this fight if for no other reason than to experience the unique atmosphere of a Big Fight card in the Ulster Hall – with it’s balcony seating it gives one of the most incredible and intimate fight experiences on the island.
And when Paul Kelly and Aubrey Tarr come on….Tear the roof down.