Brian Kelleher considering testing free agency rather than signing extension with UFC

Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

With just four months remaining in 2020, Brian Kelleher has come to the end of a UFC contract that he signed at the beginning of the year.

“Boom” is one of two fighters to make four UFC appearances in 2020 (the other being strawweight Hannah Cifers), and he’s gone 3-1 during that span. According to Kelleher, he has one fight remaining on his current deal, which he hopes to complete shortly.

The other option is to work out an extension with the promotion he’s called home since June 2017. But Kelleher is contemplating dipping his toes into free agency now that he’s built a name for himself inside the octagon.

“At this point, I think I’m becoming a fan favorite and a veteran and a mainstay, but I’m always tempted to fight out my contract just to really see where my worth is and become a free agent like I know Eddie Alvarez always talks about,” Kelleher said on The A-Side live chat. “It seems like management never wants to do that – they’re never on that page. They’re like, ‘No, no, no, trust me, let’s re-sign. Let’s get locked in, and it’s the safest bet.’ I’m like, alright, I don’t know.”

Overall, Kelleher (22-11) has compiled a 6-4 record competing for the UFC, with notable wins over Hunter Azure, former bantamweight champion Renan Barao, and Iuri Alcantara. In his most recent outing this past weekend, Kelleher needed just 39 seconds to submit last-second replacement Ray Rodriguez with a guillotine choke.

Kelleher, 34, is willing to bet on himself now, especially if it means getting a stronger sense of what his value is as an athlete.

“Most of the time I feel like guys just re-sign because of that fear of putting yourself in a position of maybe losing that last fight,” Kelleher said. “Then you’re like, well, what do I do now, because now they can cut me and I’m probably not gonna get offered a big payday outside the company, because you’ve got to be on a hot streak and then maybe Bellator will come in and offer a big payday. Then the UFC can match it, and you find out your real worth.”

Currently, Kelleher has won three of his past four, though his recent wins have technically come outside of the bantamweight division. Because the coronavirus outbreak in March led to seven straight weeks with no UFC events, many fighters on the roster have had to agree to bouts on relatively short notice due to an accelerated schedule. That’s been fine for Kelleher and his three most recent opponents, who agreed to fight a division up at featherweight to make preparation easier.

However, when the time comes for Kelleher to drop back down to 135 pounds, he is concerned about how his body will adjust.

“I’m worried about getting back down to bantamweight, because my body’s changed over this course of time with the quarantine and the whole first couple of months of not training properly,” Kelleher said. “Now, there’s a couple more guys and it’s a little better with sparring and everything like that, but my body adjusted in a weird way where I’m just, like, thicker naturally, and I can’t get under 155.

“It’s so hard, no matter what I do. That’s 20 pounds over still, so I gotta make some adjustments.”

Kelleher isn’t the only bantamweight contender to dabble at 145 pounds in the COVID-19 era. He met top-15 ranked Cody Stamann at featherweight in June, and Song Yadong and Marlon Vera also competed at featherweight at UFC on ESPN 8 in May.

For now, Kelleher sees it as an arrangement that suits everyone.

“As long as this COVID’s going on, I’m just gonna keep going, ‘Hey, 145. Let’s do 145. Forget about it,’” Kelleher said. “I think these other bantamweights are cool with it too, so it kind of works out.”

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