MMA: Rising Clontarf star goes for world title in cage-fighting clash
THE sport of Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) might not be for everyone, but the number of fans following the sport has grown exponentially in the last 10 years.
After an initial splash in the US in early 1990s the sport began to attract more criticism that credit and as a result almost disappeared by the beginning of the 2000s. The Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), the largest MMA promotion in the world, was teetering on the brink of extinction until new owners bought the company and breathe life back into the UFC and ultimately the sport.
Today the UFC enjoys mainstream acceptance in the US through a deal with the Fox Network in August 2011. UFC programming can also be found on ESPN in the UK and Republic of Ireland, as well as in 150 countries and 22 different languages worldwide and as a result claims to be the fastest growing sport in the world.
This could be a break-out year for MMA in Ireland as two of its young guns have signed multi-fight contracts with the UFC. Norman Parke from Bushmills, Co Antrim and Conor McGregor, Crumlin, Dublin have both reached the big stage on merit.
Those familiar with the Irish MMA scene will be quick to tell there are a few more local fighters that could follow Parke and McGregor into the UFC.
One such fighter is Clontarf’s Cathal Pendred who this weekend fights for a world title under the Cage Warriors Fighting Championship banner. Cage Warriors is the largest European MMA promotion and one of the more prestigious titles to win outside of the UFC. His SBGi team-mate, Conor McGregor was their featherweight and lightweight world champion before progressing to the UFC.
A fierce competitor, Pendred probably would have made the grade as a professional rugby player. He won a Senior Cup medal packing down in the formidable Belvedere College scrum with Cian Healy. Having always had a grá for combat sports his focus began to drift. He dabbled with MMA training while on a J1 visa in the US. When he realised he could train MMA in Ireland, thoughts of playing for Leinster and Ireland began to fade.
According to Pendred, “I started training MMA when I was playing rugby for the Clontarf (under) 20s. They were very accommodating about giving me time to train MMA as well as training with the 20s. But after a few amateur fights I knew I was getting more dedicated to MMA so I devoted all my energy to that. I’m an incredibly competitive person and I love the idea of using your body to compete 1-on-1 with someone else”
Debuting in 2009, Pendred quickly rose through the Irish welterweight MMA rankings. Having put together an impressive record (7 wins and 2 losses) by 2011, the largest Irish MMA promotion Cage Contender offered Pendred a crack at their welterweight title, which Pendred won by TKO in the 3rd round. After securing a local title Pendred began to concentrate more on fighting overseas and bigger named opponents, which took him into the ranks of Cage Warriors Fighting Championship.
Though Pendred has been a professional fighter since 2009 he has been committed to other pursuits. Unless you’re fighting regularly in the UFC, a professional MMA fighters’ takings are quite modest. Hence the need for a ‘Plan B’ as Pendred explains.
“When I was training for the David Bielkheden fight (in June 2011 at Cage Warriors 47) I was studying for my finals (a degree course in Analytical Science). I’m conscious I’ll need something to fall back on after the sports career finishes. The week before the fight I sat my finals in DCU.
“So one Saturday I was sitting an exam in the Helix and then a week later I was walking out to the biggest fight of my career in the same venue, it was a pretty weird feeling. I’ve never quit anything in my life so there was no way I was going to ditch the degree even though MMA is absolutely what I want to do as my career.”
Though Cathal’s last four fights have gone to the judges’ scorecards, he’s not concerned how the outcome is achieved; he’s more concerned about being a winner than a finisher – “I’m 100% a natural born competitor and I do everything in my power to win. It’s a bonus if I get the win early and that gives the crowd something to really cheer.
“If you look at my fight with David Bielkedhan though, it won the ‘Fight of the Night’ bonus so that means it was a good fight to watch even though it went to a decision.”
With his record up to 11wins, 2 loses and one draw, Pendred began to call for a title shot at the Cage Warriors belt. While the Cage Warriors title belt is an impressive achievement, Pendred has eyes on a bigger prize.
“I can only control what I can do. I think I’d 100% done enough to get the title shot. When I win the belt I think that means 100% I should be in line for a call from the UFC. A Cage Warriors title is one of the most prestigious belts outside of the UFC. I’m currently ranked by some ahead of the (Cage Warriors) champion and I’m not the underdog in this fight. So, for me, that pretty much proves I’m one of the top welterweights in the world not fighting in the UFC.I did some talking before the fight was announced but that was me basically trying to get a title fight. Now the fight is signed the focus is on being the most skilful, technical Cathal Pendred when I step in the cage on March 9th.”