Sunday 21 January 2018

Fighting Irish: Our ‘invisible’ world-class athletes bidding for MMA glory

Fergus Ryan

Fergus Ryan

IN most sports, competing regularly in the Olympic Games and winning medals at a European Championships would be enough to turn an Irish athlete into a household name.

Yet, Derek Burnett - who hasn’t missed an Olympics since Sydney in 2000 and won a bronze in 2010 at the Europeans - was described as ‘one of Ireland’s invisible world-class athletes’ while competing at the 2012 Olympics in London.


Maybe Burnett is unlucky that his sport of clay pigeon shooting is not that popular and therefore not that well covered in the media.


Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) has turned into one of the most popular sports in the world but has yet to make a serious impression in Irish mainstream media. This is unfortunate as we are unnecessarily adding to our list of invisible world-class athletes by not acknowledging the sport and its popularity in Ireland.


Conor McGregor is one such world class athlete. Conor has been the hottest property in Irish and European MMA for a number of years. So much so that he has blasted his way into the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), the premier MMA promotion in the world and is set to make his debut on April 6 in Sweden.


Conor made a name for himself early in his career as a brash knock-out artist. Since his debut in 2008, 10 of his 12 wins have come by (T)KO and he’s only been to the second round three times in 14 fights. He quickly graduated from the regional Irish MMA circuit to fighting at Cage Warriors Fighting Championship, the largest MMA promotion in Europe and maybe third biggest in the world. Conor has lost only twice in 14 fights and his last loss was in 2010. All these stats are impressive but what Conor has done in last 12 months have proved he is world class.


In 2012 Conor began a quest to back up his reputation with championship belts. He began asking for title shots in his post-fight interviews. His wish was granted and in The Helix in Dublin in June 2012 at Cage Warriors 47.


Conor proved the request was justified by becoming the Cage Warriors featherweight world champion. On New Year’s Eve in the same venue, Conor made history by becoming only the second man ever in MMA to become a double weight world champion by winning the lightweight title at Cage Warriors 51.


Since then, the Conor McGregor phenomenon has gone global. The ripple of interest generated by his second world title turned into a media tidal wave once he signed with the UFC in February this year. Media outlets all over the world, including some here in Ireland clamoured to get a piece of the next big thing in MMA.


Even MTV got in on the action with a 17-minute online documentary about the man himself and his coach John Kavanagh.


Based on the amount of MMA media coverage, Conor McGregor’s UFC debut will be one of the most anticipated in the sport for a long time. For most fighters there would be a risk that all the hype could weigh heavy on their shoulders and affect performance. Not Conor, he’s world class and looking forward to proving to everybody that the hype was right.

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