Victoria's Tristan Connelly paying it back after big UFC payday

His nickname is Boondock. But Tristan Connelly is hardly in the boondocks anymore when it comes to mixed martial arts. The Islander has arrived at the organization which represents the apex of his sport.

Connelly, whose shock recent debut success has landed him a spot on upcoming UFC cards, will be conducting a meet-and-greet and autograph session with hometown fans tonight at 6 p.m. at Distrikt in the Strathcona Hotel, ahead of the pay-per-view broadcast of the UFC welterweight title bout between Kamaru Usman and Colby Covington from T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.

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The Victoria fighter was a last-minute replacement at UFC Fight Night 158 at Rogers Arena in Vancouver in September and upset heavily-favoured and well-known welterweight Michel Pereira of Brazil in a unanimous decision to earn $100,000.

Connelly had come off a win in July at The Q Centre in Colwood over D’Juan Owens of North Carolina for the minor-pro Rise Fighting Championship lightweight crown, when he was thrown in as a last-minute replacement before 15,114 fans at Rogers Arena for the UFC 158 card when Russian welterweight Sergey Khandozhko was unable to compete.

That Connelly was not only able to beat Pereira, but do it despite that the Brazilian missed weight and fought heavier, is being described as the UFC Cinderella story of the year.

“It was massive,” said Connelly.

“Your first UFC fight is usually called the ‘certain-death fight’ [against a top opponent] and the next time after that, you will usually get a fairer fight to build your career. The betting odds against me in UFC Vancouver were the highest they could be. But it turned into a Hollywood-type script. It didn’t seem real.”

That has likely earned him some more big-time appearances, which will be announced. And all this at age 33 and starting off fairly average at 5-5 as a pro. The Oak Bay High graduate is now 14-6 with six consecutive victories, none more important, or unlikely, than the one that propelled him onto the world stage.

“This is huge. The UFC is the big league,” said the soft-spoken Connelly.

“My next two fights are going to be very important and will be on cards that will be televised.”

The former hockey player and skateboarder didn’t discover MMA until the age of 19, starting off in jujitsu.

Today is about paying it forward with Connelly conducting a kids’ clinic at the first Victoria gym he started at, which is now known as Fierce Studio.

“This is where I began and is a journey back for me,” said Connelly, who owns his own training gym in Richmond, named Checkmat, where he also coaches and instructs young fighters.

“Vancouver is great but Victoria is the place where I started and where I came from.”

Connelly got his nickname because he loved the movie Boondock Saints and used its theme song, Blood of Cu Chulainn, as his walk-up music for his first pro MMA bout. The nickname, and walk-up song, stuck.

With a jujitsu background, Connelly said he is more of a grappler, but that he can still strike with lightning lethality. He described his greatest attributes as an athlete as his “consistency and durability.”

Few would argue with that self-assessment after what happened in his UFC debut.

cdheensaw@timescolonist.com

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