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Australian middleweight Daniel Kelly get second chance after 'TUF Nations' loss

11/06/2014 08:46 EST | Updated 01/06/2015 05:59 EST
The last time most UFC fans saw Daniel Kelly, the Australian middleweight was sitting forlornly on his stool — an ice bag on a damaged knee.

The former judo Olympian had just lost to Sheldon Westcott via first-round submission in episode 6 of "The Ultimate Fighter Nations: Canada vs. Australia," which aired in February.

"That was embarrassing," Kelly said after limping back to his stool.

"No it wasn't," said Australia coach Kyle Noke.

"Yes it was," said Kelly.

On Friday, the 37-year-old from Melbourne returns to the cage to face American Luke Zachrich on the undercard of a UFC Fight Night card in Sydney.

"It's awesome," Kelly said. "I was really really really happy for the opportunity. Because the (TV) show didn't go very well. It's a bit of a chance at redemption for me."

American Luke Rockhold, ranked fifth among middleweight contenders, takes on No. 9 Michael Bisping of England in the main event Also on the undercard at the Allphones Arena, Canadian welterweight Chris (The Menace) Clements faces Australia's Vik Grujic.

Kelly (7-0) has fought once since his appearance on "The Ultimate Fighter," which was filmed in late 2013. He choked out Ben Kelleher in the second round in May in a local promotion.

The Australian tore his medial ligament as well as his lateral meniscus during the Westcott bout — which didn't count against his professional record because it was only a two-round fight. The Canadian went right at Kelly and injured his knee by slamming him to the canvas.

"The lateral meniscus hasn't healed but it's still manageable now," Kelly said. "Anyone who fights is walking around with some kind of injury."

Surgery was one option.

"I possibly could have gone that track," Kelly conceded. "But I run my own business, I run a gym (Melbourne's Resilience Training Centre) and I really couldn't afford to take the time out to have surgery. So it's just an (injury) management thing."

Kelly has mixed feelings about his time in rural Quebec during filming of the reality TV show. He knows it gave him a leg up in competing in the UFC. But being locked away for seven weeks a continent away from his family — he has kids aged eight and five — was difficult.

"It was harder than I thought it would be," he said.

Kelly also found it weird watching himself on TV when the series began to air. And he called the episode in which he fought "uncomfortable to watch."

But he makes no excuses for the loss to Westcott. "Sheldon was better than me on that night."

Kelly, who co-owns his gym, is the only Australian to make four Olympic teams in judo (2000, '04, '08 and '12). His highest finish was seventh in 2004.

He also wrestled at the 2002 Commonwealth Games and has coached judo.

Kelly has enjoyed a long career but acknowledges it has put "a lot of miles on the body." He monitors his training carefully as a result.

Still he savours learning MMA, a sport he only jumped into in late 2012.

"I was always a fan and I just thought I'd have a go at it ... I became a little obsessed with it and here I am," he said with a chuckle. "My wife keeps saying 'At some point, you're going to have to stop all of this.'"

"But I love it," he added. "And at the moment I'm doing OK."

The 32-year-old Zachrich (14-3) was a cast member on Season 7 of "The Ultimate Fighter." The brown belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu is 1-1 in the UFC, winning a decision over Guilherme Vasconcelos last time out at UFC 175.

"He's well-rounded. He's got good standup, good jiu-jitsu so it's going to be a hard fight," said Kelly. "They're all hard fights at the UFC level so I'm looking forward to the challenge."

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