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Strength from Resistance – An Interview with UFC Fighter and Olympian Daniel Kelly

There are two versions of Daniel Kelly. The first is as a household name in Judo, where the nine time Australian Judo Champion and fourth Dan Black Belt holder holds the status of the only Australian Judo Olympian selected for four Olympic Games. The second, as a Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt and number 15 ranked middleweight fighter in the world of the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), with a solid career mixed martial arts record of 13-2. The latter has seen Daniel establish a solid and growing fan base, eager and anticipating his next demonstration of the agility, grappling and striking skills necessary in the Octagon.

We catch up with Daniel in between his commitments as Judo coach for the Australian team at the 2016 Rio Olympics and his own training, starting early preparations in anticipation of a possible UFC fight later this year in Sydney. Given the demands on his body and his conditioning from both sides of his career, we begin by asking him to describe his usual – non fighting preparation – diet and conditioning program. What does the real Daniel Kelly eat and spend his training day doing?

He pauses, takes a sip of his coffee and gives it some thought before he responds. “My diet is very similar no matter what I’m doing. I feel best on a mix of good carbs – fruit and veg – and protein. I usually start the day with chobani yoghurt and I take a shot of Fire Tonic which helps with keeping my immune system in check”.

What many don’t know is that Daniel is a certified level 1 Crossfit trainer, overseeing the strength and conditioning programs at Resilience Gym in Melbourne, Australia, so his days vary depending on his workload, class schedules and client demands. This must impact on his program? He nods. “Yes, I have been an athlete for most of my life and so was my wife, and I so try to match the amount of food I eat with what I have to do for the day.  On days I’m coaching and training I’ll eat more carbs and larger portions, and then on days when I’m coaching or resting I’ll generally halve my intake”. He finishes “I don’t really have days off or cheat days as I generally have something going on every day I just have light or heavy training days”.

Lifestyle wise, what does that mean? He nods “You know, I don’t cut things out. I’ll drink a glass or red wine or have a beer at night if I want or eat out with my wife and kids, I just try and keep it in moderation. In terms of training, when I don’t have a fight, I’m still doing something every day and usually a mix of sports specific training, either Judo, BJJ or MMA and at least 2 to 3 cross-fit sessions per week as well as 2 cardio sessions”. He smiles “ I do cardio in the morning as it’s the thing I like the least”.

Daniel is an active member of the Old Man Strength community and wears his OMS shirts and rashies with pride as a prime example of the community. We ask what an ordinary but active guy can learn from his approach to health and fitness. “The biggest thing is consistency, get into a routine and follow it.  If you’re happy with what you’re doing you won’t think of it as a diet or required training, it will just be something which is a part of your day”.

He leans forward, “You know, not every training session will be the best, just showing up sometimes is enough, doing something is better than nothing. Make sure you’re at a gym or club with like-minded people – they’ll push you through a training session and it won’t feel like work if you’re surrounded by friends”.

Being a UFC fighter is an intense lifestyle, which must have a number of spiritual and mental tests as equally difficult as the physical. We ask what the most difficult mental bridge to overcome was when entering the UFC ranks. He gives the question some thought. “I don’t think there have been any major mental bridges, but before my first UFC fight, I had to deal with self-doubt regarding whether I was ready. It was a quick transition into the UFC from competing locally in Australia”.

Nerves? He is open and generous with his response. “Sure. I get very nervous before each fight but that’s just performance anxiety. I have been competing for a long time now so I just accept the nerves as part of the process. I have talked about this before and it’s something I went through during my Olympic Judo Career and I just embrace it, my team now me and they just leave me alone until it’s go time”.  So what keeps Daniel Kelly motivated, to keep pushing and competing at the highest level of his game?

“I love learning new skills and I love competition”, he says, “so after I finished my Judo Career I knew I had more I wanted to achieve. I have been coaching for a long time so it is very refreshing to be a student as well and I am surrounded my highly skilled guys, so there is always something more which we can learn”. He grins. “Plain stubbornness is probably a big part of me and why I’m still going as well as wanting to do the best for my family”.

We talk about the Old Man Strength community, what we stand for and the global drivers that bind us, and we ask Daniel his view on getting older, and staying mentally and physically strong. He takes a sip of his coffee, “I think the more experience and adversity you go through the stronger mentally you become, the physical side is almost a by-product of that. I’ve learned that in a lot of cases you can adapt better as you get older and more experienced and you rely on that more than just pure athleticism. Obviously, I still have to be in good shape to compete, but it’s the mental side that is dragging me through it. I have been in every situation, 2 rounds down, injured in the first round, cut and bleeding but because of my experience and determination to push through I find a way to keep going. That’s old man strength for me”.

Indeed. We wish Daniel all the best for his upcoming schedule in 2017 and for his UFC career. Old man strength in action.