It’s the return of XFC, and with it comes a tournament-style format.
In the lightweight bracket, Canada’s Tom O’Connor (8-1) will square off with the United States’ Jose Caceres (15-10) at XFC 43 on Wednesday night in Atlanta, Ga.
Knowing what’s at stake, and the win-or-go-home model, O’Connor, 28, said he’s looking to put his best foot forward, and not hold anything back.
“I’m so excited for this fight and this opportunity. I’m going to go out there and lay everything on the line. I’m either going to win a beautiful victory, or I’m going to come back on my shield,” said O’Connor in an interview with MMA Empire.
“I’m going to hold nothing back because I’m so blessed to have this opportunity.”
After competing as a welterweight for the majority of his career, Caceres, 33, is making the drop to lightweight for his XFC debut.
Caceres said he believes the lightweight division is where he belongs and where he will be able to shine, which starts Wednesday night.
“I’m meant for this lightweight division. This is where I’m really going to be able to express myself as a mixed martial artist,” said Caceres in an interview with MMA Empire.
“I feel like it doesn’t matter who they stack up against me at XFC, this is just the beginning of my journey of my lightweight career. I’m super driven, motivated and inspired, and I want to reach the level where my brother (Alex Caceres) has been.”
Tough road back for O’Connor
It’s been a rough past two years for O’Connor who hasn’t competed since winning the XFFC featherweight title at XFFC 18 back in July 2018.
O’Connor suffered a concussion shortly after that bout, which was followed by a knee injury shortly after recovering from the concussion.
O’Connor said the layoff reminded him how much he loves staying active in the cage, and said he’ll be looking to stay as active as possible, now that he’s injury-free.
“When I hurt my knee, that’s when I started feeling the rush of holy s**t I need to get back in there. To go back-to-back injuries, that was kind of brutal,” said O’Connor.
“The mental side of things, healing from the second one was much more focused and driven to get my ass in gear and get back to it. I didn’t rush anything, but I definitely learned I want to be super active this coming year and years to come. I don’t want to be off for long periods; this was way too long.”
Throughout this training camp, O’Connor said he put a lot more emphasis on his strength and conditioning training than in the past.
Although he was victorious in his last fight, O’Connor said he could’ve been better-prepared from a conditioning standpoint, which is something he rectified this time around.
“With the Chris Day fight, the weight cut and everything was good, but I felt I could’ve done a bit better in the weight room and the conditioning room,” said O’Connor.
“I kind of got gassed a little bit, and I just want to be more precise in that realm.”
Standing at 5’8″, O’Connor will be facing a much taller man in Caceres who stands at 6’2″, while also possessing a 74-inch reach.
With the height and reach of Caceres, O’Connor said it’s going to be key for him to find his range as soon as possible, and begin picking his shots from there.
“I’m going to try and get my range figured out immediately, right off the bat,” said O’Connor.
“I have to respect his range, knowing he’s longer than me, but I don’t need to overly respect his fighting. I do respect him as an opponent, he is tough, but I’m not going to be soft in there. As soon as I get my range down, I’m coming for blood.”
Chance of pace for Caceres
Caceres’ last outing was earlier this year at Road to M-1 USA 4, where he dropped a unanimous decision to Michael Lombardo.
Caceres said he didn’t come out as hard and as fast as he needed to in that fight, and said he’ll be looking to change that approach against O’Connor.
“I turned it up and started putting punches together in the second or third round, but in the first round I was kind of coasting and feeling it out too much, which put me in a lot of trouble,” said Caceres.
“I need to come out harder, faster, and with a higher pace to change the momentum of the fight.”
Caceres has faced and beaten the best of the best on the regional scene so far in his career, including being the only man to have defeated current UFC welterweight champion Kamaru Usman.
Caceres said the quality of competition he’s continually faced throughout his career provides him with plenty of confidence each time he steps in the cage.
“I never turn down a fight, and I’ve definitely fought some of the who’s who in the game. Back then, maybe no one knew Kamaru was going to be the world champion, but when nobody wanted to fight him, I stepped up and fought him because I had nothing to lose,” said Caceres.
“When I fought guys like Sabah Homasi, Colby Covington, Rodrigo Vargas and Niko Price, these were huge tests in my career where I needed to overcome those adversities and learn something from it. I definitely learned a lot from it, and it gives me confidence I can step in the cage with anyone.”
Caceres has proven to be a serious threat whenever the fight hits the floor, with 12 of his 15 victories coming via submission.
Caceres said he expects to have the clear edge over O’Connor in the grappling department Wednesday night, and believes he has the game-plan to get the fight to the ground in order to utilize that edge.
“From my standpoint, I feel like I have the grappling edge because I don’t think he’s ever grappled with somebody at my skill level, understanding, and experience,” said Caceres.
“From my coaches’ point of view, they say with some of my unorthodox striking, I might be able to force that engagement a lot earlier in the fight and take the fight where I need to take it.”
“I’d like to thank all my friends and family who surround me every day, my girlfriend Shannon Brezina, my parents, Progressive Fighting Academy, Hard Training, all my training partners, Canadian Martial Arts Centre, Brad Wall, my sponsors (Front Line Towing, Bain Jiu-Jitsu), and XFC for this opportunity.” Follow O’Connor on social media: FACEBOOK, TWITTER, INSTAGRAM
“I would like to thank Manolo Lopez, Ray Foundura, my brother Alex Caceres, my mom and dad for constantly supporting me, all my teammates at Freedom Fighters MMA, and First Round Management for getting me the fight.” Follow Caceres on social media: INSTAGRAM