Will Fleury spoke to Pundit Arena in the lead-up to this weekend’s Bellator Dublin, explaining where his head is at ahead of his middleweight clash with Norbert Novenyi Jr.
When I last spoke to Will a few weeks back, the tone of the entire conversation was one that at times held a more bitter edge.
The Tipperary man was understandably frustrated with the promotion’s handling of his career trajectory and above all else, intensely motivated to take it all out on a former sparring partner, Norbert Novenyi Jr, who, in Will’s eyes, had knowingly placed himself directly between him and the next step in his rise.
Speaking to us here at Pundit Arena not too long after discovering that his bout had been promoted to a main-card spot, Fleury explained how his mindset had shifted somewhat as the weeks moved on.
“I’m a lot more positive at the moment. I’m just genuinely really looking forward to the fight. The work is done now, so I’m kind of at peace with the fact that I’m about to go to war.
“I just found out on Friday afternoon and yeah, it was just sheer joy. Look, this is huge for my career. The amount of exposure you get from being on Sky Sports and The Paramount Network in the US is obviously going to be significant.
“I’ve always felt as though I should be a main-card fighter – I’m of a high enough quality to be up there. To not be recognised like that gives me a bit of a chip on my shoulder, something I was using to motivate myself earlier in the camp.
“To find out on the week of the fight that I’ll actually be on the main-card, it’s brilliant!
“I would hope that it is them realising my worth but at the end of the day, if I go in and prove that – it’s all about what you do the next time. I’ve put in two very good performances in the last six months but at the end of the day, I can go in there and show that I can destroy guys who are prospects. I’m at that level.”
Novenyi, 19, is indeed one of the top prospects coming out of England at present – an incredibly dynamic fighter whose ability to transition between his fluid striking and stellar grappling could make him a nightmare once he reaches his prime.
At such a young age, though, Will believes that booking this fight could well be a case of too much, too soon.
It’s not immediately apparent when you take a glance at the pro-record of the Irishman but those in-the-know will tell you exactly how experienced this guy is.
Sizing up his opponent, Fleury explained how the personal animosity he felt for Norbert as he took the fight has faded to a certain extent, leaving him completely focussed on the task at hand.
“Look, he’s coming here to take away everything I’ve worked for. I’m going to defend that with my f**king life. At the end of the day, it’s not personal. You’ve just put yourself in the way and I have to get you out of the way.
“It doesn’t mean that much to me to fight a training partner, it was more that I just didn’t want to crush some young fella’s dreams. But now that the fight is here, hey, you’ve decided to put yourself in my way. I’m going to get you get you out of my way.”
“Physically, I think I’m a slightly more robust athlete. I think that’s what’s going to make the difference. He’s very skilled, no doubt about it. He’s a very, very good fighter. But there’s some inexperience there, some chinks in the armour.
“The kid is 19. How the f**k can you be sure of yourself when you’re 19? I’ve been doing this thing for eight or nine years now. I’m well used to what this comes with and there are a lot more questions that come when you’re new to it all.
“He is talented and he does have a good skill level, but I’m going to be exploiting that lack of certainty.
“My power will stun him and my pace will eventually break him.”
February’s card in the 3Arena was a night that many fighters and fans already hold amongst the greatest events in Irish MMA history and for Will, his dominant victory over Shaun Taylor was one that saw him receive one of the biggest pops of the evening from the crowd.
With a main-card spot on a sold-out event ahead of him on Friday night, the scene has been set for Fleury to make a real statement on the big stage – something that truly stands as a motivating factor in these final days and hours.
“It’s a privilege to be Irish in these situations. You really feel as though you’ve won the lottery. The support you get is incredible. You feel like you get so much from the fans that you really should give something back, you know.
“In February they gave me something special so I gave something back. There was that reciprocal feeling and it’s going to be the same on Friday night.
“I feel like I had been through quite a bit before that and [last February] was just the big relief. To go in and smash it the way that I did just made everything a lot better in my life.
“Maybe it is his hype but I have the spotlight now and I’m going to steal it.”
If you spend just a few minutes listening to Will Fleury talk, you’ll quickly realise that he is not one to hold back when speaking his mind on the subject of the fight-game and its participants.
Reflecting on his public persona, his honesty, and how a martial artist should conduct themselves, he explained how the modern landscape of MMA is in some ways moving away from the core values that the sport should epitomise.
“I’m not going to lie and tell you that it isn’t disheartening, it definitely is to a degree. At the end of the day, I got into MMA so I could be myself, be like I feel that I am. It allows me to do that.
“I’m making a career from being Will ‘F**king’ Fleury. Will people buy into that? I probably don’t push myself in the right ways in the media a lot – I’m a little bit too honest, too up-front about a lot of sh*t but that’s who I’d rather be.
“I don’t want to feel like I’m misleading anybody and I do feel like there has been a lot of negativity around the martial arts scene here for the last year or so.
“I do feel like the onus is on me to show that we’re prize fighters but also martial artists. There will be respect. I will shake Norbert’s hand no matter what happens on Friday. We are martial artists. I want to represent true competition and all of the beautiful things about this sport.
“There’s a lot to prize-fighting that’s kind of sh*tty and a lot that would make you quite cynical about life but there is a beautiful side – when you see the effort getting people places.
“Maybe I should be more upbeat and not acknowledge some of the sh*t stuff as much but I do feel like I have to be honest. If there’s another 20-year-old coming up who wants this career, know what you’re getting involved in, know how this game works.”
Cillian Cunningham, Pundit Arena