Dan Kelly sees Rashad Evans as his gateway to ranked opposition

Dan Kelly can’t help but laugh whenever he hears his name in the same sentence with “dad-bod.”

The 39-year old Australian has actually embraced that moniker in recent months after he’s received a lot of attention for not exactly looking like a chiseled UFC fighter yet putting together a very impressive 5-1 record over his first six fights.

As a former four-time Olympian, Kelly actually has an incredible athletic pedigree for what he’s been doing inside the Octagon, but somehow he still manages to play the underdog no matter who he’s facing.

Of course, Kelly doesn’t mind one bit because the more people doubt him, the more he enjoys the victory when he proves everybody wrong.

“I don’t mind. Every fight I’m the underdog,” Kelly told FOX Sports on Thursday. “They don’t give me a chance to beat a lot of guys. As long as they give me the matchups and I put on good performances, I don’t care what they say.”

Kelly is currently riding a three-fight win streak in the UFC and he hoped following his most recent victory in his native Australia that the promotion would finally give him a ranked opponent so he could earn his way into the top 15.

When UFC matchmakers offered him a fight with former light heavyweight champion Rashad Evans, who will be making his debut at 185 pounds this weekend, Kelly couldn’t say yes fast enough.

“It was such a massive opportunity and I’m really excited for it,” Kelly said. “I would never have dreamed about a matchup like this. I knew I was close to a ranked guy and Rashad’s not ranked at middleweight, but what a name, what an icon of the sport.

“I was just grateful for the opportunity.”

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Kelly has nothing but the utmost respect for Evans for all he’s accomplished in the sport, but that doesn’t mean he’s going to roll over as the former champion tries to reinvigorate his career with a move down to the middleweight division.

While Evans may be looking at the fight as a jumping off point for his new division, Kelly views the matchup as his opportunity to finally secure a top-15 opponent.

“I think my next matchup will be against a ranked opponent. That’s all it was. I thought I was close this time. If I beat Rashad, I know I’ll get a ranked opponent for the next fight,” Kelly said. “I’ll just keep carrying on.”

While Kelly has enjoyed his underdog role leading into UFC 209, there are still a lot of unknowns surrounding Evans heading into the fight.

Evans was pulled out of his last two fights in November and December 2016 when a pre-fight MRI showed some sort of anomaly that resulted in the commissions in both New York and Ontario not allowing him to compete.

Evans will also walk into the Octagon a two-fight losing streak while making his debut as a middleweight after competing at both light heavyweight and heavyweight in the UFC.

It might be tempting to underestimate his opponent given all those factors, but Kelly is no fool and he’s not planning on facing anything less than the best Rashad Evans who has ever stepped foot in the UFC Octagon.

“I expect the best Rashad. I’ve said that a few times,” Kelly said. “To prepare for anything less than the best possible guy would be foolish on my behalf.

“I expect him to be fast with his boxing, explosive with his takedowns, linked together seamlessly and that’s what I expect. That’s what I prepared for. Anything else is just going to happen on the night.”