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Neck Surgery A ‘Blessing In Disguise’ For Brian Kelleher

Bantamweight Brian Kelleher Returns To The Octagon To Face Former 135-Pound Champion Cody Garbrandt At UFC 296: Edwards vs Covington in Las Vegas

Starting his UFC career in 2017, Brian Kelleher tried to fight as often as his body would allow him.

Through 2022, Kelleher already had 15 Octagon appearances to his name, collecting eight wins and five finishes in that span. Kelleher had plans on kicking off his 2023 campaign in April against Journey Newson at the UFC APEX until neck issues forced him out of the fight after he’d already landed in Las Vegas.

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The problem was much worse than it first had seemed, however. Kelleher had to undergo neck surgery a short time later. As if the surgery process wasn’t bad enough, Kelleher said there were thoughts of him never being able to compete again because of the injury and ensuing operation.

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“It was tough because I didn’t know if I was going to be back at all,” Kelleher said. “It was kind of all up in the air. Just not knowing was stressful. It was also a blessing in disguise because I’ve been in this game for so long, you get burned out, and [then] you find out you might never get a chance again, and then you get that chance and now I feel blessed to have another opportunity.

“I had neck surgery done and everything’s good now. I feel like it’s my debut again…no more nerve issues or anything like that. I feel really good heading into this fight.”

Brian Kelleher Athlete Profile

After a successful surgery and recovery, Kelleher makes his much-anticipated return to the Octagon after a year-and-a-half of sitting on the sidelines, and he’s wasting no time to get right back into action against one of the most dangerous fighters in the history of the bantamweight division.

Brian Kelleher Fight Week Interview | UFC 296
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Brian Kelleher Fight Week Interview | UFC 296
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At UFC 296: Edwards vs Covington, Kelleher challenges former bantamweight champion Cody Garbrandt. When Kelleher made his UFC debut in June 2017, Garbrandt was the king of the 135-pound division. At the time, Kelleher already had his sights set on “No Love” after watching him compete from the stands at UFC 202: Diaz vs McGregor 2.

“I remember years ago, I went to Conor [McGregor] vs Nate [Diaz], and Cody was fighting on that card. I was watching in the stands and thinking, ‘Man, I’d like to fight him someday.’ I was just about to get in the UFC and it’s crazy to look back and think about that moment and here we are.

WATCH: UFC 296 Embedded | All Episodes

“Having this opportunity to fight a former world champion in Cody is a big opportunity for me. I didn’t expect this big of an opportunity for my comeback [fight], so, for me, I’m just excited to get that opportunity and seize the moment.”

 Brian Kelleher reacts after his victory over Kevin Croom in their featherweight fight during the UFC Fight Night event at UFC APEX on January 15, 2022 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)
Brian Kelleher reacts after his victory over Kevin Croom in their featherweight fight during the UFC Fight Night event at UFC APEX on January 15, 2022 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)

A lot has changed for Kelleher since fans last saw him in June 2022. “Boom” told UFC.com that the biggest difference between the fighter he is today versus the one who fought Mario Bautista last year is his mentality and appreciation for the sport.

MORE UFC 296: Fight Card Preview | Main Event Breakdown | Covington In His Own Words | Colby Rates Fellow Welterweights | MMA Coaches Break Down Main Event

Having overcome a neck surgery this summer, Kelleher feels rejuvenated and fortunate to get another opportunity to showcase his skills in front of 20,000 fans at the T-Mobile Arena. When asked how he’d get the win on Saturday, Kelleher said it all starts with believing in his own capabilities.

“Just believing in myself, coming forward, pressure, get in his face, show no respect and show no love,” Kelleher said.

Order UFC 296: Edwards vs Covington

UFC 296: Edwards vs Covington took place live from T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada on December 16, 2023. See the Final Results, Official Scorecards and Who Won Bonuses - and relive the action on UFC Fight Pass