A Boston Boy Named Cathal


On the second of September 1987 a baby boy was born to one of the many Irish immigrant parents who had made their way to Boston, Massachusetts in search of a new start away from the unhealthy economic climate at home. Like all good Irish parents, they chose to give the baby a nice Irish name. Cathal was the one they decided on.

By the time Cathal turned four, things had started to turn around in the homeland. The Republic of Ireland’s soccer team brightened the country with their heroic displays during the 1990 world cup in Italy and sparked the beginning of a cultural, economic and sporting boom. Cathal and his family came home.

Cathal, though, didn’t take up soccer when he had settled back into life in Dublin. In fact, he went from one sport to another for much of his young life. In his mid-teens, though, he chose rugby. Or more correctly, rugby chose him. Either way, It was a good choice. Cathal’s educational surroundings meant he represented Belvedere college, one of Ireland’s top rugby playing schools. There, his reputation gained was that of a tough tackling, hard hitting bruiser.

The team trained multiple times a week and had the aid of top coaches and nutritionists to achieve peak physical shape. It’s there he learned how to become dedicated as an athlete. The programme he became part of was ultra professional for a school team with a high level of competition between players for a spot on the squad. As a newcomer to the sport, Cathal wasn’t expected to make the team – but he did. It wouldn’t be the last time he beat the odds to pull off the unexpected.

In 2005, his fifth year in school, Cathal was a starter on the Belvedere team which ended a 33 year wait to win the much coveted Leinster senior cup. It was a huge achievement for the individual and the team – but it also marked the end of an era.

Cathal wasn’t offered a way into professional rugby after school. Instead, he was accepted into college in Dublin City University to study analytical sciences. That didn’t matter – the sporting itch was still there.

Prior to college getting underway, Cathal travelled back to America for a summer before the hard study began. Sunny San Diego, California was his destination and that’s where he discovered his new love. Cathal stumbled across a few MMA gyms and gave them a try. He liked it. Eventually he grew to love it. Then he had to come home. The sporting itch was now worse than ever.

When Cathal arrived back in Dublin he had no choice but to look for an MMA gym. And he found one. It was called Straight Blast Gym. That was when his life became hectic. Cathal decided to make a go of his new sport and turned professional after just over a year of practice. He coupled full time study with the life of a dedicated professional mixed martial artist. It didn’t seem to hurt, though. Cathal won nine of his first twelve fights before his school life intersected with sport.

Cathal sat his final college exam in the summer of 2011 in DCU. A week later, he fought against a UFC veteran in the same building in front of 2,000 people. On both occasions he stepped out of the arena a winner.

After his academic days were over Cathal went straight into the workforce. His chosen field was fighting. Again, it was a good choice. Within a year he was a welterweight belt holder in Cage Warriors, Europe’s biggest MMA promotion.

That was only the start. Cathal dreamed of bigger things.

Then the UFC announced a card for Boston – Cathal’s city of birth. One of his teammates, named Conor, was booked to fight on the card. It seemed a no-brainer Cathal would join him. All he had to do was defend his title and the call from the big show would come.

He did just that – beating another UFC veteran with ease in the process. Cathal, with his mother in toe, took the microphone inside the cage and announced his desire to travel back to Boston to fight in front of the world. The crowd agreed. Now it was just a matter of time for the dream fulfilling call to come.

But it never did. The storybook return wasn’t to happen.

Another book was soon to be written, though. Cathal didn’t drop his head. He picked himself up like he always does and got back to training. A call eventually came – but not from where he expected. Cathal would be part of a reality TV show to fight his way into the UFC. It didn’t go that straightforward. He was given a buy into the show’s house before winning his quarter final fight in a typical comeback performance. But in the semi-finals he was on the wrong end of a close decision and went back to Dublin having lost out on his chance.

As luck would have it, the UFC also returned to Dublin at the same time. After starring on the show they made Cathal a part of the extravaganza. As usual, the hard road was the one taken. Cathal was badly hurt in the first round of his Dublin fight. Hurt, but not beaten. Cathal rose from the ashes like he had so many times before and came out on the winning side. Had we expected anything less? That win lead to another a couple of months later to cement his place in the organisation.

Something was still missing, though. The story wasn’t yet rounded out. His dream of returning to Boston was still unfulfilled.

Then, his teammate Conor was booked to fight again. The location – Boston.

Cathal couldn’t be overlooked this time. And he wasn’t.

Next Sunday Cathal’s dream will be fulfilled. For the first time in 23 odd years he will return to the city of his birth. Just like his relations before him, Cathal travels to Boston, Massachusetts for work. The man known for comebacks throughout his life will finally get the chance to come back to the place where it all began.

Podcaster, lead MMA writer and analyst for SevereMMA. Host of the SevereMMA podcast, out every Sunday. Economics and Mathematics graduate from UCC. Also write for Sherdog. Previously of hov-mma and fightbooth. As heard on 2FM, Red FM, Today FM and more. Follow me on twitter for updates @SeanSheehanBA and on Facebook Facebook.com/seansheehanmma

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