Ep. #120 – Tom O’Connor

Tom O’Connor is a Canadian mixed martial artist training out of Progressive Fighting Academy in Lethbridge, Alberta. In fact, he is currently competing in the XFC Lightweight Tournament and is matched up with Contender Series veteran, Kenny Cross in the semi-finals. Click here to learn more about Tom O’Connor.


Tom O’Connor: Boom, we are back 120th edition of the quarantine cast. This all started. Just a few months ago i was uh bored in my uh in my kitchen during quarantine and next thing. You know i’ve interviewed 120 people, it’s crazy um, but here we are, and i’m really excited for this one um it’s in my opinion, the best, if not one, of the best prospects of canada um in tom o’connor. He just had a huge win um for xfc. Without further ado here he is hey man how’s it going what’s up man thanks for having me on the show, how’s it going. It’S going good how’d, uh how’d that sound man, one of the best prospects in all of canada, and that’s that’s saying a lot, especially with that long layoff you had yeah, it sounds good and i, of course i like hearing it and appreciate you saying it um. You know just work on it and keep working and throughout the layoff like say the the big question mark of how is this going to look getting back, and you know all those questions kind of what what it’ll look like going back? What opportunities will i even get where? Where will the image of me be? You know, where will i be ranked and everything so being able to just get back and have a fight at xfc? That was unreal and just you know, being in the room with fighters again, and it felt good at the time like this to be it felt like home. So that was good and, of course i, like my name being mentioned in a sport like this. It’S the more i mentioned the better, so yeah, it’s a it’s a really weird sport, because, unlike you know, hockey or soccer whatever else, we there’s a lot of recency bias right like there’s. If you don’t fight for a period of time, you’re often forgotten. You know like there’s the anthony romeros that are coming up, the aaron jeffries and they deserve all that credit and all the attention they’re getting, but guys like you who haven’t fought in a while kind of tend to disappear um. So it’s good to have you back man and uh representing canada. Um there’s not a whole lot of us in the sport, so it’s definitely good to have another one in there yeah yeah. Absolutely it is a crazy sport that way how other teams, too, they got a big season and a build up and kind of off season and in season off season right. But you can’t have that with mma, because every individual athlete is being it’s their own setup of off season in season and when fights match up and some fighters more active than others and yeah. So it is crazy how you can be at the top of the world and then forgotten about the next day. It’S kind of a crazy sport that way, but i think that’s part of what makes it so exciting too. Is you know things? Things are moving fast, yeah yeah. It definitely is and uh, especially during this time, when everything else was a standstill. The fact that the sport continued uh really says a lot about the sport as a whole as well as fighters. You know they are a different breed. You know you’re not looking for ways out, you want to actually get in there and compete and it separates them from a lot of other athletes. That being said, you got in there. Canada is at a standstill. Events can’t happen in canada. You decide, you know what i’m gon na go the other side of the border and i’m gon na go enter a tournament without competing in such a long period of time, so kind of talk a little bit about how that all played out i mean you haven’t Fought in two years and you’re gon na jump right into a tournament like that’s three fights you’re agreeing to not just one yeah man. Well, i am all in on this, so it it didn’t matter what the tournament was or what the opponent looked like. You know ufc calls, whoever it was xfc calls i’m going and um. I was with the layoff coming back when i, when i started feeling better and taking care of the injuries that i had right away. I was just wanting it back, but then quarantine hit and i wasn’t sure when opportunity to come, but my manager working around the clock and awesome on awesome management. Epoch agencies found the opportunity and somehow was in connection with xfc and offered it to me and yeah. There was zero hesitation. I was like: let’s go 155 less of a cut but heavier weight. You know i fought 145 155, but so it was kind of a double-edged sword there. With you know, i don’t have to cut as much, but it also is heavier, but i i just love the sport and competing, so i was excited to get back in there and represent canada and keep crushing. It seems like there’s a bit of a wave right now of uh. You know everything goes through ebbs and flows, but canadian mma is on a bit of a resurgence and we got some really high level talent coming in and you know i’ve i’ve been just listening to some different podcasts and uh, even some commentary on some fights and Stuff and it seems like they’re sleeping on some of canada, of canada, mma athletes and i think that’s that could be a bad idea, because there’s some guys that are coming with like absolute fire and the work ethic down here. You know you know right like it’s. A grinder mentality and everyone’s in there for for hard fights and no one’s looking for an easy way out. So i think that uh there’s a lot of really good names, tanner boser right, like those guys you got um, hakeem dudao, coming out of calgary and and across all of canada. There’S guys coming up that are killers, so it’s exciting yeah there’s a! I want to touch on that a little bit