Win or go home. It’s as simple as that.
Fort Macleod, Alta.’s Tom O’Connor (9-1) takes on Canton, Ohio’s Damonte Robinson (6-1-1) in one of the XFC lightweight tournament semi-finals at XFC 44 on May 28. The latest from Xtreme Fighting Championships emanates from Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines, Iowa, and broadcasts on FOX Deportes/FOX Sports 2.
O’Connor, 28, has a complimentary assessment of Robinson and has a tangible level of excitement about embracing this challenge in the cage.
“I’m really excited about this fight because I feel like this is a fan’s fight. Like, it’s going to be neither of us are willing to go backwards. That’s the first thing I noticed straight away. He likes going forwards and I’m the same way,” said O’Connor in an interview with MMA Empire.
“You know I like to put the pace going forwards. And so that’s going to be interesting to see how that works and I think his athletic ability, you’ll notice that he’s very strong, very athletic, and fast Also, the little things he does in his grappling and his wrestling, he makes some really good decisions. Just being very decisive in what he’s doing.”
Much like O’Connor, Robinson, 25, showed a level of skillset awareness and respect for the XFFC featherweight champion O’Connor, who is on the heels of beating Jose Caceres in the XFC lightweight quarterfinals at XFC 43.
“I’ve watched one or two fights from him I want to say, but from everything that I’ve seen he’s a game opponent. And everything that I’ve heard from my coaches, he’s going to come out there and he’s not going to shy away. He’s going to be in my face and I’m okay with that,” said Robinson in an interview with MMA Empire.
“I’m used to people coming out, coming at me and trying to bring it to me. I’m okay with that. I’m comfortable in any situation. Whether I’m taken down, whether we’re standing up, I’m going to be comfortable and I’m going to be right there ready to throw down with him.”
O’Connor confident in preparation following opponent switch
O’Connor was originally slated to face DWCS veteran Kenny Cross in this semi-final bout before Cross was forced to withdraw due to injury.
The aforementioned Cross dropout created a pivot in the game-planning within his team, but the individual methodology did not change for O’Connor.
“Of course a lot goes into the game plan, deciding what the fight’s actually going to look like and play out like. So, in that aspect, a lot had to go back to the drawing board. My coaches and team are really great for that. They’re immediately jumping on footage,” said O’Connor.
“But other than that, for me as an athlete, not a lot changed at all. My whole goal is to fight the best in the world, and be the best in the world. So that kind of just plays into being adaptable. I mean, if there’s any time to practice adaptability, it’s in the middle of a world-wide pandemic.”
O’Connor said he’s felt measurable improvements with weaponizing pace in recent fights, but felt like there was a small timing issue with the striking last time out due to his competitive hiatus.
With the turnaround timeline for this bout being far tighter, those issues seem like they will be shored up for this end of May contest.
“I think the turnover and being a part of this tournament is such an awesome opportunity for me. Being part of XFC, such an awesome opportunity, having this fight nice and quick. Again, in such crazy times, to be able to put on another event and now there might be fans, which is super exciting. So, I think that my timing and everything will be better this time,” said O’Connor.
“Training has been a little bit different for me, but, again, if we can’t be adaptable, what can we be? That is what human beings are, we’re adaptable. So, I’m just going to take that in and more adversity means a greater challenge for me to prove myself and that’s kind of what I’m all about.”
The combative sports community in Lethbridge is rich with mentorship from the likes of Lee Mein and Brad Wall (O’Connor’s sole corner for his fight) leading the way.
Progressive Fighting Academy and CMC martial artists have historically gotten in work with O’Connor for past training camps, but the pandemic adaptations also affected these interactions throughout this camp.
“We have a little hidden gem here; the amount of wealth of information and wealth of knowledge. They’re all passionate about it too, right? That’s what I think a lot of being able to be a learner and observing is about. To gain more knowledge, you have to be passionate about it to learn it,” said O’Connor.
“And all of those guys, all the people that I’m surrounded with, I’m so blessed to have because they’re all passionate about it. They all want to learn and teach it. I can just be a sponge.”
Robinson not one to shy away from big opportunity
With the backdrop of Robinson’s cancelled bout with Cross for Dana White’s Contender Series, Cross plays a central role in this XFC bout.
Now, instead being forced to withdraw himself, Robinson is the one stepping in to replace Cross in a big slot on a big card.
“I’ve always been one for if the opportunity is there, take it. This isn’t a sport where you can be picky and choosey about who you’re going to fight with and when you’re going to fight. If UFC reached out and were like ‘hey do you want to take this fight, you’ve got a week to make weight.’ You don’t go ‘oh well, I have a lot of weight to cut.’ You make the weight. If you want to fight, you’re going to be there,” said Robinson.
“I hate that I’ve been thrown in for Kenny (Cross). I’m sure he’s not happy about that either, but I’m not sure exactly what his circumstances are. All I heard was that he was injured somehow and I didn’t get any kind of details. So, you know, I pray that he shows up real soon and I’m sure our paths will definitely cross.”
Robinson said he’s been getting in good work at Ground Zero MMA throughout this training camp.
He has been preparing in a way that’s mindful of O’Connor’s approach, but not having a myopic view of what his opponent will bring to the cage.
“I know a couple of my training partners definitely went out of their way and tried to mimic his style, but we didn’t focus too much on that,” said Robinson.
“At the end of the day, no matter what you see anyone would do, they’re going to modify how they fight. They’re going to get better on how they fight. So, we don’t focus too much on that.”
Although Robinson has been galvanizing his skillset with modern warriors, he has also worked the mental side with pioneers of the sport.
He said a notable example of that was kickstarted via a few post-fight insights from UFC legend Mark Coleman.
“It’s great, getting to talk with Mark Coleman definitely helped a lot. He’s actually one of my past opponent’s corners. After the fight, he came into the cage and he was very, very pleased with the work he saw that I put in for that fight. And he has told me time and time again that he’s pleased to have me come out,” said Robinson.
“I’m actually down here in his neck of the woods right now out in Columbus. I’m actually planning on reaching out to him to see if I can either get a personal session with him or see if he has anything to teach me while I’m out this way.”
“Thank you to all the family and friends who support me. Thank you to all my fans who support me and, of course, Progressive Fighting Academy. Not able to be open right now, but I cannot wait until everyone is vaccinated and we can all go back to training. Hard Training, same thing. The gym there, I’m excited. I always love the support that I get from there. And the training that I do with Trevor there at Hard Training, I always feel strong and conditioned well. Frontline Towing, they’re always great with me and you know I’m not the best driver, so it’s always good to have a backup plan there with Frontline Towing.” Follow O’Connor on social media: FACEBOOK, TWITTER, INSTAGRAM
“I want to thank all my coaches and sponsors for everything that they’ve done. But I just want to thank anyone who believes in me or just put any type of time into me. Even if it’s been just showing me one thing. Anyone who has ever believed in me because I feel like that helps. I believe in the energy that you put out in the universe for someone or towards someone, I feel like that really helps. I would just like to thank everyone who believes in me.” Follow Robinson on social media: TWITTER, INSTAGRAM