Richard Kiely spoke to us here at Pundit Arena ahead of the biggest fight of his career, a Bellator Dublin clash with Michael ‘Venom’ Page.
When the Bellator co-main-event contest between Michael ‘Venom’ Page and Richard Kiely was first announced back in July, my initial reaction was a mixture of both surprise and excitement.
I’ve followed the career of the SBG welterweight Kiely for a number of years now and after having had the chance to interview him on several occasions, I couldn’t help but be impressed by the manner in which he has forced opportunities like this into existence.
In the eyes of the company, Page needs a so-called ‘tune-up fight’.
He remains a prized asset to the promotional brass despite losing out in brutal fashion to Douglas Lima at Bellator 221 – a fight that he still impressed me in, despite its ending.
Kiely has been relentless in his assault on what he himself describes as the ‘gargoyle division’, taking every opportunity he can to jab at the weight-class’ inhabitants. Say what you want about the approach, though – it clearly worked and now, we have a fight on our hands.
I can see why Bellator jumped on this fight. Page, fresh off of his first career defeat, needs to get back into the win-column and as history will show us, he and his management are no strangers to stacking the odds in their favour – making a dance with the 3-1 Richard Kiely something of a no-brainer.
To the uninitiated, this matchup is not far off a complete mismatch.
However, to me, what I’m seeing here is an Irishman who will step up for the biggest fight of his life on home-soil with absolutely everything to gain.
This is the fight that could well produce the biggest pop of the night from the sold-out 3Arena crowd and if Richard Kiely can connect, global recognition will undoubtedly be his.
If that’s not a narrative worth getting behind, I don’t know what is.
Speaking to us here at Pundit Arena, Kiely gave his thoughts on the preconceived notions people are holding about this contest’s very existence and how Page, in signing on the dotted line, has in some ways piled even more pressure on himself.
“I’m a 3-1 fighter. He’s 14-1, after fighting a world champion, a guy who’s supposed to be in the mix as one of the biggest stars on the roster. He should be blasting me out in 30 seconds. I’m a part-timer who is 3-1.
“People saying I have no right to win that fight. I know that’s the consensus. People just say that based on the sparkling record – that just means he has had more fights. Mark my words, this is a very difficult fight for him. I have a lot more skills in my toolset than any of the fighters he has fought before.
“If I lose this fight, I’ve lost nothing. If I win this fight, he’s losing everything.”
“When he took the fight I’d say he thought that he was fighting at generic 3-1 fighter – which says a lot about him. He’s 14-1, coming off of a welterweight tournament fight against a former world champion and he wants to fight a 3-1 fighter?
“Now, he didn’t realise who the 3-1 fighter was when he took the fight, but it says a lot about him and his character.
“I’m not looking at Saturday morning, I do this for the craic, I didn’t do this for plaudits. This is my part-time job. When I signed for Bellator, my sole aim was to cause chaos and have the craic. That’s what I’m doing.
“Now, a 3-1 fighter is about to knock out arguably their biggest star. After that, I’ll be a 4-1 fighter who will more than likely going for a world title shot against the winner of MacDonald/Lima II.”
It’s all well and good to make these claims and to be honest, it’s not even uncommon to express the type of confidence that Kiely has exuding ever since the bout’s original announcement.
Stylistically, however, he seems to believe that his own approach holds the key to testing MVP’s chin.
It’s easy to forget that Lima KO’d Page just four months ago and while there is a considerable gulf in experience between the two, Kiely’s resumé is one that shows that he can certainly crack. When those 4oz gloves are on and the cage doors lock, he believes that his own background in kickboxing will prove to be the ideal foil to his opponent’s unique style.
“Look, we all know what the danger is [with Page]. He’s a blitz one-two merchant, he’s erratic, and he doesn’t maintain a rhythm which makes it very difficult to time him. The thing is, he has fought slow static, stuck-in-the-mud fighters. Can you name any fighters he has fought that is anything like me?
