The Australians are finally rolling after a rough start in the first few weeks of the competition, and they've now managed to pull off back-to-back victories, the most recent one by Richard Walsh as dominant as the team has been yet this season.
With control still secured on the Aussies’ side, coach Kyle Noke selected four-time Olympic judoka Dan Kelly to step in to fight against Canadian Sheldon Westcott.
It was the exact matchup Canadian coach Patrick Cote was hoping to avoid after Westcott suffered some injuries during training, most notably a sore leg and knee that could have definitely used more rest before competing in the Octagon. Unfortunately with the only other choice left on the Canadians’ side being Luke Harris, who is also a judo player that could possibly negate one of Kelly's best weapons, Noke went with Westcott instead.
Following two straight victories, the Australians are definitely riding high right now, but after a rough start to the season the coaches are making sure to push them harder than ever to continue to get the best performances possible. This week it's wrestling coach Izzy Martinez who runs the fighters through some extra drills and forces the Australians to really push to prove they belong there.
Martinez is a notoriously tough coach who does not sugarcoat any of his advice to the fighters. If a fighter isn't doing well, Martinez will be brutally and unabashedly honest to ensure his message is getting across. As a wrestling coach that works with fighters like Jon Jones and Carlos Condit on a daily basis, it's no wonder Martinez knows how to get the absolute best out of his athletes.
Heading into the next fight, Dan Kelly didn't give his coaches much of a choice when it came to his selection, as he was champing at the bit to get in the cage and compete. At 36 years of age, Kelly is off to a very late start to his MMA career, but that's not to say he doesn't have plenty of experience in high-level competition.
Kelly represented Australia in the Olympics on four different occasions, which is a fairly incredible feat, as he is the only judoka to go to the games that many times. In 2004, Kelly got his best finish in the Olympics, where he ended in seventh place overall in the 90kg weight class.
Since making his transition to mixed martial arts, Kelly has been perfect, picking up a 5-0 record with stoppages in four of his five fights. Kelly has a diehard work ethic in the gym as well, which has led to him also facing more than his fair share of bumps and bruises this season, but he's also been an example to the young fighters on the Australian team with his attitude and regimen.
Sheldon Westcott may be coming into the fight against Kelly a little banged up, but that doesn't make him any less dangerous. Westcott is usually a welterweight, but he goes up to 185 pounds for this competition, where he's not forced to cut as much weight before a fight. Westcott is a fairly well-rounded fighter who enjoys striking, with the guillotine choke serving as his best weapon on the ground. Westcott has a notoriously tough grip if he can get an opponent's neck, so that has to be one area of concern for Kelly due to his judo background, which puts him in the clinch more often than not.
Westcott has to be aware of Kelly's judo for obvious reasons, but with his leg and knee giving him problems, he can't show weakness or get off balance too much or he will be going for a ride. Given Kelly's tremendous judo background, he should be able to decide if this fight stays standing or goes to the ground, but given his tendencies in the past, coupled with the work he's doing this season with coaches like Martinez, it's likely he'll try to put Westcott down and work him on the mat.
Kelly has a slick transition to grab the back and a rear naked choke, so if he does push his hips forward at any point and gets a throw on Westcott, don't blink, as he will quickly move around like a snake trying to get his back. While everyone at home is aware of Westcott's injury problems, he certainly can't let on during the fight that he's favoring his leg or it could be lights out on him early in the fight.
If Kelly fights to his best ability, he will get close in the clinch just as Richard Walsh did in his last bout and stick to Westcott like glue. Kelly has the technical prowess to move Westcott around the cage at will, so as long as he holds onto him, and if he can get this one to the ground early, he's got a great shot of ending this fight with a submission.
Kelly's experience both in and out of MMA should get him the win over Westcott and move him into the second round. He can't sleep on Westcott, however, because the Canadian won't just roll over and play dead, and if Kelly ducks his head going for a takedown and leaves his neck exposed, it could be a submission going the other way if he can lock up a guillotine choke.