later, but one of the things i really want to talk about is you had a concussion and in the sport of mma, it’s a lot different than a hockey or whatever else like one of the best canadian mixed Martial arts of all time, a guy i actually bumped into the other day and tj grant retired from the sport when he was about to fight for a title because of the exact same injury uh. You went through so kind of talk about your recovery from that and obviously knowing that you’re going to get punched in the head and you’re gon na get kicked in the head. Was there any hesitation to jump back in there? Um no hesitation to jump back in because really there’s seasons of life, and i know i can’t do mma forever and i’m just blessed that i get to do it at all and compete and do something i love being. A professional athlete is what i’ve always wanted to do and it just when i was growing up. I didn’t do any martial arts, so it was when it was rugby or hockey or something aside from martial arts, and then this all happened and i fell in love with martial arts. So the path there was no different. I i i was ready to go as soon as i could compete again. There was zero hesitation because of the concussion, but um there was definitely just making sure i did took the right steps to feel confident. Right, like you, got to go in with the right mindset to be to go into a fight and we’ve all seen you know at the highest level, guys go into a fight and their mind, isn’t in it. Well, it never turns out good. So you have to go in with confidence and you have to, but confidence comes with preparation, and so i think a large part of why i had less hesitation wasn’t just because i love doing what i do, but because i was gon na. I took the right amount of time and put a plan in place worked alongside my physio. My trainer and uh made sure that i was 100 just so there was no doubts about the concussion and my health. I you know made sure i was in in the right shape and, and so everything was in place where i was completely completely confident in my head and my health and then i just had to perform and that’s a whole nother level of story right, but um Yeah, as for concussion health, i felt like i had recovered really well from it and i think a big i kind of was in a lucky situation, which also was part of why. I think the delay happened so long and why i was out so long was. I took a good amount of time off because of the concussion. I really you know tiptoed around it i was i went on. I was on an eight fight win streak at the time. I just won the xfc title beating chris day in penticton, and i it was right after that. You know a little bit right after and i in training boom concussion. So i didn’t, i kind of was took extra amount of time than i needed with my physio. Everyone to make sure i was in the best position possible and it kind of worked. It worked for me because i was healthy and my brain was healthy, but i um i jumped back into training after that long, layoff really quickly and mcl. So yeah. You kind of learned from that, but i as as goes for head trauma, i felt i felt 100. So that was good, and that is a scary injury to to face – and i think in our sport and in sports in general – we’re starting to get a really good eye on it. And you know it’s: it’s always a talk from the outside. Looking in that’s something that event planners organizers, you know the referees, the doctors, everyone is taking that really seriously as they should so it i’m glad i had the time, but i’m i just want to get back in the time off. As we know, with quarantine is kind of can make you go crazy when you started ramping up your training there, leading up to the fight, obviously with your mcl uh as well as a concussion. Was there anything any nacking injuries, or did you feel 100 that entire training camp? I felt good one thing that i um that helped with that. I i felt 100 throughout the training camp. Of course, there’s no easy training camp, so i was banged up. I bumped some bruises, you know things twisted nagging things that come in in training naturally, but as for mcl, both my knees were completely healthy. Low back was healthy, head and neck was healthy and uh. I’D attribute it to just my strength and conditioning at heart training. Here in lethbridge and then also um, a big part is just making sure that i do the role you know like the mobility work, stretching something that gets overlooked all the time and it’s mandatory. You know as especially we’re getting older. We put pressures on our body. Everything everybody goes through their daily life and uh. You could throw something out and just give yourself some tlc, so i mean this camp. There was a big focus on making sure i stretched before every session after every session and being just really really adamant on it. Really consistent, so i think that it was a big part is that is that your like? Is that at your house? Are you, like you, have a gym set up in your house? Where is that hi? This is my little dojo got the animals there to uh to motivate yeah yeah. I got a mat, so it’s a little space. Because can you still see there yep yeah, that’s a little space man. I i love it. That’S all you need, though, really like a lot of guys, yeah very lucky to have it so um with the quarantine going. I kind of just you know, zoned in in here one of the uh. I want to talk about your fight. I mean you had a massive win over jose because oh my uh jose caceres who’s, probably who is the most experienced fighter you’ve faced, you went up there, you look very dominant, you look very good, you got them done, put them away, then you got matched up With kenny cross, you wanted to compete on the contender series. This guy has competed on this contender