Foundations: Rodney Moore reflects on the early MMA scene in Northern Ireland and more

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In the second instalment of Foundations, PETER CARROLL spoke to Northern Irish MMA veteran Rodney Moore about his first impressions of Vale Tudo in the US, how the island’s MMA landscape looked when he returned to Ballymena in 2001, the first Irish promotions, the current Irish UFC charges and their July 19th date in the 02.

Rodney Moore has long been known as one of the founding fathers of mixed martial arts in Ireland. With only a handful of clubs existing on the island when the Ballymena man founded the Institute of Mixed Martial Arts, the storied middleweight described his first steps into the sport.

“I’ve always been involved in martial arts in some way or another, I started training karate when I was seven years old,” said Moore. “When I moved to the States in 2000, that’s when I was first exposed to Vale Tudo, there was no ‘MMA’ back then. I was in Colorado Springs and I was training JKD, Thai boxing and the Inosanto style and I can remember the first time I saw guys training, I wanted to get in there straight away.

“I was training with guys like Pat Cross and Michael Brewer, it was a great time to be over there. I got my arse handed to me at the start, but I loved it and I’ve been training nearly every day since.

“Unfortunately, when 9/11 happened my work visa was retracted because of the economy crashing and I was back in Ballymena on the October 3rd less than a month after it.”

Noting the few teams that existed in both the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland on his arrival home, the former Ultimate Fight Revolution middleweight champion outlined how IMMA Ballymena came to fruition and what the competitive environment was like in the early ’00s.

“There wasn’t really a scene at all when I got back. I started to work on the doors the first week I was home, I was training with the lads I was working with and by the second week I had started teaching classes. Back then it was just me, John Kavanagh, Davie Patterson and Mark Leonard out in Galway, we were the only clubs on the whole island that were looking to compete.

“Because there wasn’t really that many teams, we all had to fight each other two or three times. As a fighter all you knew is that you were going to fight when you went to an event, you would show up and look for the guy that was around the same size as you. There was no weigh-ins and no sponsors. We were all just in it for the sport.

“I can remember I went to see Ultimate Combat in England and two different people had pulled out of fighting a guy so I ended up on the card. There was about a 12kg difference between us but that’s just the way it was, things like that happened at every event,” he explained.

A competitor on the early Ultimate Fight Night and Ultimate Fight Revolution cards in Northern Ireland, Moore went on to outline why he believes the early promotions focused more on the sport than their modern equivalents.

“The early shows like Paddy Mooney’s Ultimate Fight Night, Davie Patterson’s Ultimate Fight Revolution and John Kavanagh’s Ring of Truth really looked after the fighters. They knew themselves what was needed, competitors had any amount of fruit and water and they would get £500, a t-shirt and trophy regardless of whether you won, lost or draw.

“The events themselves were much more low key, you see massive crowds for amateur bouts now with light shows and things like that but there was none of that back then. For the most part we all got on really well with each other and we just loved fighting when it was getting started.”

The IMMA Ballymena head coach explained how his affiliation with Next Generation came to be after meeting Chris Brennan.

He said: “Me and Chris Brennan just clicked when we met each other. We trained together and he helped me cut weight before, so I knew him quite well. He told me that he was doing something with Dave Jones in Dublin and he wanted to expand into Northern Ireland and asked me if I would be a partner of his.

“The only thing was that I wanted to keep my own name too, the Institute of Mixed Martial Arts, but he was more than happy to go along with that.  I still go over to America every year and train with the guys at Next Generation to this day.

“Over there being an affiliate is very strict – they want you to do things their way and stick to it. I get updated on what systems they’re using a lot, but I try and bring it into my own system. The thing about this sport is you have to constantly update what you’re doing in the gym.

“What was functional six months might not work now, you have to go with the flow with this sport, just like Bruce Lee said, be of no fixed style.”

Having established himself on the MMA scene by the time UFC 72 came to Belfast in 2007, Moore remembers a surge of new beginners being attracted to MMA after the event despite the lack of coverage it got in the national media.

