Sunday 18 March 2018

There’s more than Conor McGregor to follow for Irish MMA fans in Las Vegas

Cathal Pendred (left), Gunni Nelson (top right) and Neil Seery (bottom right) will all be in action at the MGM Grand
Cathal Pendred (left), Gunni Nelson (top right) and Neil Seery (bottom right) will all be in action at the MGM Grand
Fergus Ryan

Fergus Ryan

Love him or hate him, it looks like Conor McGregor has brought enough attention to UFC 189 on Saturday to break records across the board.

So far the $7.1 million paid in ticket sales is the highest gate for a US event. The MGM Grand Arena will be reconfigured to break the weigh-in attendance record today and the pre-buys for the Pay-Per-View suggest UFC 189 could exceed the 1.6 million buys UFC 100 achieved.

We’ve already featured Neil Seery who also fights at UFC 189 (Read/Listen HERE).

For fear of McGregor overload, if there is such a thing, here is an update of Irish some other interest stories in Las Vegas this week.

Practically Irish

OK, so Gunni Nelson is Icelandic, but having trained in SBGi with John Kavanagh since he was 16 there is a strong affinity between the fighter and Irish MMA fans.

Originally scheduled to fight John Hathaway, Gunni will now square off against the welterweight man mountain, Brandon Thatch.

While they will both weigh the 170lbs/77kgs for a few hours on Friday afternoon, you can expect Thatch to be visibly bigger than the Icelander come fight time. Thatch also has a 3 inch height and reach advantage.

Despite being the smaller man in the Octagon, Gunni says he embraced the news when he heard who his new opponent would be.

“It doesn’t matter to me who I fight, if its Brandon I’m happy with that… I don’t really go in with a strict game-plan but I have lots of ideas about what can happen. I just gonna go in and do what I do best just see what happens and react” explained the 26 year old Nelson.

Thatch was beaten in his last fight by Benson Henderson who usually fights at lightweight. Henderson is a black belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, like Nelson, and used the art effectively to nullify and ultimately beat the bigger man.

Prior to lighting up the UFC, Gunni toured the professional grappling circuit for a number of years. During this time he is probably most famous for beating Jeff Monson in 2009. Monson was a renowned heavyweight MMA fighter and grappling competitor. Nelson had lost the first round match in his weight category and was invited to participate in the absolute competition, an amalgamation of all weight categories.

Monson who was a decorated grappler would have had over five stone on Nelson, yet the Icelander gave the bigger man fits for the entire match. Gunni ultimately choked out Monson before time elapsed. He went on to win his next match against a similar sized opponent and lose the semi-final to Xande Ribeiro, a BJJ legend and a guy who was two stone and three inches bigger than Gunni.

In addition to having success with larger opponents, Nelson has also been training with McGregor in Las Vegas for almost three months. Both fighters have made a huge impact on each other’s careers. McGregor’s stance has morphed over the years to mirror that of Gunni.

“We’ve learned a lot from each other. Conor came from a boxing background and he picked up things from lots of different people and I’m originally a karate guy he adopted some of that that works for him. We feed off each have different energies and pick up different things and then teach each other and learn from training with each other” Gunni told us.

Pendred needs to make a statement as well as win

There’s not many fighters who go 4-0 in the UFC in their first year and find themselves defending their performances.

Despite a win in his last fight at UFC 188, Pendred in his post-fight interviews was talking about how things may have to change and how disappointed he’s been with some of his fights.

To be fair to the Dubliner, the scenario is not entirely his doing. In Umalatov and Montano (his 2nd and 4th wins) he spent the whole three rounds chasing them around the Octagon. Whether they respected or feared Pendred as a fighter, the wins were chalked down as hollow victories.

Cathal has his own theory – “Maybe it’s because I’m fighting guys lower than me and they’re worried about job security and they are afraid of me. Like the last guy I fought had 15 wins, 13 1st round finishes and he ran away from me for 15 minutes. I was reduced to standing with my arms up to try and get him to fight me. I honestly felt like just walking away during the second round, the way things were going. I did everything I could to try and finish the choke in the 2nd because I had a feeling I might not get my hands on the guy again the way he was running away.”

While his frustrations are clear Cathal does expect things to change if he keeps winning – “If I keep winning I’ll move up the rankings and the higher I get the higher ranked the opponents will have to be. When I do get to fight ranked guys I’m pretty sure those guys won’t run from me.”

As with previous opponents, everyone will expect Jon Howard to walk forward and meet Cathal in the centre of the Octagon. However, ‘The Punisher’ has heard this before and it didn’t work out like that. But there may be some other reasons why Howard will come to fight.

“You can’t take anything for granted. If I was to guess he’ll come forward. He’s a small guy for the division so he’s forced to come forward, get inside and throw strikes from there” forecast the DCU alumnus.

Tough debut for Costigan

The all-female MMA promotion InvictaFC had its 13th event on Thursday night as part of the UFC’s international fight week.

Limerick’s Catherine Costigan took her undefeated record in against US fighter Amber Brown.

Brown lived up to her ‘Bully’ nickname and took a decisive victory over Costigan. After a take down and securing a dominant mount position early in the first round, Brown dished out a few minutes worth of punishment. In an effort to defend, Costigan gave up her back allowing Brown to sink in a rear naked choke and coax a tapout from Costigan.

We could have three Irish World Champions by Sunday

In addition to UFC 189 this weekend, the UFC is also hosting International Fight Week. There are lots of fan events being held but also some co-promotions with other MMA companies. In addition to InvictaFC, mentioned above, the International Mixed Martial Arts Federation amateur world championships are being staged in Las Vegas this week.

IMMAF was established in 2012 to help develop the sport of MMA at grass roots level in countries around the world.

Teams from both Northern Ireland and the Republic have been doing battle all week.

Sinead Kavanagh and Frans Mlambo have made it to their respective finals. They are set to fight for their amateur world titles on Friday night Las Vegas time.

It would be fitting if Sinead, Frans and Conor McGregor were all world champions by Sunday morning as all three train out of John Kavanagh’s SBGi and have been preparing in Las Vegas for the last three months together.

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

Online Editors

Sport Newsletter

The best sport action straight to your inbox every morning.

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport