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O’Connor prepared for biggest fight of his career

Fort Macleod’s Tom O’Connor enters the biggest fight of his MMA career Friday in Edmonton.

The 32-year-old O’Connor takes on Ramil Kamilov in a battle of two of Canada’s top-rated lightweight fighters in the main event at Unified 58.

“Every fight is the next biggest fight and all my focus is just on the task at hand,” the five foot eight, 155-pound O’Connor said. “This one specifically is absolutely my biggest fight. Both of us have a ton of momentum so it has a lot of excitement and hype behind it as well, but that also means it has a lot of attention.”

“It’s the biggest fight of my career, the fight that I think will skyrocket me into the next level and into the higher organizations to test myself against stronger opponents.”

With a career record of 13-2, O’Connor, who has the nickname “Big Nasty,” goes into Friday’s bout with four straight victories to his credit.

O’Connor’s last win came in December when he forced Craig Shintani to tap out in the third round.

The 28-year-old Kamilov, known as “Mr. Real Deal,” stands five foot 11 and 155 pounds, giving him the size advantage over O’Connor.

The undefeated Kamilov’s last victory came in September when he made Roberto Pixley tap out in the first round.

“He’s tall and he’s big,” O’Connor said of Kamilov. “He’s a very good opponent.”

O’Connor said what he finds interesting about MMA is what a particular opponent can bring out in a fighter, with each one having different strengths and styles.

“He’s a tough opponent and when you look at him he has that MMA, tough guy fighter look and he is, his style of fighting is like that. He really likes to be the hammer and the aggressor.”

O’Connor is confident he has done everything he can to prepare for Kamilov.

“It’s been a hard camp, but good,” O’Connor said. “The team and the sponsors have worked hard to have a good camp. It’s been full-on.”

O’Connor is looking forward to the chance to employ his own technique of pressure, pressure, pressure, against a quality opponent like Kamilov.

“I think Ramil’s toughness and his aggression, one of the best attributes and qualities you can have in fighting is aggression. If you can have one thing, that would be a good thing to have,” O’Connor said. “I’m excited to see what that pulls out of me. A large focus on our camp was bringing out a new speed, a new level, and I’m going to do it right from the start.”

The fighter is coached by Brad Wall of Progressive Fighting Academy, jiujitsu coach Scott Ward, and Trevor Hardy of Hard Training. O’Connor also works with a couple gyms in Calgary for extra reps and sparring partners, and credited Clay Davidson for his help.

Hardy has been preaching speed and tenacity throughout the camp.

“I want to bring tenacity right off the start,” O’Connor said.

Sponsors are Front Line Towing, Liquid Empire Plumbing, Merge Mortgage Group and Southwest Flooring and Supply.

O’Connor’s partner in life, Shannon Brezina, is also integral to his career as a fighter.

“It makes a huge difference,” O’Connor said of the support he receives. “Every camp I’m learning more and more about it. If you put more in you get more out of it . . . all that sponsorship it really is a full team effort.”

The sponsorship provides him with the financial support to take time from work to train two to three hours in the morning, two to three hours in the evening and put time into strength and conditioning training.

O’Connor took up mixed martial arts as a way to train, never expecting it would become a career.

“I was always in that space,” O’Connor, a former rugby and hockey player said of being an athlete. “I always loved being an athlete and competing but I never thought it would be something that could be a career. It was always just kind of a dream.”

The past year has seen O’Connor focus more on gratitude for the opportunity to have a sports career.

“This year has been a lot about gratitude and appreciating all the little moments of it,” O’Connor said. “You don’t get to do it forever.”

On Friday night O’Connor, with a strong team in his corner, will attempt to move that unexpected career forward.

“It’s a perfect opportunity to allow his style and his aggression to pull out that newer, faster version of myself,” O’Connor said.

United 58 starts at 7:30 p.m. at the River Cree Resort and Casino and is available on UFC Fight Pass.

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