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Big Nasty meets The Dragon at Unified 44

Fort Macleod’s Tom (Big Nasty) O’Connor enters the cage Friday night in the co-Main Event at Unified MMA 44.

O’Connor battles John (The Dragon) Nguyen in the match at 7 Chiefs Sportsplex on the Tsuut’ina Nation.

The 29-year-old O’Connor, who is fighting out of Professional Fighting Academy in Lethbridge, signed a three-fight deal last fall with Unified MMA.

“It’s one of the top organizations in all of Canada,” O’Connor said of his decision to join the Alberta-based Unified MMA. “That was one of the biggest things for me, how awesome it is to be able to fight at home and have friends and family who have supported me come to it.”

O’Connor fought in Lethbridge years ago, but outside of fights in Grande Prairie has not been in his home province.

The five foot eight, 155-pound O’Connor, whose head coach is Brad Wall, loves the feeling of having his supporters in the building.

“The energy in that building was just insane,” O’Connor said of his fight in Lethbridge. “It will be cool to feel that again.”

O’Connor, who has nine wins and two losses as a professional and is the third -ranked lightweight fighter in western Canada and seventh in Canada, knows he will have his hands full against Nguyen.

“He’s a young, hungry up-and-comer too,” O’Connor said of Nguyen, who has four wins and two losses in his professional career. “Both of us are really pushing on that boundary of very top tier talent.”

O’Connor has some familiarity with the five foot nine, 149-pound Nguyen, who is from Calgary.

“I’ve seen him compete in other Canadian shows,” O’Connor said. “He’s a good martial artist, good striker, has some really good attributes in the sense of speed and accuracy.”

Nguyen, who is ranked ninth among featherweights in western Canada, likes to strike and kickbox but is working to establish himself as an all-around mixed martial artist.

“His striking style, he’s really fast and accurate and has very good timing,” O’Connor said. “I see him most likely wanting to keep me on the outside and really pick me apart.”

O’Connor, on the other hand, likes nothing better than to get in close and grapple with his opponents.

“My path to victory is going to be pressure, pressure, pressure, going through all the ranges from outside to clinching range to wrestling range and constantly changing it up,” O’Connor said.

“My game usually but especially in this case against John is going to be just to drown him in some really, really deep water, and make him quit.”

O’Connor, who grew up playing hockey and rugby in his home town of Fort Macleod, prides himself on being a hybrid fighter, using all the MMA disciplines at his disposal.

O’Connor is constantly refining his approach, taking what works best for him from the elements of MMA.

“I’m trying make sure I’m not a jack of all trades, master of none, but really keeping that same heart of what I love to do in MMA, that pressure style.”

Training is going well and O’Connor is healthy going into Friday’s fight.

Tickets for Unified MMA 44 are available at showpass.com/unified-mma-fight/, fight code occonor10.

“A lot of people I know are going, but I thought it would be really cool if even though he is from Calgary we had more Tom O’Connor fans,” O’Connor said with a laugh.

Unified MMA 44 will also be shown .live on UFC Fight Pass.

This is Unified MMA’s debut in Calgary after staging 43 shows in Edmonton.

In the Main Event, Calgary’s Noah Ali takes on Ontario’s Gabe Sagman for the vacant Unified MMA Canadian bantamweight championship.

The professional card also features Tim Smith vs Curtis Demarce; Ali Charkie vs Chris Lee Byrne; Matt Krayco vs Zack Powell; Kristopher Bryan vs Hunter Lee; Dylan Schellenberg vs Chris Chapman; Sean Michael vs Jeremy Grieve; and John Moore vs Sebastian Lopez.