Will Fleury spoke to us here at Pundit Arena ahead of his return to the Bellator cage this month to face Nobert Novenyi Jr. at Bellator Dublin.
Nothing has ever been simple when it comes to the career of Will Fleury.
If he had been able to navigate his way through the turbulent waters of the fight-game half as easily as he has been able to impose his will on the six fighters he has beaten, we’d likely be looking at a drastically different narrative.
And yet, now, seven fights into his pro-career – it’s hard not to feel frustrated at how this Bellator middleweight has been stunted over the years.
Of course, those in-the-know will be well aware of the fact that seven fighters pulled out of contests with Will between 2015 and 2017 – a number so freakishly large that it really does warrant at least some suspicion.
I mean, it’s not hard to understand why a dance with this 6’3″ Irishman wouldn’t seem like the best way to spend a Saturday evening but even still, finding opponents who would actually make the walk was an issue that plagued the earlier days of his run.
Now signed to Bellator and riding a two-fight win-streak, Fleury has been able to gain some consistency at last and now, he has been booked to return to Dublin’s 3Arena in a matchup against the highly-touted 19-year-old Norbert Novenyi Jr at Bellator Dublin next month.
Speaking to us here at Pundit Arena, Will revealed his frustrations over how the fight between him and his old sparring-partner Novenyi was booked – citing what he perceives as Bellator’s reluctance to allow him to face the surging prospect, Fabian Edwards.
Will has had Edwards in his crosshairs for quite a while now but in his eyes, he represents too much of a threat to a fighter who is clearly a bankable asset to the Bellator brass.
“It’s a very different feeling this time around. How this fight actually came about makes me pretty pissed off at the whole situation. I’m coming into this one with a lot more anger – at other people rather than myself.
“This time, the anger is based around the fact that I was calling for Fabian [Edwards] and then they sent out a contract for this young fella [Norbert Novenyi Jr.], who I know. He signed the contract which then denied me the chance to fight Fabian.
“Bellator told me ‘well, he accepted and if you don’t, then we’ll have to get someone else for him’. So it’s very f**king frustrating.
“As soon as I floated that idea, it got shut down by Bellator. I think they have a golden goose there and they want to protect him. He’s their English undefeated prospect right now. Any legit fighter at all is being kept away from him.
“They’ll get guys in with half-decent records who will never threaten him.
“What we’re seeing these days is more pageantry than sport. The sport has been taken out of this game.”
Fabian, the brother of #4 ranked UFC welterweight Leon Edwards, certainly has all of the promise necessary to be a real draw for Bellator – especially given their increased focus on the European circuit.
And while Novenyi is a fighter who will enter the cage on September 27 with quite a bit of buzz behind him in his own right, Fleury understandably feels slighted by the promotion’s decision to match him up in this way – especially given his history with the relatively green talent.
“Beating the f**k out of this lad does nothing for my career. He’s 3-0. Look, I know Norbert, I trained with him for years – this is the other side of it. He is a legit talent. I just think that this is far too early for him to be taking a fight like this.
“I knew the kid. You’re making me crush the dreams of some kid I knew here.
“I do think that this is a pretty intense fight but when I smash Norbert nobody is going to be like ‘oh, he just beat one of the best prospects in Europe’ – and he probably is one of the best prospects in Europe. He’s just not seen as that yet.
“The thing is, the reason I don’t feel any remorse here is that he put himself in this position, he signed up for it so he can suffer the consequences. I’m not someone who enjoys smashing an ex-training partner unless they’ve put themselves in that place and he has put himself in that place.
“Anybody who thinks they have the audacity to come to my country and beat me in front of my fans is going to get f**king destroyed.
“But I’d much, much rather smash Fabian.”
The hardcore fans will be aware of the merits of taking out a prospect like Novenyi – even with his limited experience – but after February’s trip to Dublin’s 3Arena, several onlookers voiced their frustration at the somewhat favourable matchmaking for the home-fighters on the night.
Will, however, was paired up against the 8-1 Scot Shaun Taylor in a fight that saw him pegged as the underdog by the general public.
Of course, things didn’t play out like that at all and with his dominant victory by second-round rear-naked choke, he was able to move onto the next opponent – Dana White’s Contender Series contestant Antonio Jones.
Thackerville, Oklahoma was the destination for the Cahir-native’s US debut – an opportunity he embraced with a level of flair that saw him encounter very little in the way of danger on his way to a lopsided unanimous decision victory.
It’s hard not to understand where Fleury is coming from here. His recent form and past experience really should warrant a jump in competition – with all due respect to his Bellator Dublin opponent – and yet, he stands with quite a lot more to lose than gain this time around.
“I feel like I’m the most underrated fighter in Ireland still. I know where I’m at and I know how these lads are seeing me and they’re not correlating at all.
“I’ve never been in trouble in my last two fights. If you look back on my professional career, I’ve never lost a round. I dominate the f**k out of everyone. I just got caught once in Rome [in my promotional debut] and it’s pissing me off that I am being held here in this place because of that.
“They’re kind of like, ‘you’re some f**king mug from Tipperary, you’re not going to be some Instagram celebrity!
“Yeah, but I can beat the fuck out of everyone who is your little Instagram celebrity. So give me the chance!”
It might sound as though Fleury has been embittered by the trajectory his career has taken but trust me, the tone of our conversation was still a positive one – laced perhaps with a solid and warranted dose of frustration.
Make no mistake, though, these frustrations are driving this man to push himself further in the gym in an effort to force his way to where he needs to be.
“Maybe my motivation has to be a little bit bitter. It definitely does motivate me. I don’t get like this and go ‘ah, f**k it, I won’t go training today’. I’m doing a little bit extra because of this.
“If this was something that was pulling away from me, I’d be concerned, but it’s something that really does spur me on.
“There’s a lot of lads out there pretending they’re going to take on everyone and be the best in the world. But they’re there wearing their sunglasses and pretending they’re a pro-wrestler.
“Rounds don’t lie. None of these are showing up doing the rounds, getting the hours in and it pisses me off. I’ve been here for ten years.”
Considering his difficulty to even find willing opponents a few years back, I can’t help but feel as though Fleury is still in a much better position at this point.
Middleweight is one of Bellator’s strongest divisions at present and while he will likely be at least two or three solid wins from making a push towards title contention, all Will Fleury needs right now is a bit of positive momentum.
With September 27 as a springboard, Will is keeping an eye on divisional champion Rafael Lovato Jr. – who sprung the upset on the former 185lb king Gegard Mousasi earlier this year to earn his spot atop the middleweight pile.
“I’m not here to be the best in Ireland or the best in Europe. I’m here to be the best in the world and I look at [Rafael] Lovato Jr. and I see holes there and I can exploit those holes.
“I’ve been here a while and I don’t feel like I’m getting that much closer to where I want to be. Give me those f**king fights. Give me the fights that can get me there.”
Will’s frustrations are understandable at this point. Anyone who has followed his career with interest will know that he has had an incredibly unique road to the spot he finds himself in now.
And while I would love to imagine that it’ll be plain-sailing from here on out for The Lion Of Tipperary, if history is any indicator, it’s never anything less than a rocky road when it comes to Will ‘F**kin’ Fleury.
I guess he’ll just have to keep smashing lads and proving his doubters wrong in that case.
Cillian Cunningham, Pundit Arena