"Face of Bellator" Richard Kiely is saying all the right things 6 months ago

"Face of Bellator" Richard Kiely is saying all the right things

Closed mouths don't get fed.

Trash talk serves several purposes in combat sports but when done poorly, it is nothing short of cringeworthy. When it's done well, however, it adds an undeniable element of enjoyment to fights.

Richard Kiely definitely falls into the latter category but his divisive personality is not some thought-out schtick designed to boost ticket sales. He, like his most famous SBG stablemate Conor McGregor, simply has a way with words.

Kiely is coming off the first loss of his professional MMA career, a career-threatening injury and a 15-month lay-off but none of those setbacks are going to do anything to quieten Kiely's confident and frequent proclaiming of his skills.

"Absolutely not," Kiely told me when I asked if he was tempted to tone down his polarising personality after experiencing defeat for the first time.

"Why would I change a thing? The reason that I'm such a high draw is that I bring entertainment outside the cage and I bring knockouts inside the cage. Of course I know that some people tune in with the hope that my opponent knocks me out and shuts me up. But they're still tuning in, aren't they?

"After my second pro fight, I became the face of BAMMA. In my third, I fought in the main event for a title. I'm about to arrive as the face of Bellator. I don't give a rat's arse about what people think of me. I'm not a conformist. I'm just doing me and it's no coincidence that there are lads with 20 fights who have less buzz around them than me."

Tallaght's Kiely makes his Bellator debut this weekend, when Scott Coker brings the cage to Dublin's 3Arena again, and fresh from the promotion's new broadcast deal with Sky Sports, Kiely is prepared to take full advantage of the added exposure.

He said: "It's a great deal all around but I reckon the TV deal was in the pipeline for a while, even back when they signed me because they knew what they were doing when they offered me a contract. I'm arguably the best striker on the roster. People will say MVP or Paul Daley but I'm not having that.  They're one dimensional. I can do it all.

"Give me a microphone. Put me on Sky Sports. I'll do the rest."

Asking Kiely how long it will take before he does, as he predicts, become the face of Bellator MMA was not a good idea as he took umbrage with the word "anticipate."

"It's not anticipating. I am the face of Bellator," Kiely interjected before explaining his unexpected retirement last year.

"I had a near-career ending injury but it turns out I have Wolverine-like healing and I was back on the mat in three months. I don't do this for the money. It has to have meaning for me. I'm all about progression. If I regress or feel like I'm standing still, what's the point?

"So I retired but it was a calculated strategy. I know my value. I know that I draw people's eyes, whether they like me or dislike me. So I announced my retirement for two reasons. The first was that it would allow me to recover and gauge whether I'd be able to continue fighting. The second was to draw good offers and lo and behold, Bellator contacted me directly asking what it would take to get me out of retirement.

"I told them I'd need a clear trajectory and my value met. They had no problems and we agreed terms."

In preparation for Saturday's monster card at the 3Arena, which will see more than a dozen Irish fighters competing on one of the brightest stages in all of mixed martial arts, Kiely and several teammates flew to Iceland to close out training camp in fresh surroundings.

SBG head coach John Kavanagh brought his team to Gunnar Nelson's homeland to get some hard but smart rounds in before February 23.

"I hate these cliches about fighters having the best camp ever but this one was absolutely brilliant. There were no hiccups at all," Kiely said.

"We went over to Iceland and everyone there was world class, UFC and Bellator calibre fighters. There were no passengers.

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Getting it after it Rocky IV style.

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"There was about 15 of us in total and it was like something out of Rocky IV. All we were missing was Hearts on Fire.

"It was intense and it was taxing but it was the best preparation. What better preparation could we get than living with fighters, eating with fighters and learning from the best of the best?

"There were no easy rounds. You'd go five fives and the fifth was just as tough as the first."

While he's not looking past upcoming opponent Mickael Bucher - or as he calls him, "Bobby Boucher" - Kiely is looking forward to the step-up in competition against the best welterweights on the planet, including Lorenz Larkin.

Larkin sparred Kiely on a trip to Ireland last year and the pair have disputed the outcome of the session, with the American blocking Kiely on social media.

"Just watch on February 23. This guy is going to be on the end of a highlight reel. My ability is a lot better than my record would suggest and I know my level," Kiely continued.

"I'm an equal opportunities guy so if Bellator wants to do any cross-promotion fights moving forward, I'm happy to give all comers a jaw reconstruction.

"There's also a Grand Prix taking place now in the welterweight division so if there's an injury or whatever, they have my number.

"Bellator have also intimated to me that the Larkin fight is one that could happen. He's tailor made for me. He's after blocking me on Facebook because he couldn't handle the heat. I don't think he'll take the fight though but if Bellator say it's happening, I guarantee it would sell."

Kiely suffered a cruciate ligament injury ahead of his last outing, in November 2017, and he believes that opponent Alex Lohore was tipped off to the injury before fight night because he targeted Kiely's knee from the opening bell.

Successful surgery 12 months ago cleared the way for Kiely's comeback, which has been a long time coming, but with a clean bill of health and a bumper deal with one of the world's biggest MMA organisations, Kiely is calling his shots on his way to the top.

"We knew the risks going into the Lohore fight and I was either going to get the surgery as a world champion or not as a world champion," Kiely said.

"I guarantee that chap wouldn't take that fight again now. I knew from the first jab that he wasn't on my level but my knee couldn't hold me up after he sucker-kicked it when I went to touch gloves.

"I've been out for a while now but my knee has been tested in the fire. It's as good as new. I wasn't going to come back as a second-rate version of myself and that year off was a blessing in disguise because I spent most of it improving my grappling.

"I wasn't out of my depth on the mats in Iceland so now, any future opponents who want to piss about and hold me are going to be in for a rude awakening."