UFC Dublin: The Realisation Of Dreams

As we embark on a week that will place Ireland firmly in the epicenter of the Mixed Martial Arts universe, it feels scarcely believable just how much the sport has radically evolved in the five and half years since the UFC last came here.

Back then, with MMA still a niche sport in the nascent stages of development, the idea that Irish fighters would ever became world champions, Reality TV stars or chat-show darlings, firmly rooted in the national psyche, seemed utterly implausible. But not anymore-the dream is now a reality.

When tickets for UFC Fight Night 46 were snapped up in roughly the same time it takes  to flip a coin, it confirmed, beyond reasonable doubt, that MMA was no longer on the periphery of Irish sport.

This was made all the more pleasing by the fact that people were shelling out to see Irish fighters, not Americans, Brazilians or Canadians, but Irish fighters. The same could not be said for UFC 93 back in January 2009, when Tom Egan was the sole home-grown representative.

Of the 10 bouts scheduled for Saturday night, five of them will feature fighters born on this island. What’s more, the main event will see a gregarious, ultra-talented lad from Crumlin look to cement his place in the top 10 of arguably MMA’s most competitive division.

As Conor McGregor fulfils a boyhood dream by going to battle with Diego Brandao in front of packed 02 Arena, the manner in which this event is remembered will rest on him. Though, he seems to revel in this notion, which has most likely consumed his thoughts for the better part of a year.

Before he completes his long-awaited comeback, SBG teammates Cathal Pendred and Paddy Holohan will make their promotional debut, Neil Seery, with the benefit of a full camp, will hope to get his first UFC win, while Norman Parke seeks to continue his ascent up the lightweight ladder.

The significance of having such a considerable presence on any card at this level of competition is inestimable. It’s questionable whether without them, and McGregor in particular, if the UFC would have elected to come back here at this juncture.

It’s not as though UFC 93 was a low key, minor affair. To that point it was the promotion’s fastest sell out on European soil, with a main and co-main event featuring MMA royalty; as Dan Henderson outpointed Rich Franklin, and Shogun Rua stopped Mark Coleman.

It was on that night that a teenage Conor McGregor met his idol Chuck Liddell, and told everyone who would listen, including Bruce Buffer, that it would not be long before it was his name that would be reverberating around arenas the world over.

Undoubtedly, the differences between then and now are manifold. Firstly, five fighters born on this Island will be showcased-an achievement in of itself. Not only that; with TV3 televising the event into nearly every home in the country, and a media presence-mainstream included-equating to a small army expected to descend on Dublin, the entire process will be a global affair.

It is difficult to imagine a more satisfying validation for those who pioneered the sport in Ireland. For the likes of John Kavanagh, Andy Ryan, Mick Leonard and Rodney Moore this weekend is the culmination of a lifetime dedicated to Martial Arts.

It was they, who presided over the birth of Irish MMA. By opening the clubs and gyms, where they could pass on the knowledge which took so much sacrifice to acquire and then, when nobody else would, stage the country’s first competitive events, the sport’s development here was assured.

Had such a challenging labour of love not been undertaken, none of what is to come over the next week would be possible.

Credit, too, must go to Graham Boylan – another proud Irishman. Having assumed control of Cage Warriors in 2010, he went about building a solid and competitive platform for European MMA to flourish. And, in turn, brought at least three quality events a year to Ireland.

He provided an outlet for Conor McGregor, Cathal Pendred and Neil Seery to hone their craft against worthy opposition, raise their profiles and win the world titles that would ultimately bring them to the doorstep of the UFC.

It is on Cage Warriors shows that the likes of Paul Redmond, Phil Mulpeter and John Redmond can endeavour to walk the path laid out before them by the country’s first batch of global MMA exports. The promotion’s patronage of women’s competition has seen Aisling Daly find her way to TUF 20, where she will compete to become the UFC’s first female strawweight champion.

When the dust settles on Sunday morning, regardless of what transpired the night before, it’s safe to say, things will never be the same again.


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