“When UFC came to Belfast it definitely gave the numbers a boost in the gym. There was Colin Robinson and Stevie Lynch on the card too and that showed people that local guys could make it to the big stage.

“That event made people aware of what we were doing in the gym. The one thing I never understood was how little attention it got in the papers, it probably got a few mentions but other than that there was nothing. Companies were scared to touch it, they didn’t think people were interested in it. I bet they’re kicking themselves now,” he laughed.

With his student Norman Parke making a name for himself on the regional stage, Moore cited promotions like Cage Contender and Cage Warriors for putting on shows that prepared fighters for the UFC across the UK and Ireland.

“The bigger shows like Cage Contender and Cage Warriors gave the fighters a chance to get used to big crowds and the big show really. To be in the cage and have people shouting in at you can freak a lot of people out. For me, I never really minded where I was fighting or who I was fighting in front of but some people are different.

“I’ve got guys over the years that were absolutely unbeatable in the gym and as soon as they fought on a show, not even a big one, they were like rabbits in the headlights. It’s frustrating for coaches to see them things, because you know they have shit loads to give, but them bigger shows definitely helped in that regard.

“Personally, I preferred the way it used to be. In some cases the promoters have no background in MMA and it always seemed to be geared toward building names instead of building the sport.  It’s all Facebook and Twitter, it’s kind of like a popularity contest as opposed to earning your respect.”

With Parke, John Kavanagh’s four SBG men and Team Ryano’s Neil Seery all set for UFC action in Dublin’s 02 on July 19th, Moore highlighted why he thinks the Irish MMA contingent can mix it up with any in the world.

“It’s unreal to see what the guys have done. I’ve said it before though, fighting is in our blood, our history is based on it. We’ve been at this shit since A.D. I think in the past our lads would get to the international stage and they would freeze up thinking ‘I’m about to fight this Mexican guy’, or a guy from Holland or from wherever.

“This bunch of guys can’t wait to get in and fight against anyone. Fighting is in our DNA and we’ve come a long way, it’s great to see these guys on the main card of a UFC event in Dublin.

“This is a special time for the sport over here. To see what Conor has done is crazy. The UFC have really attached themselves to him but he’s got that something special, there’s just something about him. Norman has a great following himself and then there’s Gunni, Neil, Cathal and Paddy.

“As far as the Irish fighters are concerned, people just wanted to see a crazy Paddy get in there and fight to begin with, but these guys aren’t here to play up to that. We’ve got world-class athletes now and they’re in there looking for titles.

“The only bad thing is there were no tickets made available up North so a lot of people were let down. About ten guys I know of got their tickets with the Fight Club, but for the other people who were waiting on general sale, literally none were made available outside the Republic. That was disappointing.”

With Moore on coaching duty for the UFC’s Dublin return as Norman Parke takes on Naoyuki Kotani, he shared his excitement and his expectations for the event.

“If the last one was anything to go by back in ’09, Dublin should be absolutely buzzing. It was one of the best atmospheres I’ve ever witnessed. It’s going to be like a festival and I can’t wait for it,” he said.

@PetesyCarroll

Rodney Moore presents Kumite MMA Fight Night as part of the Irish Muscle Power Exhibition on August 30th at the Waterfront, Belfast. Tickets are £20 and can be bought from irishmusclepower.com

You can check out all the other instalments of Petesy’s ‘Foundations’ series here!

Peter Carroll is Severe MMA’s lead feature writer. He has been featured in many top publications and some rubbish ones too. He also writes for the Irish Daily Mirror and Vice’s Fightland.

  • James Burman

    Interesting read and it’s good to see Rodney the recognition he deserves. I got into Mma around 2001 and fight shows were a bit like a bunch of mates who’d meet up around the country and then some of them would fight. Rodney’s comments remind me of that culture of discovery being limited geographically and within such a small group of people.

    In this great future you can’t forget your past and all that.