UFC light heavyweight Sean O’Connell (16-6) knows better than to take an opportunity for granted. After realizing his dream to fight in the UFC, he knows that at a moment’s notice, it could all be gone.
At UFC Fight Night 65 on May 10, O’Connell will continue to test his mettle when he takes on Anthony Perosh in Adelaide, Australia.
For most mixed martial artists, getting to the UFC epitomizes what it means to make it. But securing a roster spot is just the beginning of the journey. Once there, each man must stand on his own, forge his path, and prove he belongs amongst the world’s elite warriors.
Eight years ago to the day the interview with O’Connell on The Fight Corner was conducted, the Minnesota native competed in his first professional MMA bout. He knocked out his opponent in just 36 seconds. Not bad for a man who was laughed at by his peers when he said that he was planning on pursuing an MMA career.
O’Connell had previously showcased his athletic talents playing linebacker at the University of Utah. But he knew he wasn’t a “superstar player” and probably couldn’t pursue a football career beyond the colliegate level. Once those days were over, he ventured upon a journey in mixed martial arts.
Drawn to MMA after watching The Ultimate Fighter season 1, O’Connell made the cast of the eighth season, but lost in his elimination bout. He was submitted by Shane Primm and it would be years before he’d get noticed by the UFC again.
A few years back, O’Connell was hosting his radio show and UFC president Dana White was a guest. He decided to go for broke and asked White for a contract. At the time, he was in the middle of what became a 6-fight win streak.
“I told my boss, ‘Hey, I’m going to ask [White] for a job. I’m going to try and campaign for a contract,'” said O’Connell. “And that’s somewhat frowned upon in the professional world of radio to do self-serving things. But we figured it’d be good radio, even if Dana was like ‘Shut up kid. No one cares who you are,’ or whatever. But he reacted pretty well. He was like ‘alright, I’m going to stay on the line and give you Joe Silva’s number and we’ll talk about it later.'”
White kept true to his word and gave O’Connell the UFC matchmaker’s information. Not too long after, he received a call from Silva and was offered his first matchup with the organization.
“They treated me fairly and eventually gave me a phone call and called me up to fight my buddy, Ryan Jimmo, which is hilarious. In the light heavyweight division, he’s like the one guy that I actually kind of knew on a personal level. We kind of chuckled about the fact that we were going to have to fight each other. But that’s just the way the game is. I’m very grateful for that opportunity and glad I’m still in the UFC.”
O’Connell struggled in his first two outings with the UFC. He was swiftly finished by Jimmo in his promotional debut. Then he dropped a split decision to Gian Villante. Before colliding with Matt Van Buren, O’Connell knew he was in a must win situation. Suffering a third straight loss would have been catastrophic.
“I think if I would’ve lost that fight, my stint in the UFC would’ve been over and that was just unacceptable to me,” said O’Connell. “I mean, the way that fight went, I was actually pretty disappointed. I started out so slow and allowed him to look better than he really is against me and that was pretty aggravating for me. I remember going back to my corner after the first round and being like, ‘What the hell am I doing?'”
O’Connell felt the sense of urgency. He knew it was time to dig deep and persevere, or he’d see a pink slip.
“I knew that if I could get my hands on him and land a couple of shots, he’d go down, and eventually, that’s what happened. He’s a tough, tough kid and I think that he’s improving really quickly. But that was absolutely a situation where if I would’ve lost, I would’ve got that ugly call from Joe Silva just saying, ‘Hey, thanks for your services. Good luck in the future,’ and I was not ready for that to be happening for me. So we got it done.”
But he’s not out of the woods yet. Continuing to get his hand raised and improving his record remains imperative. Up next for O’Connell, he’ll face a bonafide veteran in Perosh (15-8) on his own home soil in Australia. Though Adelaide is nearly 900 miles away from Perosh’s home of Sydney, he’ll still have the Australian crowd behind him come fight night. Nevertheless, O’Connell is looking at he upside of the heading into hostile territory.
“I love travelling, I love seeing different parts of the world. Thankfully the UFC has helped me do a little bit more of that,” said O’Connell. “My first fight was down in New Zealand and now I get to kind of head back to that same region to go and fight in Adelaide.
“So it should be a lot of fun, a lot of pressure obviously, because like you mentioned Perosh is a hometown guy. The fans down in Australia absolutely love him. It’s one of those fights, that as cliche as it is, you certainly cannot leave this one up to the judges because they’re probably are going to hurt your feelings if you let it go the distance against a hometown boy like this. This whole training camp we’re focusing on getting a finish and that’s what I’m hoping to do.”
Training out of Jeremy Horn’s Elite Performance and Fitness, O’Connell ready in all phases of the game. With 10 of his 15 wins coming by way of submission, Perosh flourishes in grappling and will likely try to get the fight to the ground. To prepare for that, O’Connell rolled with Horn, who in 118 fights has submitted 63 men. He’s also honed in on utilizing better head movement and footwork, and using his speed and combinations in his striking.
“I have a tendency to just try and kind of be a tank and to move forward and weather punches…and it’s just a dumb way to fight,” O’Connell laughed. “In the lower levels it works because guys aren’t as good. But in the UFC, there’s no such thing as an easy fight and if you let UFC fighters punch you in the face, it’s going to hurt (laughs). It’s going to cause damage and you’re going to set yourself up for a potential loss.”
“I definitely have an advantage in speed,” added O’Connell. “I definitely have an advantage on the feet and in striking power. But as everyone has probably seen from my fights, I’ve got to land those shots, and he’s a savvy veteran, so he’s going to make it very difficult. I think I’m going to be able to establish a pace that will hopefully wear him out a little bit and capitalize later on; probably late second, early third round when I’m able to put him on the mat. We’ll see.”
Sean O’Connell will square off with Anthony Perosh at UFC Fight Night 65 in Adelaide, Australia on May 10, which will air exclusively on UFC Fight Pass.