Sport MMA

Friday 28 October 2016

Ahead of UFC FN 76 in Dublin next weekend, here's a closer look at the Irish fighters set to feature

Tom Rooney

Published 16/10/2015 | 21:01

UFC star Cathal Pendred
UFC star Cathal Pendred

Amid all the World Cup fever and the scramble for the Euro 2016 playoffs, you’d be forgiven for forgetting that the UFC is returning to Ireland next week and six our most dedicated athletes will be in action.

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The jam-packed sporting schedule along with the absence of Conor McGregor as its figurehead has probably shunted UFC FN 76 to one side and, in comparison to last year’s event, the build up has been relatively muted.

However, for Ireland’s MMA stalwarts and those who’ve only caught the bug in recent times, next weekend cannot come quick enough.

Despite the loss of the heavyweight co-main event between Ben Rothwell and Stipe Miocic, there are still 11 bouts to look forward to, over half of which will feature Irish fighters.

Here we review their time so far at top table of MMA:

Joseph Duffy

What a whirlwind 10 months it’s been for the 27-year-old who, in just three promotional outings, will headline an event in his homeland.

The same honour was bestowed upon Conor McGregor for UFC FN 46 in July of last year; the only difference being that Duffy has hardly uttered a word during his time with the UFC.

Although possibly still best known for being the last man to beat the interim featherweight champion, the Donegal native has been the subject of rave reviews in light of his two performances inside the octagon.

His debut, on the preliminary card of UFC 185 in January, was over in less than two minutes as his head-kick, body shot combination viciously dispatched of Jake Lindsey.

For his sophomore outing in July, he also put away Ivan Jorge within the first round, this time via a triangle-choke submission on the main card of UFC FN72 in Glasgow.

Upon being signing with the UFC, Duffy relocated to Montreal to train at the famed Trisatr Gym under the tutelage of Firas Zahabi and Eric O’Keefe, and his improvement has been vast.

The former professional boxer has been matched with Dustin Poirier, another ex-foe of McGregor. Unquestionably, the vastly more experienced American is the most accomplished fighter Duffy has ever faced.

Poirier is a veteran of 13 UFC bouts and has only failed to win on three occasions. In the aftermath of his loss to McGregor, the 26-year-old moved up to lightweight, where he has recorded consecutive first round finishes.

Judging by contestants’ recent records, it doesn’t seem likely this one will go the scheduled five rounds.

Paddy Holohan

As of today, the Tallaght man’s contest with Louis Smolka has been elevated to co-main event status, and sees him move beyond a preliminary card for the first time.

Holohan made his UFC debut at last year’s event, and set the tone for what proved a historical evening by submitting Josh Sampo three minutes into round one.

In his following bout at UFC 54, Holohan was handed the first loss of his career by Chris Kelades, but has since put two more in the win column by earning unanimous decision victories over Shane Howell and Vaughan Lee.

One of the more colourful characters in Irish MMA, he recently opened up his own SBG gym in Tallaght and was a coach for teammate Conor McGregor on this season’s  The Ultimate Fighter.

Holohan has been matched with a similarly crafty grappler in Smolka, who looked a real proposition in overcoming Neil Seery at UFC 189.

A win over the Hawaiian, particularly inside the distance, should see him get a ranked opponent in his next fight.

Cathal Pendred

It’s been a busy year for welterweight Pendred, who will fight for the fourth time in 2015 when he meets the undefeated Tom Breese on the preliminary card.

Pendred also made his UFC bow at the then O2 Arena, and pulled off a spectacular come from behind submission win over fellow TUF cast member Mike King, who also happened to be on steroids.

Two eminently less compelling victories followed, over Gasan Umalatov and Sean Spencer, the latter of which was considered a blunder by the judges.

Unfairly, Pendred bore the brunt of the subsequent vitriol from fans and media, but showed his true courage by travelling to Mexico for UFC 188 and defeating local boy Augusto Montano by unanimous decision.

Unsatisfied by the manner of his win due to Montano’s refusal to engage with him, Pendred got himself a bout at UFC 189 less than a month later.

While his friend Conor McGregor got his hand raised, the former Belvedere College second row was narrowly defeated by John Howard.

Born in Birmingham, though a dorm mate of Duffy in Montreal, Breese is considered one of the hottest prospects to emerge from Europe of late. He has never been out of the first round, possesses an increasingly comprehensive skill set and, like Pendred, is a bruiser at 170lbs.

Neil Seery

The former Cage Warriors flyweight champion became a real-life Rocky story early last year when a social media campaign led by fans saw him catapulted from relative anonymity onto a UFC main card.

At UFC FN 37 in London, despite having just a fortnight’s preparation, the Finglas man gave then top contender Brad Pickett a serious run for his money before losing a unanimous decision.

He bounced back with a one-sided win over Phil Harris in Dublin four months later prior to ending Chris Beal’s unbeaten run last January.

At UFC 189, in one of the most technically impressive bouts of the night, the 36-year-old was marginally out-grappled by Smolka.

Seery, who still works full-time as a warehouse operative, is paired with Jon Delos Reyes. The American has lost two of his first three fights in the UFC, so his job is certainly on the line.

A combination of his desperation and the Dubliner’s relentless offence should make for a Fight of the Night candidate.

Aisling Daly

Ireland’s only female representative in the UFC has had a mixed bag since joining the newly formed strawweight division late last year.

The 115lbs weight class was introduced to the world via TUF 20, and Daly was eliminated at the quarter final stage by Jessica Penne.

At the show’s finale, Daly defeated Alex Chambers via first round submission, despite failing to make weight. Then, at UFC 186 in Montreal, she was soundly beaten by Randa Markos.

Next up is Brazil’s Ericka Almeida, who is also coming off a loss and will be just as eager as Daly to return to winning ways.

Norman Parke

On a two-fight losing skid, the Antrim lightweight will know his employment is at stake when squaring off with Reza Madadi.

The unwritten three losses and you’re out rule tends to be enforced by the UFC, with exceptions only being made in the most special of cases.

Parke is a credible fighter, and was robbed by the judges in his loss to Gleison Tibau, but the 155lbs division is one of the most populated in the organisation, so he must be spectacular against the formidable Redadi, who recently submitted perennial contender Michael Johnson.

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