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Tom O’Connor returns to the cage Wednesday

tom oconnor
Fort Macleod’s Tom O’Connor will compete in the XFC43 mixed martial arts tournament.

After a long layoff brought on by injury and the COVID-19 pandemic Fort Macleod’s Thomas O’Connor can’t wait to climb into the cage tomorrow in Atlanta.

O’Connor, a mixed martial arts fighter with a professional record of eight wins and one loss, is competing in the lightweight division of the XFC43 tournament.

O’Connor fights Jose Caceres on the undercard of XFC43 in Atlanta on Wednesday, Nov. 11.

“It’s a huge opportunity,” O’Connor said in an interview last week. “To be in a tournament style setting with a championship at the end of it, it is a huge opportunity.”

O’Connor last fought in July 2018 in Penticton, B.C. when he beat Chris Day in a featherweight title match in the XFFC Diablo Fight Series.

Since then, the 28-year-old O’Connor suffered a concussion and a knee injury during training, which kept him out of the cage.

And like many other fighters, O’Connor’s opportunities to fight have been severely limited since the COVID-19 pandemic hit North America.

O’Connor was delighted to be offered the opportunity to fight Caceres, who has a professional record of 15 wins and 10 losses.

“He’s experienced, he comes from a good gym, good camp,” O’Connor said. “He’s fought some really well-known names and beat them.”

Known as The Fresh Prince of Kendall, the 33-year-old Caceres early in his career made Kamaru Usman submit to a rear naked choke hold. Usman is the current UFC welterweight champion and is No. 5 in the UFC’s pound-for-pound rankings.

Caceres is six foot two and 169 pounds, giving him a considerable size advantage over O’Connor, who is five foot eight and 144 pounds.

“I am going to put the pressure on him from start to finish until he wants out of there,” O’Connor said of his strategy going into the fight. “That’s my whole game plan. Like a tsunami wave, as soon as you get a breath another wave hits and you can’t breathe, you don’t want to be there, you just want to be at home.”

Caceres has considerable experience and is a well-rounded fighter but prefers grappling. Thirteen of Caceres’ victories were by submission.

O’Connor is confident going up against a bigger, more experienced foe.

“I feel good with it. I feel like right now where I’m at with my skill level is I can try to beat every single person in the world, whether it’s on the ground or on the feet.”

O’Connor, who trains younger athletes at Hard Training in Lethbridge, is fit and healthy, recovered from a concussion and the partial tear of his MCL.

The fighter said he was fortunate to be able to take the time he needed to recover both injuries. He accepted both injuries as learning experiences in his growth as a fighter and as a person.

“I just tried to make sure that I learned that it’s part of the game and to make sure that preparation is important and precision in my lifestyle is important. Making sure that my lifestyle is moving me forward to make me a better martial artist, better person.”

“Coming back from the injuries, I feel really good right now. I feel 100 per cent If anything, they gave me a really good lesson to learn from.”

XFC43 will be broadcast on NBC Sports and The undercard starts at 3:30 p.m. with the main card starting at 7 p.m.

A victory will propel O’Connor to the semifinals of the 155-pound tournament in January against the winner of a match featuring Kenny Cross and Jarel Askew.

The championship of the eight-fighter tournament will be in May.

On Wednesday in Atlanta some fans will be allowed into the building with proper social distancing enforced, but only trainer Brad Wall will be present to support O’Connor.

The young man from Fort Macleod isn’t deterred, however, as he knows there are many people in his corner back at home, including sponsors Progressive Fighting Academy, Hard Training, Front Line Towing and Pain Jiu Jitsu.

“I’m sure I’ll feel the energy from everyone. I feel the love and support always. I’m excited to represent Fort Macleod, Lethbridge and Alberta.”

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