series and he won his fight successfully. Obviously didn’t get the contract. Do you feel like? Maybe you can kind of leapfrog him like you know the ufc eyes are on him. If you can get it done against him, you know. Maybe those ufc eyes would go, would come your way, yeah and just all of the eyes and mma like you know, it’s crazy, how small the world it really is and how everybody is talking and um yeah. I think that it is a really big opportunity for me and like jose casarez the level up in opponent that he was and the people he’s faced and just him in general, how experienced he is, how much time he’s had in the in the ring right it. It was cool to come off of layoff and have such a big opportunity, and i think it just motivated me more to to be lucky enough to get an opportunity like that and um. So i kind of just felt yeah supercharged, to put everything in like fully immerse myself, which was awesome and then same thing for kenny cross. Awesome athlete good, like really solid, martial artist, great guy charismatic, you know kind of a superstar style, guy and uh. I think have been on the contender series even got to talking to him a bit, and that is one cool thing about the term. Is i got talking to him and i get to talk to him and meet this guy before fighting him and uh. He talks about the contender series and what it’s like, and just a guy like that that has been leveling up the way he has been for me. If i can beat a guy like that and which i i plan to do is i think it is a huge stepping stone and that’s it’s cool – to see just levels in the game right like and when you’re, when you’re climbing the levels that feels good. So i’m just excited i’m sure, you’re you’re focused on on your side of the bracket, but it is very exciting on the other side as well. There’S another canadian and obviously a uh, a former ufc fighter, a guy who has actually competed in the ufc and kurt hallabaugh. Did you have a preference on opponent, or was it just man whoever they match me up with whoever they match me up with man? I’M i am excited to be. My name is in the name with those guys and uh you that that’s what you want to be in. You want to put yourself in a room of the elite right, and so i just that’s what i plan to do. Keep putting myself in these rooms of the elite until i’m at the top and uh, so the names, those those three names right there like it’s, a it’s a lineup of killers and i’m going to try and beat all of them so match me up with whichever One okay, i would love. I would love personally to see a canadian canadian final, obviously right, yeah yeah, that’s what i was thinking. I was like obviously seeing two canadians in the final of an american tournament would say a lot about canada, mma um, especially right now. Like you, i mean we have to talk about it. A little bit. Obviously, xavier alouy, who i spoke to a couple weeks ago, just went and got the uae warriors belt and there seems to be a lot of success outside of the ufc. But when it comes to ufc like guys like tj laramie gets so close, keep kb buehler right there. Well, what do you think it’s going to take to get over that hump tanner bozer, i thought was the best, the best example of it and then andre arlovski um, and then we obviously hakeem dal would do. But what do you think it’s going to take to really get over that hump and to have another rory mcdonald, uh, tj, grant or george st pierre, the superstars um? Well, i think that it’s it’s not necessarily as much getting over the hump as it like. I said it just comes in waves and fighting from the side of you is the sport side and the the um entertainer side. There’S a lot of the marketing that that’s going to come down to the personality of the athletes and how much they can get there. But bottom line is you have to win so i think that um, i think it’s just going to continue on building and even the guys like kb like his fight. He came in and it looked good. He just just couldn’t get it done, kind of thing right and it fighting is such a like. We said you could be up here one day and completely on top of the world, and you lose one fight and you’re forgotten about right. So but that doesn’t mean that these guys, don’t that we don’t stop training and going for the next event. So i think it’s just a timing thing for each individual athlete like. I just think the timings has to be right for tanner bozer right now that guy’s a killer he’s going out just bought a legend and andre arlovski like that. Wasn’T he won it? I thought he won it yeah. I know i did too, but i mean when or not the the fact he’s in there same thing we’re talking about sharing the room with the elite. Like he’s he’s right there right so and tj laramie thought he looked good as well. For most of that fight. For the fight he was in and he’s a killer too. So i think it’s a timing thing and just you know being in the right place at the right time and capitalizing on the moment and um yeah. I think i think getting over the hump it’ll be just depending on which athletes are are in the right head space mentally and put everything into it. The most they can and uh like the opportunities seem like they’re coming more often for us in canada. You know, like you might even mention outside the ufc, it’s a pretty dominant force right now it seems anyways and um. I think that it’s just kind of opening the doors you got those guys, even though even kb tj, even though the way that their fights went and where they’re at i still think that’s just keeping the foot in the door, and you know they’re starting to notice. Canadian talent, it seems like maybe it was overlooked a little bit but yeah i’m excited to see the next wave of the tj grants, george st pierre’s yeah, so