In this edition of Exploring Irish MMA, we caught up with middleweight Will Fleury who makes his Bellator debut against Alen Amedovski on July 14.
It’s a known fact that a fruitful career in mixed martial arts is a path that very few can sustain and ultimately reap the rewards of. Talent, of course, is the key ingredient to success but perseverance, luck and the ability to deal with adversity are often just as important.
Understanding that the sport will not bend to your demands is an important lesson. Sure, you’ve got the big-names who can mould the game to suit their aims but in your early days – realising that you are but a grain of sand on a vast and unforgiving beach of your fellow fighters is crucial as you attempt to turn your goals into reality.
SBG middleweight Will Fleury will know more than most that talent is nothing without the mental strength to back it up.
At 4-0, his career as a pro would appear to be in its early stages but this guy’s record in no way does justice to how experienced he is. Seven scheduled opponents have pulled out on Will in the last three years – leaving him with a resumé that is short on numbers, all things considered.
The last time we spoke to Fleury he was in an odd situation. Fighting under the BRAVE CF banner and fresh off of a decision victory over Tarek Suleiman in Jordan, he expressed an understandable level of uncertainty about his future.
There was never a sense that he was overly disillusioned but after a number of unforeseen speed-bumps, it was clear that Will Fleury believed he had done enough to see his career progress further than it already had.
Of course, it was through no fault of his own – but this week when we caught up with him for the first time since March, he revealed that his big break came just hours after our original conversation.
Anyone can be on the receiving end of seven or eight opponent pull-outs – it’s nothing to boast about, of course. The thing is that Will had so clearly outgrown his status as a 4-0 fighter on the merit of his talent and experience that it was only a matter of time before the big dogs in the MMA promotion game came a’knocking.
Make no mistake, this guy can legitimately fight.
A tall and rangey middleweight, his unbeaten career extends to his amateur run too, so when he did get signed by Scott Coker and company for a spot on their upcoming trip to Rome for Bellator 203, nobody who knew him was overly shocked.
Speaking to us here at Pundit Arena MMA, Fleury gave an insight into where his head is at with his shot at the big-time looming.
“Obviously, when you get signed by the second biggest promotion in the world you’re getting a bit of a buzz and you’re more excited for the next fight. You are thinking that you have to put on a performance.
“I feel like I’m the best middleweight in Ireland already and now there’s an opportunity to prove that I’m the best middleweight in the world. I feel like I’m Ireland’s best-kept secret in a lot of ways. I don’t have that hype train behind me really but anyone who knows me knows how f***ing legit I am.
“The motivation to keep smashing guys is huge now. I’ve been waiting long enough, doing all of the mental work for long enough.”
Fleury actually secured a spot on a South African reality show – another moment that could have been an early springboard for his career – but again, as they often do, things had a way of soiling his plans.
When the time came to fight, he was on the receiving end of over ten illegal elbows before the referee finally jumped in to declare the fight a no-contest. It wasn’t a legitimate loss but it no doubt felt like one given the circumstances.
“All of the pull-outs, all of that shit – I feel like I have the window of opportunity now to go out there and show exactly what resilience can do. It doesn’t really matter what the f**k happened, it’s how you react to it. All the pullouts, the elbows to the back of the head, all that bullshit? Nah, f**k you I’m here. I’m still here.”
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This one time in Africa about 16 hours after I got elbowed in the back of the head 14 times. We did the only individual challenge of the series. Holding a mattress overhead for as long as possible. They tried to convince me I shouldn’t do it as I was “concussed”. I did it & won by a fucking considerable distance. I thank whatever gods may be for my unconquerable soul #willfuckingfleury #rawbastard #restonic #tf1
The biggest win of Fleury’s career to date isn’t one that shows on his pro-record. It lies in the fact that he never stopped grinding his way towards his eventual break.
Now, with an opportunity to start a new chapter in his rise on July 14, things do finally seem to be trending in the right direction.
“It’s only going to go up and up and up. As long as what happened doesn’t affect how you see yourself. Nothing that happens to you matters unless you let it matter.
“I’ve been working my balls off for eight or nine years so wheen I get an opportunity like this, I feel super-prepared. This is first proper opportunity I’ve gotten.”
Alen Amedovski (5-0) will welcome him to Bellator – bringing with him a streak of five straight KO/TKO’s. It would appear to be a dangerous matchup for the Irishman straight off the bat but Will just doesn’t appear to be fazed.
“It’s going to take one helluva man to take this away from me and I don’t think this guy is the one of them.
“He’s going to present an opportunity to smash him at some point. Somewhere I’ll get that opportunity and you’re not going to deny me my chance to get out there and get this thing on the road.
“5 KO’s? It’ll look great when I KO you.
“Records don’t mean shit.
“It’s funny when you can feel the mentality off someone just by tiny little actions. His contract didn’t come back for about two weeks which meant to me that he was thinking this fight over, thinking he was basically giving up his record now. But he was probably getting paid well enough to go ‘f**k it’.”
It’s a step in the right direction for sure, though. One that brings with it a level of exposure you’re just not going to get fighting on the regional scene. The bright lights of Bellator are beckoning and while he considers his opening test to be a very passable one, Fleury’s goals now that he’s onboard are plain and simple.
“I want legit guys. I want to be smashing top-level fighters. I don’t want to be at this stage of my career where everyone is seeing me as a prospect still. I want to be a f**king thing.
“I want to be coming up into title-contention and I get that will be around 3-4 fights but I want to be quickly considered as a title-contender. So it’s up to me to go out there and put on the performance that helps people see things like that.”
Exploring Irish MMA wasn’t forced into existance. It came about due to the very clear wave of talent we are seeing develop on the national scene and even in the last few weeks and months, some of our top prospects have made that step from up-and-comer to established talent.
“You look at Richie Smullen fighting in the UFC this week, I’m fighting in Bellator the week after. Blaine O’Driscoll is another legit fighter with a great attitude. Sam Slater made his debut in the last two months and has smashed two lads. I’ve been training with him for the last two years, he’s high-level.
“There are a load of lads who are primed and ready to go, legit fighters. In the next two or three years you’re going to see a lot of these guys making big waves.”
You can watch Will Fleury in action at Bellator 203 on July 14 as he looks to usher in a new beginning for himself after a truly unique climb to the position he now finds himself in.
Still though, the climb is often the making of the man who gets to the summit and while he hasn’t reached that upper echelon just yet, the groundwork is done for this SBG middleweight to make a serious impact on the sport.
With next week’s debut, you can see him take those early steps and finally prove exactly how legit he is.
Each entry to the series will become available to read below as it goes live.
Part I – Blaine O’Driscoll – 125/135lbs – (6-2)
Part II – Richie Smullen – 155lbs – (3-1-0)
Cillian Cunningham, Pundit Arena