Interview with Bellator’s Danni Neilan
Hi Danni, lovely to talk to you.
First of all, can you tell us a little bit about yourself and how you got into MMA?
I started MMA back in 2015, at the age of 24. Pretty late starter but I spent years working and competing with horses. I wanted a clean break from the horses and decided to take up something completely new. I met a fighter and I thought I could do that! I joined a martial arts gym a few weeks later and now 5 years on I am a professional fighter for bellator – pretty surreal few years.
Congratulations to you on your Bellator debut back in September. What was that feeling like walking into that arena?
My first fight for Bellator was in September and it was pro debut. I had been waiting over 12 months to turn pro but injuries held me back until I got my shot in front of a home crowd in the 3 arena. I was more than ready and had an amazing camp leading up to the fight. I watched my teammates fight so many times in the 3 arena previously and now it was my time it felt like I was right at home when I made the walk! I block out the noise walking out, but I can feel the energy and positive support from the audience it’s very motivating, I tell myself ‘you have a job to do’ and keep going out the game plan until the ref says ‘fight!’
Considering it was a sold out Irish crowd, did that put any extra Pressure on you?
I didn’t feel any pressure at all been at home, my amateur career was entirely fought outside of Ireland so it’s really nice to have your family, friends and supports so close by to debrief with after the fight. I did feel pressure to win though! I wanted to impress my new bosses and I knew the crowd were only there to get behind me and make some noise in support. They really are the best fans in the world!
How did you go about preparing for that event?
For my pro debut we started camp in Thailand, so for my latest fight for Bellator in February we did the same. We went to Thailand for Christmas and started with a bang! The weather is so hot out there and we spent everyday training hard, sparing and kick started the weight loss. Once I come home from Thailand I try get 6 solid weeks of sparing and technical work done with John and my teammates in SBG. Two weeks out from the fight we wind down the work load, sharpen the skills and drills until fight day.
I’ve been watching you perform for a while now. The last event I saw you at before Bellator was a Grapple kings event and you always seem to be so calm under any pressure. How do you manage to stay so calm and collected?
I guess it’s my personality to be calm and collected. I am pretty good in stressful situations now although I wasnt always. When I first started competing I use to get very worked up and aggressive before going into the ring or mat. I realised that that’s just wasted energy and decided I would work really hard on controlling my emotions so to have lazer like focus to get the job done. We practice this loads in SBG and do simulation spars to prepare us mentally, emotionally and physically for the pending event.
Do you have any unusual pre-fight rituals you just can’t live without?
I guess I have a few but I don’t think I would freak out or loss if they didn’t happen or anything like that!So I like sleeping in my own bed the night before the fight it at all possible. I like hitting pads first thing the morning of fight day to box out the nerves. I like going for a walk the day of the fight to relax and going to the event as late as possible. I ask my coaches to repeat the game plan a few times when warming up. Just before I walk I go to the toilet and look in the mirror and say “your an animal, no one works harder, let’s get this!“
How have you been dealing with all this coronavirus madness and what have you been doing to keep busy?
I fought just before lock down so spent a few weeks healing up. Once I was feeling fresh I started training hard again as usual. My fiancé is my striking coach so we do pads 3-4 times a week. Luckily he can roll and wrestle too so we can mix in some grappling a few times a week also. Apart from that I do my cardio and my strength and conditioning. There really isn’t much you can’t do once you have a training partner and a few mats. It’s a time to be creative and make it happen. It has been a perfect time to re-evaluate, adapt and improve. We own a gym and I also work at a paediatric physio for the HSE so apart from training we have been running an online martial arts program and I have Continued working by doing what’s app and zoom calls to do physio on the children I work with. Busy times but it’s been very enjoyable!
Have Bellator been in contact with you to schedule your next fight? If so, who are you lining up to face?
My next fight is suppose to be in October for Bellator in Dublin. I am hopeful this will go ahead! And I’m ready
And a nice fun question to end on, Whats your favourite movie and why?
Oh goss what’s my favourite movie, well I love all things comedy so anything with Kevin Hart in!! I adore him, he’s just so funny. I have recently watched the Michael Jordan documentary on Netflix, it’s amazing and so inspiring – definitely one to watch.During lockdown I have found a new love for making Tiktoks with my partner Alan. Your never too old to Tiktok lol. Check out my Instagram account danni_neilan to see us in action lol! And don’t forget to give me a follow please, I would really appreciate it!