John Brennan (6-3 amateur) makes his professional MMA debut against Will Dill (5-3-1 amateur), who is also making his pro debut, at AOW 9 this Saturday. “The Bearcat” last fought for the AOW lightweight belt in March, where he stopped rising prospect Bart Pierre, by 2nd round TKO. Brennan, who is currently ranked #11 amateur at 155lbs in PA and #42 in the Northeast takes on Dill, who is ranked #6 in PA at 145lbs and #44 in Northeast. This upcoming class between the closely ranked fighters was not a reality even two weeks ago, as it was made just nine days out from the fight, when Brennan’s original opponent could no longer fight.  Brennan trains out of Gracie 717 in Lancaster and teaches BJJ classes at Gracie 717-Litiz.

What led you to go pro now? Was it winning the AOW amateur belt in March? Or did you base it on something else?

My coaches and I always talked about when the right time to go pro would be, and we decided on doing it around the 10 amateur fight mark. I went 6-3 as an amateur, and I have been training regularly since my first ammy fight in 2014. Winning the 155 belt in March was just the icing on the cake for me. I won belts at 145 and 155 as an amateur, and I got to test myself in the cage and in the gym while fighting at different weights, which is what the amateur ranks are for. I’ve never felt better physically and mentally since that fight, so my coaches and I decided that it was time to get paid.

What did you learn about yourself in your title win? Any surprises?

In my title win I learned that looks aren’t everything in the cage. A lot of my friends and family were nervous when they saw I’d be fighting Bart since he is a physical specimen to look at. I kept telling them it would be the easiest fight of my amateur career, because I knew he was nowhere near the level of fighter I was. There weren’t really any surprises in that fight. I called a second round finish in all of my interviews, and that’s what I did.

What changes have you made in training for the transition from amateur to professional?

I honestly haven’t made many changes in my training to make the jump to the pro ranks. I’ve been training as if I were a professional fighter (and training with pros) for a long time now. I take my diet and strength and conditioning just as serious now as I did when I was a 1-1 amateur. I’ve got one of the best minds in that space, Colin Fedoriska, in my corner, and he’s been with me since day 1 of my amateur career. We have been fine tuning our process for the past 5 years, and I think this fight will be a showcase of his methods as much as it will be of my technique in the cage. I’d say the biggest change that I have made over the years is in sparring. When I first started we did a lot of hard sparring rounds, and in the past two years I have really limited how many sparring rounds I do. We are working on upgrading the software without damaging the hardware.

Your opponent changed 9 days out from the fight. What has the mental side of the fight game been like for you during this?

The opponent changes are something I’m used to at this point. I’ve had a bunch of guys drop from fights in the past, and my coaches and I usually have the same process. I still have the same mindset of going into the cage and dominating in every aspect of the fight. I just appreciate Will Dill taking the fight.

How do you manage your nerves going into something as new as your first pro fight? Compare that to your title fight?

I didn’t really have any nerves going into my title fight, and I’m not too nervous leading into this fight either. I’d say I get more excited than I do nervous for fights. If you want to talk about nerves, ask me how I feel when I am coaching other fighters from the gym. Then we can talk about nerves. In terms of my fights, I love the lead up and anticipation of fight week, cutting weight, weighing in, and then going through the waiting game on fight day until it is time to go to the venue. It’s fun for me. We are usually the guys in the locker room who are cracking jokes and having fun before the fights. My mentality going into fights is no different than it is when I show up to the gym on a Wednesday for training. It’s just another training session. I think too many guys psych themselves out for fight night, and they amp it up to this huge spectacle in their minds. I try to go the opposite way and bring it down to a level I’m comfortable with every day. I’ll be walking to the cage with a huge grin on my face because I’m just going to be out there having fun. There’s no reason to get nervous. We win or we learn.

What has been the best part of this training camp?

The best part about this training camp has been the fact that I got to do it with the rest of the guys from Gracie 717 fighting on the card. We’ve all been sharing this common goal of winning on November 10th, which has helped us push each other in the gym.

Who has helped you on your MMA journey?

All of my training partners and coaches at Gracie 717 along with the students who keep showing up for the classes I teach at Gracie 717 – Lititz. All of my friends and family who are coming out to support me, I appreciate every one of them. My wife, who is my biggest supporter in all of this. All of my sponsors: Rachel’s Creperie, Renaissance Chiropractic, Philly Drinkers, Restore Cryotherapy in Lancaster, Eric Forberger Photography, The Parlor at Hillary’s, and