Aisling Daly: My TUF Experience

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On Wednesday night or Thursday morning depending on your location, Ais ‘The Bash’ Daly will attempt to become the latest Irish ambassador on UFC’s roster as the premier of The Ultimate Fighter: A Champion Will Be Crowned will be beamed around the world.

It’s been a popular route for her fellow SBGers, with Cathal Pendred and Chris Fields representing the team in the last season. Even Paddy Holohan, despite not making it through the elimination rounds of TUF 18 he still made a good enough impression to be handed a debut on July 19 at the homecoming of Irish MMA, UFC Fight Night: McGregor vs Brandao.

It was Daly’s close friend and training partner, Holohan, who initially let her know that UFC might be looking at a season devoted to straw weight females. ‘The Bash’ explained how Holohan went straight to her with the information when he returned from the elimination rounds.

“When Paddy tried out for The Ultimate Fighter 18 they seemed to be really happy with how it was going with the women,” she said. “I think Sean Shelby was saying something to someone, I don’t know if it was to Paddy or if someone overheard him, but Paddy came back and told me straight away: ‘they’re going to have the straw-weights’.

“He was trying to get me to try out for season 18 with the 135 lbs women, but I knew I was too small for that weight. I’m small for 125 never mind 135.”

A daunting experience for most, when Daly presented herself at the TUF 20 tryouts in Las Vegas on April 29th, she found herself at the top of what she described as an “established hierarchy”.

She said: “It was interesting. There was almost an established hierarchy already in place because everybody knows one another. Some of them were unknowns but they were looking up to the girls who had more experience. Personally, I found that a lot of the girls were intimidated by me. I probably was the most experienced there.

“A lot of them had probably seen my fights so I didn’t really have a problem with people sizing me up or anything like that. Some people didn’t even want to stand beside me and that’s completely ridiculous, I’m sound!”

The early reports from the tryouts all heaped praise on the first lady of Irish MMA who seemed to be outclassing the opponents put in front of her as UFC watched over their potential cast.

“I saw some people talking on Twitter afterwards and that gave me a real confidence boost. Particularly in the grappling part, I was one of the few who actually got submissions, I think I got two or three in two minutes on one girl, where some of the other matches didn’t have any submission finishes at all.

“That was a super confidence builder to know that people were most impressed with me. I kind of figured that they might put me in the house, it would be a little bit weird if they put some of the girls who couldn’t submit anyone in ahead of me,” Daly rationalised.

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Although the Dubliner was glad to hear she would make the final line-up for the season, there was a hint of regret as she realised she would miss the biggest date in the history of Irish MMA.

“I found out a couple of weeks before it broke to the public because they wanted to get some footage for filming the season,” revealed Daly. “They shot some training footage and other things that would appear on the episodes. It was good to get a little bit of notice and I was delighted that I got in, but at the same time I was devastated that I’d be missing UFC Dublin.”

Furthermore, Daly commented on how it felt to miss the event as her team mates Conor McGregor, Gunnar Nelson, Cathal Pendred and Holohan went on to claim victories as well as fellow Irish MMA products, Neil Seery and Norman Parke, who made it a clean sweep for the Irish.

“It was very hard for me. I had been there through everything and I just wanted to support the guys. I train with these guys every day, I’ve cornered them for fights, so to not be involved at all was very difficult.

“Having no contact with them, not knowing how training is going, not knowing if they’re carrying injuries and not being able to ask them how they are – those were the things that I was worrying about.

“When you’re in the gym with them every day you can just ask them, you just know how everyone is. I play the Mammy role with the team a lot of the time where I look after them, I make sure they’re not overdoing it and I make sure they’re not being too lazy either.

“John Kavanagh tells the guys they can work as hard as they want, or as little as they want. He’s not going to get on top of them, it’s down to them at the end of the day. So I always try to look out for people and to not be around for such a huge event was awful,” she said.

Finally, Daly gave her thoughts on being involved in such a ground breaking season of TUF, the first in the reality platform’s history that will see a champion crowned at the finale.

“The fact that the winner of the season will be a champion is crazy. Before I went in I just kept telling myself that I was three or four fights away from a UFC title. Going from the UFC not even having my division to potentially fighting for a championship title was absolutely nuts.

“On top of that to have two really high level, well known coaches made it even better. I was really looking forward to what I had ahead of me, but on the other hand I wasn’t too happy that I would be locked away for a few weeks in Vegas,” she said.

@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.