And the New Yorker thinks that a win over the former bantamweight champion is the perfect way to establish himself in the division following his ‘Fight of the Night’ performance against Damian Stasiak at UFC Fight Night 118 in Gdansk.
“This is what I’m here for,” Kelleher told Ariel Helwani on the latest episode of The MMA Hour.
“I’m gonna fight this guy and make my way up the rankings. I was really excited (when I found about the fight). I go through the list and I look at the guys. I honestly thought Pedro Munhoz was going to be someone (UFC would match me with). He beat Damian (Stasiak) last and I fought him and beat him.
“I thought about Barao, I knew he was coming off some losses and he was moving back down. I knew that he had been training at American Top Team and I thought, ‘He’s probably a guy who wants to get back in there too.’
“I guess they want to give a new guy that’s up-and-coming a chance, which I really appreciate.”
Regarding Barao’s loss to Aljamain Sterling in his last fight, Kelleher felt that the Brazilian looked like a depleted version of his former self.
“I never want to overlook him, but his last fight against Aljo, he just looked off in that fight. It just looked like he was hesitant and not the same Barao, you know?” Kelleher said.
“I’m going in thinking that it’s the same Barao of old. He’s at American Top Team, maybe he’s making some changes. You never know what to expect. I believe in myself and this is my chance to fight the best and to prove my worth.”
Kelleher went on to compare Barao’s performance against Sterling to his showings during his championship reign against Urijah Faber.
“When I saw him fighting Urijah Faber and other guys in the past, I see a way more aggressive [Barao] that really wants to take your head off. I’m expecting that guy, but when you see him fight Aljo — and Aljo’s a tough guy and very elusive, which threw him off — I just think he looked a bit lazy in there,” Kelleher said.
“He wasn’t really trying to finish the fight. He’s getting out-positioned and it looks like he kind of breaks towards the end of the fight. Late second round he starts to fade and he starts to lose his cardio. I think that’s something I can definitely take advantage of.”
The former Ring of Combat champion claimed that the current version of Barao has changed since “the older days without USADA.”
“I would never throw accusations out there. I don’t know for sure, but you can see changes in his body for sure from the older days without USADA and in his performances too,” Kelleher said.
“But who’s to say? I really don’t know what he was doing or what he was taking, but a lot of guys do say that those guys were taking some stuff.”