The night the Irish ruled the world

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As Conor McGregor raised himself from his beaten opponent, Diego Brandao, the capacity crowd swelled the boundaries surrounding the Octagon.

Scores of anxious looking security guards ran and met the onrushing gathering, put their weight behind the hoardings and faced the frenzied fans as their beverages rained down over the press area for what felt like 10 solid seconds.

“The loudest pound for pound” audience, according to Dana White they had registered their joy with volumes louder than a rock concert on Saturday night in The 02, but even they knew not to spoil the party.

Noting the concern on the faces of the security guards, the majority of the fans eased off. Some could even be seen sympathising with them, putting their arms around them and telling them they wouldn’t be a hassle.

McGregor paraded the Octagon following his ‘Performance of the Night’, proudly holding aloft the tricolour, a royal march. “We’re not just here to take part, we’re here to take over”, he bellowed to his people who were already at fever pitch.

Leaving the cage McGregor stopped beside Owen Roddy and Artem Lobov, he gestured to the crowd with the same hand that had moments before sent Brandao to the canvas. “Look at that”, he said to his two corner men, ‘The Notorious’, might be a man with a high threshold for what he deems spectacular but even he had to stop for a moment to enjoy the organized chaos.

“Easy, easy, easy”, they roared, the Dubliner may have made it look that way, but it certainly wasn’t. Brandao laughed on the Wednesday before the fight, “everybody knows that he is no good at jiu jitsu”, he said mirroring a similar argument to the majority of McGregor’s featherweight opposition.

The Irishman looked comfortable in the Brazilian jiu jitsu black belt’s guard. Marching forward from the first bell, McGregor was hell bent on delivering a showcase to the audience as he reeled off straight left hands and plethora of dynamic kicks.

It was the SBG man who initiated the submission game of Brandao. Holding McGregor against the cage when the Brazilian attempted a takedown it was switched with the hometown hero ending up inside his guard. McGregor seemed unfazed by Brandao’s assault that climaxed in a loose attempt at a heel hook.

“He hits harder than a 90 kg guy,” SBG’s Chris Fields told me on the Thursday before the fight of his teammate. Brandao would certainly attest to that as he was dropped just shy of the minute mark with “a straight left down the pipe”, another of McGregor’s premonitions that came to fruition on the night.

McGregor stopped the bout by delivering unanswered blows to Brandao, and in doing so he answered the questions concerning his ground game that some felt were crucial to his title credentials.

Gunnar Nelson looked a tricky puzzle to solve as he faced off against Zak Cummings, all after receiving an ovation that must still have him pondering the “Born: Akureyri, Iceland” segment of his legal documents.

Cummings allowed us to see Nelson deal with a tricky situation as he latched onto his back in the first round. However, it was the American’s pursuit of Nelson in the grappling department that led to his downfall in the second round.

When ‘Gunni’ cracked Cummings’ body with a kick, the American caught the offending limb and transitioned into a single leg takedown. Nelson showed great balance to stay on his feet and on his exit he snapped the head of Cummings to the floor leaving him on all fours.

Taking his back in a blink of an eye, Nelson obtained his seatbelt and got his hooks in but Cummings’ defence proved too much initially. Separating his torso from his opponent’s back, it almost seemed like Nelson waved to the crowd as he rained down shots to open up his counterpart’s neck.

The gap that appeared was closed by Nelson’s arm and once his “money move” was sunk in, Cummings had no choice but to tap earning the Icelandic star another ‘Performance of the Night’ honour. Such was the enormity of the moment that the stoic Scandinavian highlighted his delight at performing in front of “the best crowd” he ever fought for.

The respect that exists between North and South when it comes to MMA on the island the we cohabitate was highlighted by the roars of the Dublin crowd as ‘Stormin’’ Norman Parke made his way to the Octagon. Parke had seemed uneasy with some lines of questioning that he had to tango with regarding the border that had seemed invisible to the fans for so many years in the lead up to his bout.

He gave back to the crowd what he received in applause, and more, in the first main event meeting on the card. The noise fueling him with the incentive that he needed, Parke not only commanded the advantage in the stand-up, but also on the ground where even he had acknowledged that Japanese veteran, Naoyuki Kotani, could own an edge.

Dropping short elbows on Kotani from side control, the only real trouble the Antrim man had to deal with came when the Japanese fighter managed to lock up half guard, a common entry for leg locks. Parke flared his leg loose and from the attempt and he went from strength to strength.

Parke finished the first round in side control as he bombarded Kotani, and when he forced himself into the same position in the second round it was curtains for his opponent after eating several undefended elbows. Jumping the fence, the emotion Parke felt was evident as he embraced the crowd. Looking to push himself on to the next level, Parke underlined his ambition by calling for a “top 20” opponent and he must have rattled the cage of veteran Diego Sanchez with the reception his callout won him: “Diego Sanchez, where you at Punk?”

