In this edition of Exploring Irish MMA, we speak to one of the finest strikers in this country, Bellator’s newest welterweight signing, Richard Kiely.
The dreams and goals of a professional fighter often revolve around the glory that comes with hoisting a championship belt over your shoulder or the immortality that a picture-perfect finishing sequence can bring about.
But even though these thrills are inarguable, there’s a special emotion that comes to the fore when you get the opportunity to bring the circus to your home-country and perform in front of your own people as a main-event headliner.
For some, it takes years and a plentiful number of fights and wins to earn this opportunity. For others, it never materializes. For Richard Kiely – our featured fighter in this edition of Exploring Irish MMA – that goal was achieved in his third professional fight.
And it wasn’t some short-notice opportunity that he was gifted with – it was completely intentional and something of a show of faith in the clear potential for success this man possesses.
Sure, the fight didn’t go as he would have liked (and he gets into the reasons why below), but just the idea of such a seemingly inexperienced fighter getting the call says a lot.
Bellator MMA have now jumped on the opportunity to pick him up as an addition to their already-stacked welterweight division and in the time since, he has not been afraid to let the world know exactly what his plans are.
Kiely spoke to us here at Pundit Arena MMA about his background as a decorated kickboxer and how his pro-record as a mixed martial artist in no way does justice to his pedigree as a fighter.
“I was the pound-for-pound best kickboxer in Ireland. World kickboxing champion, European bronze-medalist – I had to retire due to injury.
“I was knocking guys out and that was at 190lbs. I’m now at 170lbs. I’ve fought up as high as 205lbs – just cause I could. I had the skillset.
“Now, I’m fighting at welterweight and I haven’t lost any power. My speed has increased. I’m explosive, elusive. I can fight from distance, in the pocket, on the ground.
“The welterweight roster is f**ked.
“John Kavanagh and his team wouldn’t be putting me on this stage if I wasn’t ready. They know my skillset.”
It’s pretty apparent that Kiely’s striking is elite. The eventual finish against Olejniczak above came about after we got to see the Irishman seemingly enjoying himself a bit – soaking up that valuable in-cage experience.
“I move like a featherweight and hit like a heavyweight. I’m very unconventional, I fight with my hands down and my chin up.
“Not only do I knock people out, I’m entertaining as well.”
Two highlight-reel knockout wins were enough to see BAMMA give him a shot at the belt. When these opportunities come around, you don’t exactly turn them down unless you have absolutely no alternative.
Kiely continued on to explain the debilitating injury he sustained in the preparations for his shot at then-welterweight champion, Alex Lohore.
“I know people were saying that I wasn’t ready for the Alex Lohore fight. That wasn’t the reason I wasn’t ready for that fight. Four weeks out, I ruptured my cruciate ligament – a complete tear.
“At the time, Alex Lohore, everyone on the European circuit was terrified of him. Not me, I knew he was going to panic with the first jab and that’s exactly what happened.
“I buckled him with a jab on one leg. People can say what they want, I was injured, I was on one leg and I fought a world champion.
“Now I’m going to be fighting with two legs, two hands, knees, elbows. They’re getting the total package.
“I still think I could have won that fight.”
But alas, it wasn’t to be his night and for the next few months, he was forced back to a spot on the sidelines, undergoing surgery in February to correct the injury that played a factor in his sole loss to date.
In a rather bizarre and confusing turn of events, the man who called himself ‘The Face of BAMMA’ abruptly announced his retirement from the sport – leaving his fans confused but still quite sceptical, all the same.
“Yea, it was an absolute lie.
“I was after having my operation and there was nothing I could do, so I thought I’d lie about retiring so it would make it more impactful when I came back. And it has.
“It’s now July. I had that surgery in February and I’m already back full-sparring. “
Bellator’s welterweight division is easily its most rich with talent. Clinical strikers, powerful grapplers and fluid submission threats – Scott Coker’s 170lb roster has them all.
With Rory MacDonald sitting at the top of the heap right now, September will see the division host an absolutely tantalising eight-man grand-prix which will include the champ along with some of the finest 170lb fighters – not only in Bellator – but in MMA, period.
Kiely is certainly too unproven at this level to throw straight into the mix – but he remains confident in the fact that he could exert his will over any of them if given the opportunity.
“That [BAMMA] title-shot was not a coincidence. Numerous factors are going to separate me from the rest. Irrespective of the fact that I’m quite vocal.
“I haven’t had a fight yet but I can tell you right now that I’m the best striker in Bellator.
“I’m not a bullshit-artist, I’m a realist.”
His confidence would have no doubt been boosted by the fact that the former UFC veteran and his fellow Bellator welterweight Lorenz Larkin actually came to SBG Tallaght – and according to Kiely – was dealt with handily.
Larkin holds wins over the likes of Robbie Lawler, Jorge Masvidal and Neil Magny, and while he has been seen as a rather inconsistent fighter over the years – he still has all of the time necessary to make his run in Bellator a successful one.
“Lorenz Larkin came over to SBG Tallaght. I got called up an hour beforehand. I was on the piss the night before, I turned up hungover.
“He was 100kg and definitely on the supplements.
“I beat the shit out of him. I have the video to prove it. I’d knock him out as well.”
As the sport grows and advances into the mainstream eye, the sheer volume of naysayers one has to deal with increases drastically and for someone like Kiely – his outspoken nature will attract negativity like bees to honey.
To be honest, it’s one of the more annoying aspects of working within the world of mixed martial arts but with a platform like the one Bellator offer him now at his disposal, he seems genuinely excited to prove his doubters wrong.
“Just wait and see. I’m going to be going around collecting apologies and dishing out I told you so’s because there are a lot of people I am going to make eat their words.
“That’s how good I am, particularly on the feet.
“There have been some passing comments by some commentators – commentators I respect – but you literally have no idea of my skillset.
“People are going to be shocked.”
Not everyone comes into the game boasting the type of striking credentials that this man does, and while nothing is ever certain in this sport – I have no doubt that we’re in for a treat with this guy.
And so ‘The Face of BAMMA’ returns in an attempt to become synonymous with one of the world’s biggest MMA promotions.
It might be early days yet in the story of Richard Kiely the mixed martial artist, but three fights in, it would seem as though the seeds are being planted for something unique.
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)
Part III – Will Fleury – 185lbs – (4-1)
Cillian Cunningham, Pundit Arena