The last person to blemish the record of Conor McGregor, Joseph Duffy spoke to PETER CARROLL about his meeting with the Dubliner in 2010 at Cage Warriors 39 – The Uprising in the Neptune Stadium, Cork.
Joseph Duffy was one of the early MMA practitioners that caught the attention of Irish fans. Born in Donegal, Duffy had moved to Wales where he had honed his craft and showed great ability in both the standing and grappling departments, having studied Japanese jiu jitsu from a young age.
Having just returned home after his unsuccessful bid at earning a place in The Ultimate Fighter: Team GSP vs Team Koscheck, losing out to Kyle Watson in the first round of their elimination bout by rear naked choke, Duffy was matched with up and comer, Conor McGregor.
The SBG man was 4-1 and had successfully bounced back from his first career loss to Artemij Sitenkov with two first round finishes over Stephen Bailey and Conor Dillon and Duffy still commanded an unbeaten record of 6-0, as the Watson loss was classed as an exhibition.
Two of the European scene’s most exciting proponents, Duffy commented on how he still struggles to see why the match was made between the two so early.
“To tell you the truth, I don’t know why they matched us up,” said Duffy of the 2010 clash in Cork. “I remember taking the fight and there wasn’t a whole lot of footage on Conor.
“I don’t know if there was an idea behind it, maybe they were testing the two boys that were tipped to go the whole way. Looking back now it’s surprising that the fight happened so early really.”
Duffy described how the fight came to be, with McGregor being the first man that was offered to him after signing for Cage Warriors after his TUF exit. He also remembered that there were no pullouts or replacements, a novelty for both of the fighters in the formative years of the sport in Ireland.
He said: “It was the first opponent I got offered after I got back from TUF. I got back, I signed with Cage Warriors and that was the first opponent they mentioned to me. We had the full six weeks to prepare for each other as far as I can remember.
“It was plenty of time compared to a lot of the bouts that were made back then. There was no messing, nobody pulled out or anything like that so we were quite lucky really.”
Although McGregor commanded a lot of respect on the Irish scene from his early performances, Duffy admitted that he hadn’t heard much about him. However, he did get the chance to see the Dubliner in action which gave him some grasp of what to expect when the two locked horns.
“I had seen Conor fight once in Letterkenny I think it was,” Duffy recalled. “I was meant to fight Tom Egan on the same show. I did see him fight at the time but as far as the hype that was around him, I couldn’t say that I was aware of it to tell you the truth.
“For the camp we definitely focused on the striking. I can remember when I had been watching him it was obvious that his forte was boxing. I knew he was an aggressive fighter, he liked to be on the front foot.
“Stand up was the main thing that we worked on in preparation for him and we had to factor in that he was a southpaw too, we made sure that my training catered for all of that.”
Duffy went on to describe how his game plan was mostly geared toward striking, a risky game to play against McGregor, an amateur boxing champion.
“My game plan hasn’t really changed, it’s always been the same. I’ve always been confident on my feet so I’d always be willing to trade with anyone. Basically I had planned to go out and stand with him, see where it went from there and adapt to the situation.
“So there was no real plan to take him down as such, I didn’t know anything about his ground game really. One thing I can tell you from that fight is that in the first few exchanges I can remember thinking in my head, ‘this guy has much better timing and movement than me’.
“It was the first time that I had felt that way in an MMA fight. It was the first time that I felt that someone was better than me in that area,” he said.
When the duo finally came face to face at the event’s weigh in, fans logging into forums would have noticed some witnesses describing McGregor as an “angry young man”, Duffy shed some light on why some people reacted in such a manner.
“I think that’s just Conor’s nature, when he’s competing he likes to get himself up for it. He’s quite an intense guy. I was coming off a loss at the time too in the TUF elimination fights, so when we got in each other’s faces, it was perfect really. He was fired up and I was fired up.
“There was no pushing or shoving or anything like that, we both just kind of faced off and Conor got in my face, so I got right back in his.
“It was refreshing really because a lot of the times when people were going up against me, at the weigh-ins it was almost like my record got into their head or something like that.
