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After 6-years in prison for drug trafficking, UFC vet Paul Kelly returning to MMA

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Back in 2013, Kelly was given a 13-year sentence as the head of a narcotics operation trafficking heroin, cocaine, and cannabis. Now he’s looking to make his return to fighting.

UFC 126: Weigh-In Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

At the time of Paul Kelly’s release from the UFC, he seemed little more than another busted UK prospect—having snagged a contract with a shiny 6-0 record, only to alternate wins and losses and leave the promotion on a 5-4 UFC career and a defeat at the hands of Donald Cerrone. Instead of high profile fistic success, however, ‘Tellys’ sealed his claim to fame outside the cage, as the supposed head of a narcotics trafficking ring.

“In my judgement you decided to supply Class A drugs when your contract with UFC was terminated,” Judge Mark Brown told Kelly, as he handed down a 13-year prison sentence back in 2013. “You obviously enjoyed the high life and saw selling heroin as an easy way to make money.”

Using Kelly’s international contacts he and his associates apparently supplied narcotics (including cocaine, heroin, and cannabis) to local dealers in the UK. Kelly, though, had some disputes about his case, when speaking to MMA Fighting back in 2017.

“I stopped living that lifestyle back in 2008. I got stabbed and I nearly got my head cut clean off. That was when I stopped that lifestyle,” Kelly says.

“That was just before I fought Marcus Davis, so I had removed myself from that situation before I fought him.

“Everyone was very proud because I had managed to get out. I was earning a lot of money from that lifestyle, so it was very hard to turn away.”

“I feel like this is the only country in the world where people conspire to put you away. Nobody knows this, but I was found not guilty on six charges and then it was a hung jury on one charge.”

While Kelly has been on work release since 2017, he finally completed his prison sentence back in May of 2019—having started a meal prep business and restaurant in 2018 called Healthy Box. He may not have agreed with aspects of his conviction, but Kelly told the Liverpool Echo that, as strange as it sounds, “...I would not change a thing about my life. I was sent to jail and I accept it. And it might be the best thing that ever happened to me.”

All of which leads to the recent announcement that, with his time in prison firmly behind him, Kelly is now set to re-enter the combat sports landscape. Probellum MMA – an organization run by MTK management – recently announced that they’ve signed the Liverpudlian to make his mixed martial arts return on March 7th, in Liverpool. The upstart promotion most recently hosted Ross Pearson’s first MMA bout since leaving the UFC—where the ‘Real Deal’ found himself on the wrong end of a shocking rolling thunder KO from longtime regional vet Davy Gallon.

No opponent has been announced, but in the same 2017 MMA Fighting interview, Kelly made it clear that he’d only want to come back for a high profile fighter.

“I wouldn’t come back to fight some little shit that doesn’t deserve to be in there with me,” Kelly said, naming Paul Daley as his ideal bout. “I’d want someone who has paid their dues like I have.”