Neil Seery dedicated his career-defining win over Phil Harris to his nephew whose funeral the Team Ryano stalwart attended on the Monday before the fight. Seery, undoubtedly carrying a lot of emotion into the cage, put on a clinic on the feet and stuffed the takedown attempts of Harris to the extent that the Brit looked tired after one round of action with the Dubliner.

Seery and the crowd seemed to be working symbiotically when in the second round he stood over his grounded counterpart. The crowd’s crescendo of “oooooohhhh” climaxed as the Irish flyweight belted Harris to the legs with kicks.

As the “The Fields of Athenry” echoed through the stadium Seery packed more heat in his pugilistic assault, and halfway through the final round a right hand sent Harris wobbling across the Octagon.

Towards the end of the third round, such was Seery’s assault that he needed only to feint with his face to force Harris to cover up as he walked him down. The round ended with Harris, again on his back, as the Dublin faithful’s chorus built to explosion as Seery leapt through his opponent’s guard to land a celebratory diving right straight.

Always understated, Seery revealed on the walk from The 02 to the hotel: “I told the lads after, I thought it was pretty shit because I didn’t get the finish.” There is simply no one else on the Irish scene as interesting as the Finglas native and let’s hope this display has given him some job security over the next few years.

Mark Goddard again proved himself as one of the best referees in MMA with his performance at UFC Fight Night: McGregor vs Brandao. After Cathal Pendred ate a massive right hand from Mike King, which dropped Irish middleweight to the canvas, the sold out venue witnessed the most incredible comeback victory.

King rained down shots on the Irishman as Goddard policed the situation. “You have to move”, he demanded of Pendred and the former Cage Warriors welterweight champion reacted on each occasion.

The American switched to Pendred’s back stopping the mounted assault and with a naked choke all the way sunk in, ‘The Punisher’ showed great presence in mind to get his back to the mat and eventually escaped back to his feet. The two traded shots until the bell rang for the end of the first.

Pendred, having weathered the early storm, threw hooks and uppercuts successfully at King at the start of the second round. The American looked spent after throwing everything but the kitchen sink at the SBG man in the first installment of action.

Landing two takedowns in the second round, with the second keeping King grounded, Pendred advanced on his back and went palm to palm to finish his biggest win to date which separated King from consciousness.

Addressing the crowd after his contest, Pendred’s evident self-belief was the reason he had his hand raised in what went on to win ‘Fight of the Night’. If he is to move back to 170 lbs, I doubt there will a queue of willing opponents waiting for him when he returns to the weight division that he proved most dominant at.

Before Paddy “The Hooligan” Holohan stepped on the scales on Friday, he looked around at the crowd as if they were his long lost siblings. Any doubts that the former Cage Contender Grand Prix winner would suffer due to the step up in competition, ring rust or the new weight division quickly disappeared when the lights went down for the opening bout of the evening on Saturday.

His striking was phenomenal. A dynamic arsenal was put forward by Holohan who has obviously spent the last two years focusing on the standing aspect of his game. A massive right uppercut brought his opponent, Josh Sampo, to the floor and Holohan dived right in and began looking for openings from half guard.

Those not familiar with the flexibility of ‘The Hooligan’ may have gasped at the sight of him engulfed in Sampo’s armbar attempt, but much like the back injury he has recovered from, Holohan turned adversity into opportunity as he escaped with a transition to side control.

Not resting there, he jumped for his opponent’s back and claimed the first of three victories by rear naked choke on the night. A dangerous prospect, there is no end to the possibilities for the Jobstown man in his new weight class.

As Conor McGregor basked in the glory of his big night, John Kavanagh jumped from the Octagon’s platform. He looked as though he was trying to get backstage as quickly as possible to bring out another one of his SBG clan.

Undoubtedly, it was McGregor who had brought the crowd in that night, but it was Kavanagh who brought McGregor to the crowd.

“How many coaches have gone 4-0 with four finishes on a UFC card,” asked Cathal Pendred in the post fight press conference. Kavanagh once described McGregor as “the spark that lit the fuse” as far as Irish MMA fighters breaking into the mainstream are concerned, but he may as well have been talking about himself.

On the same card that night, Andy Ryan and Rodney Moore rightfully shared in the victory, another two men that have lineage to ‘The Godfather’ in one way or another and have pushed the sport forward with every fibre of their beings.

In an interview for UFC Magazine in March Kavanagh predicted that July 19th could be a magical evening:

“It could be like Italia ’90 all over again,” claimed Kavanagh. “Irish people love to see their teams putting up to bigger nations and if Conor beat an American in Dublin, it would be insane.”

It may not have been an American but Ireland certainly saw their “team” on Saturday night and not only did they put it up to their international challenge, they completely hammered them in terms of ball games, 6-0.

The new Jack Charlton, Kavanagh, along with Ryan and Moore, brought back that legendary spirit of 1990 as the crowd sang them all – “Ole, Ole, Ole”, “You’ll Never Beat the Irish” and the rest – in what will be remembered forever as the greatest night in the history of Irish MMA.

@PetesyCarroll

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.