yeah part of that yeah um. It really is good, and i think up until recently, when you thought about canadian mma gyms, the only one anyone ever thought of was tricera right. You know people didn’t think of niagara top team and now, all of a sudden they have this wave. Obviously you at pfa titans mma the list goes on and on that being said, i want you to talk a little bit about your gym. You got a great team behind you, but maybe not um, maybe not as many people are familiar with them. Um as we are because we’re in canada, so if you have 30 seconds to hype up your gym, what would you say it is, though it is such an awesome place like most gyms, that family and family kind of vibes you go in and everybody’s friendly, but Then you get to sparring class and it’s a lineup of killers right and it is cool because you got brad wall running it. You know legendary muay thai fighter he’s a badass and he’s in there every single day like same thing it hit. Dojo is his home and so anytime you’re in there you’re learning that’s the bottom line. Is you go in you’re gon na you’re gon na leave, learning something new and improving your game and it instills that mentality of always improving infinite improvement and um yeah i’d say if you want to learn, martial arts come down to pfa because we do bjj wrestling Muay thai, with the best of them right. I think that’s that’s key too, and i think right now, especially during covet you’re, seeing it uh, especially with a lot of guys who went to an att or an aka one of these big gyms and then by default, and they had no choice. They go back to their hometown and they’re, finding a lot of success from their home gyms because you know they. It’S a family feel like these guys grew up at this gym and it’s like it almost feels like they feel rejuvenated being back home and i think that’s that’s the key. There is finding a team that really works. Well with you not just a big gym. Not you don’t want just body you want. You want a solid team, absolutely i can agree more and i think to as mma’s evolved there’s a lot of these more kind of smaller gyms that pop that pop up, or have been around for a long time. That now you feel like you can get that learning there before. You know the level of martial artists. Now we got guys electrician and a welder, and you know that maybe aren’t trying to be mma fighters but are still martial artists and are still badasses. So you can still learn something from them and of course, i think that is important as well is making sure that you are in a room full of competing elite level, martial art, mma fighters or jiu-jitsu practitioners or kickboxers rights. Here you are fine-tuning in that realm, but also it’s good to just be adaptable and learn from everybody yeah. So i think that sometimes it kind of introduces you a bit more to that realm and you get same thing. I think it gives that resurgence that good energy – you know you feel like you, have something really to fight for for your gym and – and i i think that there’s probably the pros and cons of both, but with here i feel really lucky the guys, i’m surrounded By and everybody that i’m by is super competitive and they’re improving every day. So that’s it! That’S the energy i like to be around so i think little gyms like that they have that energy, and you see that – and i haven’t got a chance to go to some of the bigger gyms. But you know one day when quarantine is all done. I suppose yeah and – and i really think that is a a very good point, because i mean you go to like an aka. Those guys have all like you know: [ , ] world champions and then, if you get matched up with a guy who’s, a white belt or a blue belt, they’re gon na move differently, and i think uh you know getting that you know rolling with an engineer. Is you’re going to learn something because, like he may move away that a black belt may not um, he may not be a skill, may not be as talented, but he may offer you something that you haven’t seen before. So i think that it is good and it definitely is good to to get that as well yeah. I think so too. I think you wan na you want to full circle, learn, learn kind of every way, and you know that’s that is at the heart of martial arts. Maybe not the heart of competitive mma, but at the heart of martial arts is to be prepared for anything. Right is your martial arts should protect you in any situation. So you it’s good to see how someone might not react in in a professional mma sense right. Sometimes you’ll see that too, where you’re training and you’re going through a move that you you’ve practiced and trained for a you, know: high-level guy and they don’t they. Don’T even do it. What you’re expecting you’re like oh [, ], this doesn’t work. Now you got to kind of adapt anyways right, but of course, when we’re getting up to the higher levels, you want to be training to beat the best and the highest level guys. So i think you do have to make sure and that’s where i was so lucky with this last camp to with quarantine. It was tricky, so we just kind of made a bubble. You know picked. I went through it and from both all the gyms in lethbridge. Here there was athletes all the higher level athletes that are around. They all came out to help and came into my bubble for my fight camp, and so they they were. You know really awesome about that and we got to control our training so that we still were within the recommendations and uh kept our control with kovid and kept safe with that. Because i want to test positive for that and have my fight canceled. Thank goodness. But um yeah, so it was awesome to see like the guys from cmc and, of course, all the athletes at pfa that came and helped me out. They were there every single night that