I first became acquainted with Richie Kiely about 5 years ago, when we were training in the same gym. He had not yet broken onto the professional scene, but it was clear, even to my untrained eye, that it was on the horizon. Long before I dove headlong into the wonderful world of MMA, I was keeping half an eye on his career. It was a real treat therefore, to get a chance to sit and chat with The Face of Bellator in his natural habitat, Tallaght’s SBG.
As Richie gave me the tour of the impressive facility, we were stopped a couple of times by other members wanting to say hi and shake his hand. It was immediately obvious the admiration and respect that Richie’s cohorts have for him.
As we continued to make our way towards their gorgeous conference room, I was struck by the relative calm in the gym. There was a lot going on with both kids and adults training, but there was a focused hush enveloping proceedings. The atmosphere throughout the entire place suggests there is serious work being engaged in.
As we got down to business, the first thing I wanted to ask Richie was how his recovery from last year’s knee injury had gone. Having ruptured his ACL in training, late last year he had surgery to repair it in February. As many athletes will know, the rehabilitation from such surgery can be long and arduous. However, this was not the case for the Tallaght man. He was back to full training in a matter of months.
Richie credits Sean Harding from Back 2 Basics Fitness with rehabbing his knee back to full strength in record time. A ruptured ACL could potentially have been a career ending injury. But thanks to Sean’s intervention Richie was back “dancing” far in advance of the usual recovery time.
Richie has recently signed a four fight, exclusive contract with Bellator. The first of these fights will take place on February 23rd in Dublin’s 3 Arena. Camp has started and preparations are well under way, so I was curious to see what, if any, support Bellator have offered.
“They seem to have big plans…whether that manifests is completely out of my hands. I am not reliant on Bellator, the same way I wasn’t reliant on BAMMA. That World Title came about as a result of all my actions…If they don’t give me any support, don’t be under any illusion, I’m still going to make the same waves, except this time I’m going to do it with bigger visibility.” – Richie Kiely
Richie’s next opponent has been agreed, but not yet announced. I asked him if he has customized his training now that he knows who he will be facing in the Spring. He told me that he has and assured me that this would be standard practice for him.
There are some in the sport who would have you believe that all fighters are the same, but Richie definitely is not one of them. He believes that you have to tailor your approach to the fight based on the specialism of the guy in the other corner.
“How you train for somebody who is a heavy wrestler, versus a Jiu Jitsu practitioner, versus a striker, is all completely different. More often than not, if you train the same for all types of opponents, you’re going to get found out eventually. I train specifically for each opponent” – Richie Kiely
Richie went on to say that he analyses each opponent’s strengths and weaknesses and identifies his own opportunities and threats. If this sounds a bit like a SWOT analysis, that’s because it’s exactly that. “Equally applicable in MMA as it is in business.”
“I have two highly skilled coaches in John Kavanagh and Dave Roche… Although I am confident in my skill set, I will always bounce it off the guys…They always give me very sage advice.”
The upcoming fight will not be Richie’s first appearance in the 3 Arena. In November 2017, while still the Face of BAMMA, Richie faced Alex Lohore in the same venue. He went into the fight with the knee injury, and was “fighting on one leg.” Richie recalls hearing Alex’s corner coaching their man to attack Richie’s left leg. Lohore followed this instruction and forced a submission by knee bar at the end of round 1.
This has been the only defeat in Richie’s professional career and it arguably went against the run of play. He had won both of his previous fights by TKO. Defeating Keith McCabe in round 1 and Daniel Olejniczak in round 2. Richie expressed great respect for these two fighters, but mentioned that he went into the cage both times looking for a fight. On both occasions he was so fresh after securing victory that he needed to hit pads to work off the excess energy and adrenalin.
Fighting in a venue as big as the 3Arena, especially in your home town is what dreams are made of. Many young hopefuls will aspire to follow in Richie’s footsteps. I asked him how fighting on this platform compared to other stages.
