Thursday 19 October 2017

'From GAA halls to the MGM Grand' - Neil Seery accompanying Conor McGregor to big time

Fergus Ryan

Fergus Ryan

The arena was full, the card was stacked. Neil Seery and Conor McGregor were both on the card and are well known and well respected in MMA circles. Both fighters lived up to expectation and both delivered wins.

If this happens again at UFC 189 it will be the fifth time Team Ryano’s Neil Seery and SBGi’s Conor McGregor have fought at the same event and won.

The first time it occurred was in February 2007 at Ring of Truth 6, a promotion run by Andy Ryan and John Kavanagh, head-coaches at Team Ryano’s and SBGi respectively. Next time out was Cage of Truth in March 2008. As the name suggests the boxing ring was swapped for the more effective MMA cage.

As one of Irish MMA’s longest serving lieutenants, Neil ‘2 Tap’ is better placed than most to comment on how far he and his UFC colleagues have come

“It just goes to show have far we’ve come after all the years of hard work. Conor’s been there since day one same as myself… since we were fighting in GAA halls and Gunni (Nelson) and Ais Daly too has been there since we were fighting in the Trinity Sport & Leisure (Donaghmede, Dublin 13), for us all to be on the same card in Vegas it just goes to show the amount of hard work we’ve put in over the years” Neil recalled.

Both men progressed on to the Cage Warriors ranks coming out the other side with world titles and UFC contracts. They both appeared at Cage Warriors 47 in Dublin where Conor picked up his first world title and a win propelled Seery towards his.

Though he wasn’t fighting, Conor was Octagonside for Neil’s UFC debut against Brad Pickett in February 2013. You can hear McGregor quite clearly roaring support and advice to his MMA travelling partner throughout the three rounds.

On July 11th both men will go war at the same event again. For Seery, a long time boxing fan, UFC 189 is extra special. Walking out to a packed arena in the ‘Fight Capital of the World’ was a boyhood dream that’s set to become a reality in another fantastic twist in his storied career.

“It means everything to me. I never thought I’d get to the UFC let alone fight in Vegas so it’s very special to me” gushed Seery about his Las Vegas debut.

Though he lost his UFC debut, Seery has since beaten Phil Harris in Dublin and Chris Beal in Sweden. He faces the tough Hawaiian Louis Smolka in at UFC 189. A win for Seery will mean he will boast a three fight win streak that is only bettered by champion Demetrious Johnson. This should edge him into being a ranked fighter in the top 15.

Seery is taking nothing for granted though. – “I think it’ll push me towards the top 15 and I reckon I can hang with any of them in there. At the moment I’m just concentrating on preparing for a big fight. Same could be said for Louis, if he wins it’ll escalate him into the top 15. It’s all about going out on Saturday night and performing.”

Though there is a lot of upside should he win, Seery is focused on the task at hand and is not looking past Smolka -  “He’s dangerous everywhere, I’ve watched his fights and he has a gas tank for days… he likes to walk forward and he can take a shot… he really is dangerous all over the place.”

One constant in Seery’s career is his willingness to stand and trade punches with his opponent. Having fought at higher weight divisions for much of his career, Seery has concussive power in both hands. Unfortunately, his reputation precedes him and opponents’ tend to opt for a ground game as soon as Seery starts to load up.

Despite having an advantage in the striking department the Finglas native is not taking anything for granted - “Is he gonna stand and bang? Only time will tell. Has he more power than me? I doubt it; there are not a lot of people in the flyweight division with more power than me. He’s got good takedowns and good jiu Jitsu so I’ll have to be on the ball from the word ‘go’. If I make one mistake he’ll punish me for it.”

If and when Smolka opts to take the fight to the mat, Seery isn’t too bothered. The BJJ purple belt has been there before – “He probably will try to take me down and put me on my back but Chris Beal did that and I elbowed the head off him. I’m as dangerous as he is. Will he try take me down after I hit him? I believe he will.”

Despite being a professional MMA fighter in the world’s biggest promotion, training is down the pecking order in Seery’s life. With a full time job and a family of four kids, one just born, fighting has to fit in with the rest of his life.

While a lot of top tier UFC athletes are full time pro’s, Seery needs time off to get all the training done.

“I was in work at half six this morning. When I’ve a fight on Wednesday’s I take a half day and go up to my club, Team Ryano for some rolling and on Friday’s I take a half day and go to Pascal Collins’ Celtic Warrior Boxing Gym in Blanchardstown. I’ve taken a little bit of time off but I’m still in work five days a week” explained Neil.

Whether the McGregor magic has rubbed off on Neil down through the years or maybe it’s the warrior spirt in Seery that’s proved talismanic. Regardless, both men have worked well together and hopefully this will continue at UFC 189.

Watch UFC 189: Mendes vs. McGregor on Sunday, July 12th live on BT Sport 1 (part of the Setanta Pack in Ireland) from 1am BST, or catch the Early Prelims from midnight exclusively on UFC Fight Pass.

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