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Knowing it could be his last fight, Neil Seery is determined to enjoy UFC Stockholm

The Dublin flyweight faces Chris Beal on Saturday night at the Tele2 Arena.

Image: Dolly Clew/Cage Warriors

YOU NEED A thick skin if you’re to survive at Team Ryano in Finglas.

At least you do if — like me — you’re a Corkman who has wandered in to a gym full of Dublin MMA fighters. Proud Dubs they are too. I’m easy pickings for these lads, particularly the gym’s elder statesman — UFC flyweight Neil Seery.

I’ve made my way out to chat to Seery about his upcoming bout against Chris Beal. He’s ready for the interview, but he needs to get the slagging out of his system first. I feel like I’ve walked into the Wimbledon dressing room and sat down between John Fashanu and Vinnie Jones.

There’s definitely a Crazy Gang feel to Team Ryano — minus the egos. Plenty of verbal sparring goes on before training begins, but head coach Andy Ryan draws a line when it’s time for the work to start.

Seery is sitting this one out. He had a tough boxing session in the afternoon, and with his fight now just over a week away, it’s one of those occasions when a rest is the wiser option. Especially when you’re a 35-year-old UFC fighter with a full-time job, three children and another on the way.

Seery has had a lengthy lay-off since he last fought. An injury forced him to withdraw from a November bout in Sydney, so he’s eager for action in Stockholm this Saturday.

It feels like more than six months have passed since Seery defeated Phil Harris at UFC Dublin. It’s easy to tell that he’s looking forward to this weekend, but he takes a measured approach to answering my opening question about this being a chance for him to put a dent in the flyweight rankings.

“No, that wouldn’t be how I see it,” Seery told The42. “At my age I’m just taking every fight as it comes. I’m grateful at this stage to be where I am. For me it’s just about getting in and performing in each fight.

Neil Seery with Phil Harris Seery trades punches with Phil Harris during their bout at UFC Dublin last July. Source: Rodrigo Romos/INPHO

“I’m only 1-1 in the UFC anyway, so I’d need to clock up a few wins before I’d even start looking at the rest of the division. All I want is to stay fit and healthy, and then see where that leaves me.”

Seery’s words differ from what you generally come to expect from fighters in the month of January. Hopeful predictions of ending the year with three or four wins and a title shot are the norm, but at his age you listen to your body, not your ego.

The former Cage Warriors champion has been competing now for ten years, and it’s starting to take its toll. Seery would like to have lofty ambitions, but he’s too realistic to look any further than Saturday.

“When I got injured before that fight in Australia I was out of work for a month, and I was sitting in the house wondering what was next. Is my body going to recover? I know it was only a fractured rib, but at my stage things like that make you wonder if time might be up.”

Seery is adamant that he’s in great shape and feeling fresh, but the fact remains that as the years add up, the aches and pains take longer to disappear and the fight camps become more taxing. It’s a step-by-step process for him these days, and while he’d be reluctant to hang up the gloves this year, he knows he might not have a choice.

When asked if Saturday’s bout could potentially be his last, Seery said: “Yeah, one hundred percent. I’m not going to lie to myself or anybody else. There’s only so many times you can put your body through it, and you have to start looking after your body a little bit more.

“I’m not getting any younger. I still have a good gas tank, but can my body keep taking the damage that comes with training camps and fights? Only time will tell.”

When the time does eventually come for Seery to bring the curtain down on his professional career, one wonders how he’ll fill the void. The assumption is that he’ll be grateful to finally have some spare time, but Seery could never see himself spending his evenings in front of the TV.

Seen as a father figure among the Team Ryano membership — which “doesn’t sit well,” he says — Seery will continue to train, as well as coaching a kids’ MMA class and working as a full-time warehouse manager.

“Nearly every day I’m in this place,” he says, surveying the Team Ryano premises, “even when I’m told to rest. I’m here when nobody else knows I’m here. Whether I’m fighting or not, I don’t think that will change.”

Being the underdog is nothing new for Neil Seery, so he won’t be daunted by the challenge of facing Chris Beal this weekend in the Swedish capital.

Undefeated at 10-0, the 29-year-old American was a bulky bantamweight, so he’s likely to have a considerable size advantage against Seery for what will be his flyweight debut.

“He’s a big lump,” Seery admits. “I’m expecting a tough, tough fight. I’ve seen clips of his last fight. He stood and banged. When he was taken down he reversed and he had good ground-and-pound, so he’s good all-round. I’ll have to be on my A-game to beat him.”

And whether the Dubliner returns home on Sunday in victory or defeat, he’ll take some time to decide if he should call it a day or if he’s still got more to give.

“It’s hard to say it but there is a strong possibility that this could be my last fight. We’ll see how things go. You can handle that a couple of ways: you can crib and cry, or just take every fight as it comes and enjoy it. I’m just enjoying the ride while I’m still on it.”

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Paul Dollery

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