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Tom O’Connor set to make his home debut on King of the Cage card

tom oconnor

Tom O’Connor of Fort Macleod fights in the main bout Friday, June 16 at King of the Cage at the South Pavilion at Lethbridge Exhibition Park.

Tom O’Connor makes his home debut Friday, June 16 as the main event at King of the Cage at the South Pavilion of Lethbridge Exhibition Park.
The 24-year-old O’Connor, who is from Fort Macleod, anticipates a tough match from Curtis DeMarce of Edmonton in the non-title mixed martial arts bout.
“He is very well experienced, very tough,” O’Connor said, describing his opponent as strong, fit and well-trained. “His style is aggressive. He’s trying to finish you right from the start.”
O’Connor, who is five foot six and 155 pounds, has five wins and one loss in his pro career. His opponent is 17-12.
O’Connor is riding a five match win streak heading into his bout against DeMarce, which is one of 12 on the card.
Fighting well in front of the first home crowd in his career is important to the F.P. Walshe school graduate.
“I want to do really well, for Macleod, for the home town crowd,” O’Connor said. “I know they want me to do well.”
That O’Connor is a mixed martial arts fighter at all is a surprise to many in his home town of Fort Macleod, where he is known for his friendly, low-key demeanor.
Being a professional fighter was not something to which O’Connor aspired growing up in Fort Macleod, where he focused on hockey and rugby.
It was after high school, while playing recreational rugby for the Lethbridge Trolls, that O’Connor found himself with a hunger for a more competitive sport.
O’Connor began kickboxing training with a Fort Macleod friend, Thomas Harris, and eventually started attending the Professional Fighting Academy in Lethbridge.
O’Connor was interested in the fitness and conditioning aspect of the sport, with no plans to fight.
That changed after about two months when trainer Brad Wall told O’Connor he had arranged a fight for him in a month. Once he got past the surprise, O’Connor decided to give it a try.
“I went and did it and since then it has been a passion, a focus,” O’Connor said.
“It’s hilarious how things work out, when you think about it,” O’Connor said. “The goal now is to be a world champion.”
O’Connor likes mixed martial arts for the way the sport engages his entire body in training.
“The movements are so powerful.” O’Connor said. “It’s a good groundwork for athleticism.”
Putting that training to work in the cage against an opponent is challenging and difficult, but is something O’Connor has learned to embrace.
“The intensity, the adrenalin rush, everything like that is amazing,” O’Connor said. “When you’re in there, there isn’t really time to decide anything. It has to be muscle memory. It has to be in your mind to be winning, and that’s the only thing.”
O’Connor said the fights in which he has done well are almost an out-of-body experience in which he is watching himself in the cage. In the fights where he has not done as well, O’Connor found himself thinking too much instead of reacting instinctively.
Each fight is a physical chess match, with attacks and counterattacks. The mental aspect is also key.
“There can be an athlete who is absolute fire in the gym, nobody can touch him,” O’Connor explained. “Then he goes into the cage and he can’t perform that way. Combat sports in general are so full circle — mind, body, soul. Your body has to be ready for sure, but if your mind isn’t prepared as well and you haven’t gone through the mental strengthening it’s very easy to fail.”
Failure in his sport means a loss in the cage, a place where a fighter can get his ego checked in a hurry. The cage can be a place of self-discovery.
“The thing that I found out most about myself is how adaptable I am,” O’Connor said. “That chill attitude that everyone thought might be a detriment — me being too nice — actually turned into my strongest power. I just will always be respectful and kind because I know without my opponent I can’t even have the fight in the first place, and I want that competition. It’s what drives me.”
O’Connor has had help from people such as Brad Wall and Trevor Hardy in changing his diet and lifestyle to be more conducive with being a mixed martial arts fighter.
He also gets support from his mom and dad, Angie and Derek O’Connor, and the rest of his family, as well as his girlfriend Shannon Brezina.
The fact that he is a professional fighter, with dreams of a world championship, is finally starting to resonate with O’Connor.
“I’m finally getting past that,” O’Connor said of this surprising career choice. “I’m telling myself, this is real, embrace it. I want to take it to the highest level that I can.”