“Once the cage closes, there’s no difference…The pageantry that goes with it, the interviews, the cameras, that’s all pantomime. As soon as the cage door closes, I could be fighting in the cage downstairs. Except with an opponent that I don’t know, an opponent who is trying to hurt me.” – Richie Kiely
“If you really want to feel alive, get into a cage with a person who is trained to try and knock you out or submit you.” – Richie Kiely
Richie’s rise to the big stage has been unconventional to say the least. He is not content to follow the traditional route as many of his counterparts have done. Preferring instead to forge his own path. He acknowledges that this has ruffled some feathers but seems entirely unfazed by it.
“I do what I want. A lot of people say you need to pay your dues. That’s all well and good. They can live by that rule set, but don’t apply those standards to me. I’ll call out whoever I like. I’ll fight whoever I like.” – Richie Kiely
He makes no secret of the fact that he is here for a good time, not a long time. He wants to rock the world of MMA, “raise the aesthetics of the division,” and get out while he’s still pretty.
I asked Richie the question of what tempted him out of his brief retirement. He unabashedly told me that the retirement was more of a PR stunt than anything else.
“It was a complete lie. It was premeditated. It was strategic… There was a couple of reasons behind it. One was, I had been prodding the ugly bear, Terry Brazier, for BAMMA. He was the hide and seek champion. He wasn’t biting, because he knows I am a bad match up for him. I’d have knocked him out fairly quickly… I had no content to put up and I was looking to be impactful when I came back. I wanted to come back and fight big names.”
Richie’s ambitions are not limited to MMA. As soon as his fighting career is over, he plans to begin the FE1 exams with a view to a going into corporate law. Not doubt the master of spin will make as formidable an opponent in the court room as he does in the cage.
As I sat with Richie in SBG, the conversation naturally came around to fellow alumnus Conor McGregor. I wanted to get an understanding of how much influence the Notorious one has over those training in the gym. Richie was quick to point out that although some people do make the “lazy comparison” between himself and Conor, he is very much his own man.
“Lazy people will equate what I am doing as being similar to what Conor McGregor is doing, but it’s completely different. I am a completely different person… I have a huge respect for Conor, but we’re different people.” – Richie Kiely
There’s no denying that SBG continues to produce talented fighters. Always seeking out my next opportunity for a chat, I asked Richie who he thinks I should be keeping my eye on. He was reluctant to give me a list of names, for fear of leaving anyone out. He did, however, mention a few of his stable mates that he is looking forward to seeing fight.
“SBG are churning out fighter after the fighter. The level down there, there’s no easy spars…It’s a world class gym so people are gravitating towards it…I am really looking forward to seeing James Gallagher coming back. I think it’s going to be a redemption story…Kiefer Crosbie is making waves…Will Fleury, I am really looking forward to him. Sam Slater, John Redmond…and then obviously, I can’t wait to see myself back on tape.” – Richie Kiely
Richie is perhaps as well known for his silver tongue as he is for his good looks. Never one to shy away from voicing an opinion, the more controversial the better. I grew up not far from Richie, so I knew exactly what he meant when he said much of his stage craft stems from his school boy days.
Coming up in Tallaght, the most well-liked kid was often the one who could keep the slagging and banter going the longest. Richie says he still applies the same technique, the only difference being, now he does it in press conferences, not on street corners.
“I enjoy the craic. I don’t take it too seriously. I enjoy winding people up. I can’t believe these idiots actually take the bait.” – Richie Kiely
Richie has been putting his talents as a wordsmith to good use in recent times. Doing commentary for both Cage Legacy and Evolution events in the last few weeks. I was curious to find out how that had come about.
“I don’t actually know! I remember BAMMA had asked me would I do a bit of commentary and I said I would. So, I did some commentary on their fights…I did it on short notice. I think one of their guys was running late. I did about five fights, and I did quite well…If I have opinions, I give the lay man’s opinion, and I think that’s what people like.” – Richie Kiely
2019 looks set to be an exciting year for The Face of Bellator, with a fight in America looking almost certain. Richie tipped both Paul Daly and Lorenz Larkin as potential opponents, with Larkin the more likely prospect.
“Lorenz Larkin is going to be the name. He is ex UFC, very well known. I sparred him before and I beat him up hungover.” – Richie Kiely
As well as this, Richie teased me with the prospect of hearing a lot more from him in the near future. He suggested that he will have a bigger forum in which to say what he wants to say, but he would not be drawn on the specifics. Watch this space.