Losing wasn't an option for Brian Kelleher at UFC 246 last weekend.
Before his bantamweight fight against newcomer Ode Osbourne, "Boom" had gone winless since February 2018, which included being finished in two straight outings.
Saturday's bout was also the last on Kelleher's UFC contract. And it was bumped up to the pay-per-view main card the day before the event, which meant he'd be entering the cage less than two hours before Conor McGregor.
But Kelleher says he didn't feel any of that pressure before or during the fight. It showed with his first-round submission of Osbourne, who tapped with his feet because his arms were trapped.
"It felt amazing, man," Kelleher told theScore. "I almost forgot what it felt like to have that. It's hard to even explain the feeling of winning a fight. ... Relief is the best word you could probably say to explain the feeling after."
Beyond likely saving his UFC career, the victory was important for Kelleher because it showed his internal struggles were under control. Those struggles began after he was knocked out by John Lineker in May 2018 - the first KO Kelleher suffered in his first 30 pro fights.
"The mental battles in this game are rough, man," Kelleher said, adding: "I think that knockout really f----- with my head. I had never felt that in my whole career. I didn't know what that was like. You almost feel invincible. ... Then it happens, and you're shocked. You're like, 'How do I accept this and move forward?'"
Before figuring out his emotions and dealing with them in a proper manner, Kelleher rushed into another fight seven months later and lost to Montel Jackson by first-round submission.
"I can tell you now, I wasn't mentally ready to fight again at that point," Kelleher said. "I just was being a fighter, and just taking a fight and doing it.
"I remember literally walking in the cage thinking, 'What am I doing here? I just want to get out of here. I don't even want to be here.' I was having these negative thoughts, and it carried through the fight."
Kelleher added that his training was impacted, too.
"It wasn't the same me," he said. "I wasn't aggressive anymore, I was hesitant, and I was a little worried about sparring. I wasn't a fighter. I was too focused on health and different things you can't think about when you're a professional fighter."
The New York native then suffered an injury that took him out of a scheduled bout at UFC Ottawa in May 2019. The time away did him good, although he didn't realize it until later.
"Dealing with that injury and not being in the gym for a while, it makes you appreciate what you don't have, and your love for the sport and why you do it," Kelleher said.
"I know now, looking back, that the time off was a blessing, because I needed that time off to recover my mind and to reignite this flame."