i needed them to be, and then the guys from cmc that came out and helped as well. It was just awesome to see just collectively. Everybody come together and put together an awesome camp, and that way i could have both the best worlds right. I could train with with you know all of the people that i love training with and the higher level high level people that i love training with. They were there day in day out making sure that i was getting beat up and and feeling it feeling the grind. So it was really cool. You’Ve been uh. You’Ve been working a lot with some some hockey players as well, a guy who recently got drafted um. I want to talk a little bit about that, but also how did you not end up going that road? I mean you grew up in lethbridge alberta and somehow you ended up finding mma. Not hockey that to me is, is shocking. Um how’d, you end up doing mma rather than hockey. Well, you know, i would say it probably would be a skill level thing, maybe no uh, i i could party it. I back. I could party as hard as the hockey players, but i just couldn’t quite play as hard as them. You know, so! No i going through it rugby hockey, like you, know the team sport culture. I love both of those i competed at higher levels, but just um. Never broke through and never never went all the way with either of them. You know i pushed i i work towards going further, but as i as i grown up, you’re partying – and you know my priorities are just not there to to fully go after those things and skill level. Wasn’T there to fully go after those things, and so it’s funny because, as my competitive career came to an end in those and i started going to university – and you know i carried through continuing partying and um the great times and great people. But it’s funny how? I i didn’t have a focus on anything. I had always my entire life competed. That’S what i did. I wanted to be an athlete. That’S what all i all i really knew was just competition. So then, when i started university and hockey and rugby competition ended for me, i just did a lack of focus. Couldn’T you know and then so partying was really what became that focus and it’s uh easy to get into trouble. That way, when that’s your only focus is partying and you know being around lots of people, and it was you know, awesome, but i also can get into trouble so finding martial arts kind of was perfect to just immediately as soon as i started. Martial arts shifted. My focus – and it just became no magnifying glass on all that, like i just zoomed in locked in, was more focused at work. Everything kind of went to martial arts, so it kind of you know it saved me, i’m sure, from a lot of trouble that i could have been in and thank goodness, i found it but middle of middle university kind of college. I just started as a kickboxing class and then three months in my coach, brad walsh, said hey. I have an mma fight for you in oh three weeks. I was like what and then there was mma fight. Family came down to that in great falls, montana, and that was an absolute riot and uh adrenaline boost and adrenaline dump and uh party afterwards, and so that i was hooked. I was hooked from the moment i stepped in the cage there and it’s kind of been the story’s been written ever since yeah it’s been, it’s been a great journey. I mean following it and uh, seeing your success um, especially because a lot of canadian fighters end up doing a long amateur career. You have one fight on topology, i’m sure there’s been other like five five um, but that’s even short for a canadian mixed martial artist. Usually they have like 11 12, 13 um, and it’s great that you jumped right into it and uh i mean the success. Is there and uh man? I can’t wait to watch uh to watch. You do work man, this tournament um i’ve already taken up. So much of your time, but i’m going to ask one last question here: um, obviously christmas around the corner. If you had one wish for christmas for december 25th, what would it be one wish for christmas? Oh, that is tricky because i, like a lot of things. Um, no, i i think i would probably wish for a big uh big showtime victory on february 15th, which is the planned date for it. If i could wish for anything yeah, but i wish for a smooth camp of hard work. I love it man. I can’t wait to watch you do work. I’Ve been a fan for a while and uh looking forward to these next two fights and uh, seeing you bring bring home that uh xfc uh title yeah p.s, shannon get me a ps5. I wish i i wish. I had the ability to man, podcast isn’t big enough, but uh man all the best uh anyone you want to thank before we uh before we end this um just uh. Thank you for having me on and then thank you to my jam, progressive fighting academy, my um for my strength and training at heart, training, uh and also for the last fight. Thank you to lee main leaming and everyone at cmc that came out and helped me out in that camp as well um. So they were really awesome, but other than that. Thank you for having me on all right man. All the best stay safe out there out west and uh man you’re doing great things for canada. There’S uh not a whole lot of canadian mixed martial artists, so we’re all behind you, man and best of luck. I love it. Thanks man, there you go tom o’connor! Can’T wait to watch him do work for xfc um anyway. If you haven’t yet be sure to like comment and subscribe and we’ll see you guys,

Sergio Pineiro

Sergio Pineiro is the Founder of FighterPath.com and host of the Quarantinecast podcast. Based in Canada he is both a sports journalist and MMA enthusiast. He practices the sport but has a passion for the individual stories of training, fighting and living the fighting lifestyle.

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