As he boarded the plane it hadn't really sunk in yet. This was going to be the next step. This was a hard earned ticket to get into the UFC. It was time to say goodbye to the beautiful weather that Brisbane, Australia, had to offer, and time to say hello to a cold, bitter Canadian winter.
After spending what had felt like an eternity being one of the hardest working fighters on Team Australia throughout the filming of The Ultimate Fighter: Nations, Brendan “Badger” O'Reilly‘s name did not appear on the card for the season finale event. His chance wasn't going to come. This “Badger” was sent back to his natural habitat, where he would watch his friends live out their mixed martial arts dreams.
“I wasn't necessarily disappointed,” O’Reilly confessed to MMAWeekly.com. “I didn't focus on the fact that they were making their debut and I wasn't. What I focused on was where I wanted to get to and the end goal and the skills that I needed to get there. It has actually been great because it has given me the chance to up-skill in all different areas. I've been working with some really great coaches to improve my skills across the board and I think that maybe it was a blessing in disguise.
“There was a bit of an injury, but I don't necessarily think that was the case (for not fighting on the finale). I think that they just decided that they wanted certain people on the card and not others. I think the UFC knew that I was just one of those guys that would step up and fight anyone. I know that in my time on the show, I proved that with the skills that I have and the work ethic that I have that I deserve to be at that level, and I think it was really only going to be a matter of time to get that call.”
The Ultimate Fighter experience can mean many different things to different fighters. Some hate the fact that they are isolated and that they are forced to be away from loved ones for weeks on end. Others find it as a platform to jump-start their careers, and for the most part, those fighters are the ones that relish every opportunity that they are given.
“It's hard to put my finger on any one thing. I just loved the whole experience,” O'Reilly explained. “I didn't find I got too homesick, I was just loving every moment of it. Especially coming from my point of view, it's sometimes hard to get coaches where I am, so just walking in there and having all these great coaches there, where all I have to do is turn up and do what they say, that was great.
“That's all I did, I just took the ball and ran with it. That's the part I loved – the mindless training where I would turn up every day and just work as hard as I could and I was improving. I loved the mateship, the Australian team, we were a really, really tight team. We became like brothers throughout the time there. We watched each others backs and I definitely made some mates for life out of it.”
Although O'Reilly is now beginning to make strides in his own mixed martial arts career, a big part of why he is involved in the sport is his love for helping others. For the majority of the 27-year-old's professional career, he has stood to the side in order to run his own gym – Gamebred Combat Club in Brisbane, Australia – which is the gym that fellow UFC competitors Ben Wall and Bec Rawlings both call home. Some fighters will wait until their own careers are well and truly over before they look at how they can continue to be involved in the sport they love, O'Reilly though, he has it all figured out just as his own career begins to take shape.
“Coaching is one of my passions, and I really love everyone at my gym, whether it's the fighters that I train or the brand new people, I just love coaching them,” O'Reilly explained. “Obviously, I'm probably going to have to take a bit of a step back now as I climb higher and higher with my fighting, but I'm never not going to be in the gym looking to help people improve. I'm looking at the moment at putting on some assistant coaches to help carry that workload. I'm always gonna be around Gamebred. It's something that I started a while ago, and it has grown from this tiny seed. It's a really great thing that we've got going on.”
After not being selected to appear in the finale of his Ultimate Fighter season, O'Reilly's UFC debut is now set to take place on the main card of UFC Fight Night 48 on Saturday in Macau. It's a chance that the undefeated Australian plans to make the most of, and with thousands of people tuning in via Fight Pass, he certainly wants to put his best foot forward when he squares off with Zhang Lipeng.
“I'm really confident and I'm really excited,” O'Reilly exclaimed. “I'm just excited to be able to show what I can really do and get in there and get stuck into this bloke. I think he's gonna be a tough opponent, I think that he's pretty well seasoned, and he's fought some tough guys. I think that he's one of those guys that's always gonna come to fight, which is exactly what I do too. I'm excited because I think this fight potentially has some fireworks and I think that's exactly what the UFC want, it's what the fans want, and it's what I wanna deliver as well.
“It's a great honor to be on the main card and obviously I'm looking to impress on there. I don't feel any added pressure though; I'm just stoked. I'm looking to show my skill set in the best light possible. I plan on executing what I need to do to get the win, and if it all goes to plan, I think I can get the performance of the night.”
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