Tristan Connelly enters UFC 261 bout with new source of motivation

Tristan Connelly
Credit: Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press

After shocking the world in his UFC debut, Tristan Connelly is back for an encore performance.

Canada’s Connelly (14-6) is set to welcome the United States’ Pat Sabatini (13-3) into the UFC on Saturday night in a featherweight contest at UFC 261 in Jacksonville, Fla.

During the time between his UFC debut and now, Connelly, 35, and his wife welcomed their daughter into the world back in June.

Although he has never had any trouble getting motivated for a fight, Connelly said being a father now provides him with yet another source to go to for that motivation.

“I’m always pretty f**king motivated. I don’t know if I can be more motivated, but it’s definitely a new thing to be motivated about,” said Connelly in an interview with MMA Empire.

“When looking for sources of motivation, that’s never really been a problem for me, but she definitely is a good motivator to think about that really helps motivate me. It’s not that I was ever not motivated, it’s just now my daughter is one of my favourite places to go to for motivation.”

Connelly is coming off a UFC debut win over Michel Pereira at welterweight, a fight he accepted on one week’s notice, and closed as a +325 underdog.

While the win itself was significant for Connelly and his career, he said the manner in which he earned the victory reaffirmed how mentally tough he is.

“The thought process, believing in myself and the way I think mentally going into a fight, it just really reinforced that I’m exceptional there. I was confident, I knew how the fight was going to go, I wasn’t worried and it wasn’t surprising at all. Your best chance going into a fight is thinking the way I was thinking that night,” said Connelly.

“Nothing rattled me, nothing phased me. If he knocked me out, he knocked me out. Great. But he didn’t, and I’m not stopping until I’m unconscious. That’s kind of the mindset I go in with and I’ve just reinforced that way of thinking in my head over the last almost two years now, and I can’t wait to put it on display.”

Saturday night will be Connelly’s first time competing at featherweight since 2015, primarily having fought at lightweight since then.

Following the neck surgery that kept him out of action since his UFC debut, Connelly said he wasn’t able to do much training in the early stages of his rehab, but maintained a strict diet that put him in the position to make the decision to drop to featherweight.

Connelly said he’s in fantastic shape, expects a smooth weight cut on fight week, and expects to pack on a lot of weight between weigh-ins and fight time.

“I was able to shed a lot of weight before I even got to training, so I was able to start everything a little lighter. It’s going to be a lot of work, but I can do it. I’ve been so consistent with my diet and everything, so it’s coming off very smoothly,” said Connelly.

“And I’m going to be huge in there. I’ve gotten used to operating on a calorie deficit for so long that after I weigh-in and cut weight and refuel, I’ll probably be around 175 pounds at featherweight.”

When he initially accepted the matchup with Sabatini, Connelly said he didn’t know anything about him or what he brings to the table.

But after watching a few of his most recent fights, Connelly said Sabatini brings a similar style as himself, and believes the fight could come down to who has the better gas tank.

“It’s his wrestling and grappling that are going to be the tests. I like to wrestle and grapple too, so I think it’s going to come down to whose conditioning is better and who can put a bigger pace on the other guy and tire them out,” said Connelly.

“I don’t see either of us catching each other in the first round. It could happen, but realistically we’re both tough guys, we’re skilled grapplers, and we’re both black belts in jiu-jitsu. It’s probably going to come down to who can outpace the other guy.”

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