“He hasn’t fought anyone who has my movement, my dynamism, and my one-shot knockout power. He has fought guys who are static who allow him to dictate the distance. If you can dictate the distance you can dictate the fight. You can choose when to engage and when to disengage. That’s what he does well.
“That’s going to be negated in this fight.
“He tries to bait you into complacency and capitalise on that complacency like lightning but that’s basically it. He’s one-dimensional. What he has shown is a weak chin. He got an arm-punch off Lima and he fell asleep.
“He has fought kickboxers in kickboxing. But that’s with 10oz gloves and that’s with people stopping him every time he scores a point. This time nobody’s stopping it. He’s in there and I’m in there with him.
“I’ve shown that I can cover distance with legitimate one-shot knockout power. All I need to do is touch him once. Even if he’s winning the round – all I need is one clean shot. He has shown that people can get into his range, they’re just not as accomplished as me at striking. If I get in range, I’m clinical.”
Page’s status globally is at such a level that anything other than an impressive win for him would be considered an upset and a loss could prove to be a devastating step back in his career aspirations.
And he should be the bookie’s favourite, there’s no doubt about it.
Though certainly cushioned over the course of his initial rise through the welterweight ranks, it’s still pretty clear that MVP is still a real talent. Only time will tell exactly how great he can be but on the merits of what he has done so far, Richard Kiely, on paper, is truly up against it.
It’s hard to shake the idea that there are more pieces in play here than it would seem, though.
The quick turnaround, the decision to dip into enemy territory and face the electric Irish support, the animosity. I like this contest because no matter what happens on the night, I’m already buying into the entire narrative a lot more than I originally thought I would.
Their first meeting at the official press conference for this event back in July produced a few sparks, for sure, as the completely dismissive Page projected a very nonchalant attitude towards the fight as his opponent relished every second of his time on the mic.
“He’s rattled. I call him ‘The Rattlesnake’ now. I’ve already schooled him in the verbal warfare – in the mind-games department. All this hiding behind his phone, needing a prop. As soon as I got in his face he shoved me and jumped in behind a security guard. I stood centre-stage where I belong.
“That was feigned ignorance, feigned disinterest. The only reason he did that – and I don’t think anyone bought it – was because he couldn’t match me in terms of the verbal onslaught.
“Even when he was throwing his verbal barbs he wasn’t sure of them.
“Either I’m in his head and he’s going to come out angry, overeager, which will leave an opening. Or he’ll stand off and try to have a staring match with me, which means the crowd will be on top of him. “
The whole world seems to have an idea of how things will go down on Friday night. Whether you’re a fan of either of these men or not, siding with the favourite seems like the sensible pick.
Kiely is more than used to doubters and detractors at this point and in many ways, it’s the role he has willingly placed himself into. It’s a high-stakes game that could well see him leave the 3Arena as another feather in MVP’s cap if he’s not careful.
“John Kavanagh said that some people are brilliant in the gym and they go into themselves during these big occasions. He said that I rise to the occasion and I couldn’t agree with him any more.”
“People can laugh at that all they want but they’ve been laughing at me since the start and I’ve proved them all wrong.
“Now I’m fighting arguably Bellator’s biggest star. When I knock him out, are people still going to laugh?
“Keep on laughing all you want.”
Let us not forget that anything can happen with those 4oz gloves when the cage doors close and as we all know, this country’s fans can make Dublin’s premier fighting venue a hostile ol’ environment when the mood strikes.
Perhaps four months has been enough time for Page to heal up and maybe we will witness him go out there with a renewed level of confidence and hunger – desperate to make a statement after the first loss of his professional career.
The thing is, history will show us that the sheer stubbornness of the fighting Irish has been enough to leave the world in awe many, many times in the past and you never truly do know when another unforgettable shocker is about to hit.
Cillian Cunningham, Pundit Arena