I think we all know where the boom of Irish MMA began. A young hungry kid by the name of Conor McGregor took the sport by the scruff of the neck and became the biggest star the sport has ever seen. This turned the world’s eyes onto the Emerald Isle and what else the country had to offer in terms of fighters. The UFC saw what they had on their hands and capitalized on it quickly.
After impressive victories in his first 2 outings, the UFC set up a Fight Night in Dublin in July 2014, with McGregor headlining the card against Brazilian TUF winner Diego Brandao. Many Irish fighters were scattered across the card, and to the delight of the crowd, every Irish fighter won that night. The highlights included submission wins for Flyweight Paddy Holohan and Welterweight Cathal Pendred, a decision win for the veteran Neil Seery, a knockout win for Northern Irishman Norman Parke, and of course McGregor completely outclassing Brandao, dispatching him with ease in the first round to cap off an amazing night for the Irish fighters. The hype of the Irish MMA scene was at an all-time high and the only way seemed to be up. Expectations were not met, to say the least.
Within 3 years of the Fight Night, every Irish fighter signed by the promotion had either retired or been released from their contract. Cathal Pendred retired from the sport after two straight losses, including a first round TKO loss to Tom Breese. Charlie Ward was released after going 0-2 in the UFC, both losses coming by first round KO. Paul Redmond also went 0-2 before being released, with Norman Parke also being sent packing after a loss to Rustam Khabilov.
Additionally, the two brightest prospects Ireland had to offer, Paddy Holohan and Aisling Daly, were both forced to retire due to medical conditions. ‘The Hooligan’ Holohan retired with 3 UFC wins to his name, and Daly retired with a 16-6 record, including a win over future Flyweight title challenger Jessica Eye, and a respectable 2-1 record in the UFC.
By 2017, the only Irish UFC fighters left on the roster were former foes, McGregor and Joe Duffy. However, Duffy has recently announced his retirement after suffering 3 straight losses, leaving McGregor as the only Irishman left on the roster. By 2017, Irish MMA had seemed dead and buried after The Notorious’ devastating defeat to Khabib Nurmagomedov.
However, Irish MMA has been making somewhat of a resurgence of late, thanks in no small part to promotions such as Bellator and Cage Warriors, who have given young Irish prospects an opportunity to make their name with them. The biggest name to come out of Irish MMA since the rise of McGregor is without a doubt ‘The Strabanimal,’ James Gallagher. The 23 year old bantamweight has made many fans (and haters alike) with his brash personality and silky submission skills inside the Bellator cage, racing out to an impressive 11-1 record, with the only dent in his record being a TKO loss to Ricky Bandejas, however this did not stop Gallagher in his tracks for long, bouncing back with 4 straight wins. With so many years ahead of him in the game and with him improving in every fight, the sky’s the limit for the Tyrone man, and Ireland could have the next McGregor in it’s hands.
It is not just Gallagher flying the flag for the next generation of Irish fighters however. Appropriately nicknamed ‘The Future’, Ian Garry has been making waves in Cage Warriors. Turning professional in 2019 after winning his last 4 amateur fights, Garry continued his streak by winning his first 4 fights in the pro ranks, including a spectacular question-mark kick KO victory over Matteo Ceglia. A very polished striker already at the age of 23, with a similar grappling game to compliment it, Garry is looking like a genuine prospect to look out for. Keep your eye on this welterweight as we could be seeing him in a major promotion in the near future.
It does not stop there though, as there are a number of other fighters to look out for from the island. Blaine O’Driscoll is a flyweight who has just picked up back-to-back first round finishes in Bellator.
Karl Moore is the former Cage Warriors Light-Heavyweight champ, who won his Bellator debut against tough veteran Lee Chadwick, and will be looking to gain momentum off the win.
Matiss Zaharovs has a perfect 4-0 record, and is coming off 2 straight stoppage wins in Brave CF, and is definitely a prospect to look out for.
Paving the way for the women is Sinead ‘KO’ Kavanagh, who competes in Bellator’s Featherweight division. Currently on a 2 fight win streak, Kavanagh truly lives up to the nickname, with 4 of her 7 wins coming by finish. She is filling big boots left by Aisling Daly, but she is certainly up for the challenge.
Though Irish MMA has seen a drop-off over the past couple of years, it is clear there are many prospects yet to come from the country. Fans will be hoping to see the UFC start giving Irish fighters opportunities again, as it is clear the talent pool is there. Here’s to the Irish making a big splash in the UFC again.