How a Vancouver fighter beat Goliath in first UFC fight

October 7, 2019

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How a Vancouver fighter beat Goliath in first UFC fight



Rohit Joseph – In a real-life David versus Goliath, Victoria born, Vancouver-based fighter Tristan “Boondock” Connelly defeated his much bigger and younger opponent, Michel Pereira, by unanimous decision in his first Ultimate Fighting Championship bout on Sept. 14 at Rogers Arena.

“Everyone that didn’t know me doubted me,” said Connelly. “I look smaller than I am but I’m not weaker.”

Pereira, 25, stands six feet, one inch and weighs in at 172 pounds. Connelly, 33, is just five feet, 10 inches tall and weighs 169 pounds, a stark difference in mixed martial arts or MMA, where facing a larger and younger opponent could mean taking harder punches or being overpowered more easily with grappling moves.

But size didn’t matter to Connelly, who seized a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to break into the UFC, the most prestigious and elite mixed martial arts competition.

Before Connelly even knew he would be in the tournament, he tweeted to the UFC, predicting he would be the David to take out Goliath after one of the fighters for the Vancouver tournament dropped out.

The tweet turned out to be a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Preparation is everything

On a Wednesday afternoon, days after his dramatic win, Connelly watches over his students, practicing their punches, kicks and drills at his gym in Richmond. He reflects on the confidence needed just to survive in MMA.

“You have to have absolute belief in yourself because if you give yourself a little bend, you will break,” said Connelly.

“I always say in my fights, I don’t look to beat [my opponents], I look to break them.”

Connelly is meticulous about preparation. He knew his opponent would use an acrobatic and flashy style called capoeira, a Brazilian martial art and style of dance.

Fighter and trainer Radley Da Silva, who has expertise in capoeira, helped Connelly prepare for his bout with Pereira.

“It was honestly such a moment to watch Tristan grind for years in the gym here sweating in sweat, blood, tears every day and then to see him follow through on his game plan to a tee,” Da Silva said.

“I had no doubt that he was going to win that fight.”

Origins of a mixed martial artist

Born and raised in Victoria, Connelly spent much of his childhood skateboarding and playing hockey. He credits those experiences with preparing him to take hard hits, whether it was slamming into the concrete of a skatepark or the boards of an ice rink.

“I was never a fighter growing up. I never got into fights with kids, I was actually the opposite…I was shy,” said Connelly.

After taking a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu class, Connelly instantly fell in love with the sport and then became obsessed with the wider world of mixed martial arts.

But his parents were initially concerned.

“[My parents] think I’m mad, but they’ve seen how I’ve grown and seen how good I am at [MMA] because of how much I love it,” said Connelly.

Processing the victory

After winning the fight, Connelly’s social media accounts went from hundreds of followers to thousands over the span of 24 hours.

“This has been a surreal awesome experience…it’s just been a media frenzy and everyone says ‘you seem like you’re so adapted to this’ but I tell them I’ve been talking for a long time. I’ve been fighting for a long time…it’s the same stuff just on a bigger stage,” said Connelly.

In spite of the newfound attention, Connelly remains committed to his students.

One of those students, Robyn Dunne says Connelly gave her advice for an upcoming fight the day after his win.

Connelly is now training for a potential fight, which may happen in either early December or January. He hopes it’s in December, before the holidays, because even UFC fighters need to enjoy the season’s gluttony.

If the fight is in January, “Christmas and New Years would be ruined,” he said.

“I can’t eat anything, I’d be miserable, grumpy and I’d have to go to the gym on Christmas, which sucks.”

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