“Having someone that was confident and sure of themselves was perfect for me because it fired me up too. I always felt like that brought the best out of me.”
Although the fight was a mere 40 seconds long, McGregor showcased his boxing ability. Keeping a low center of gravity, the SBG fighters leaped in and out on two occasions against Duffy, landing crisp combinations.
Duffy remembered his reaction to McGregor’s ability:
“Out of all the guys I fought, and remember that with a lot of them there wasn’t a lot of stand-up exchanges, he was leaps ahead of them as far as his boxing was concerned.
“I had never felt like that before, you know, out of my depth. I think it was in the second exchange he tagged me with a few shots and I was nearly admiring what he was doing. The timing was just perfect, it was beautiful.
“And still now, when I watch him now I just think his stand-up is still leaps ahead of the majority of the fighters at the top level.
“He’s loose, he’s relaxed – he sees every shot that comes at him. He never gets carried away, he never tenses up and it’s nothing that’s rehearsed, that’s just how he is. He’s very fluid too.”
Although McGregor looked the part in the opening exchanges, Duffy completed a low single, executed an immaculate transition to side control and immediately attacked a head and arm choke. He recalled the trigger that saw him move for that particular submission.
He said: “I remember it as clear as day. As soon as I hit side control, I relaxed and he held onto my neck just a little bit too long. I could hear John shouting in his corner, ‘release the neck’. Sometimes when you hit the ground you can be a little tense and hang on to things you shouldn’t, but straight away I attacked the arm and neck.
“As soon as I felt him holding the neck, he had it quite tight, I knew from there that the choke would finish the fight. I was going for that submission 100%, I knew it was on.”
Duffy spoke about the interactions he had with McGregor before and after the fight:
“We were staying in the same hotel, we bumped into each other a few times, but we just said ‘hi’. There was no weird atmosphere between us really. We were there to do a job and we were professional about it I suppose.
“After the fight he just wished me all the best with my career and I wished him the same. He was very gracious in defeat and to be honest, every time I’ve seen him he’s been a gentleman. I’ve got really good time for him.”
The Japanese jiu jitsu practitioner also explained how he felt the fight went on to improve McGregor’s all round game and philosophy toward his career.
“He was confident back then, but sometimes when you lose a fight it brings you to a whole new level. Sometimes you feel like you’ve got nothing to lose after you’ve picked up a loss, every time you get in there you have to give 110% and I think that we’ve seen him grow with every performance since that.
“When I see him now it’s astounding really and a lot of my mates call me up and talk about him after seeing him on TV. They can’t believe how well he’s done and how much he trusts his ability. Again, it’s refreshing to see someone, especially someone from Ireland, who’s got the confidence and the marketability. He’s the full package.”
The Donegal born fighter admitted that it was no real surprise to him that McGregor has gone on to claim international stardom.
“No one could’ve foreseen how big he was going to be, but based on his talent and self-belief, I’m not surprised. I think he’ll go a hell of a lot further too,” he said.
Finally, Duffy discussed the impact that the fight had on his career and how his wins over McGregor and Norman Parke have steered him back toward MMA as opposed to boxing, in which he competed professionally after turning away from MMA in 2011.
“It’s impacted my career in so far as I get a lot more coverage. People kind of know me because I pop up on Norman and Conor’s record. For me, it’s irrelevant to be honest. I want to be where those guys are rather than being known as the guy who once beat them.
“I want to be at the top level with those guys. At the moment it really doesn’t mean a lot, but maybe if I can get to their level it will mean something.
“It’s always in your head when you see people you’ve fought and you’ve beaten. You think to yourself, ‘maybe I should be doing that’, but at the same time you can’t look too far into what other people are doing. You have to focus on yourself.
“It’s definitely been something that pushed me back into MMA and I’d be lying if I said that it hasn’t inspired me to get back in and get to where those boys are now.”
Joseph Duffy will make his return to MMA in the main event at Cage Warriors 70 at The Helix in Dublin on August 17th, where he will face Damien Lapilus.
You can check out other editions of Petesy Carroll’s “Facing McGregor”