Sunday 17 December 2017

Time for the 'Punisher' Cathal Pendred to shine

Cathal Pendred
Cathal Pendred
Fergus Ryan

Fergus Ryan

The career of a Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) fighter is naturally a risky business. One of the biggest risks though is far from the competitive arena.

With money scarce outside the upper echelons of the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), devoting years to a career but never making it to the ‘big show’can be a costly endeavour. Some fighters sit back and hope their winning record will do the talking. Other fighters will leverage their MMA achievements at every opportunity to make sure they are in the shop window when the UFC lifts its head to look for talent.

If ever there was a sport where ‘seize the day’ applies to aspiring athletes, it’s MMA. Cathal Pendred has been ‘seizing the day’ since he began to rack up the wins and the titles on the Irish and European MMA circuits. He’s one of those fighters who has not been afraid to talk up his achievements. While his chatter is more reserved than his Straight Blast Gym (SBG) team-mate Conor McGregor, Cathal has continually progressed his career to the point where many believed it became a matter of ‘when’ and not ‘if’ he would get signed to the UFC.

However, it wasn’t plain sailing for him. His route to the UFC in Dublin on the 19th of July could be considered the long way around. Anyone familiar with Cathal’s career will know he is worthy of a crack at the UFC.

Branching Out

Having become the stand-out welterweight on the Irish MMA circuit, Cathal began to search for bigger fights that would help him achieve his dream. Cage Warriors Fighting Championship was beginning to play an important role for European fighters looking to make the jump to the UFC. Once Cathal signed with Cage Warriors things began to take shape.

In 2012, with a wins under his belt for his new employer, Cathal asked to fight UFC veteran David Bielkedhen in order to make a statement that he was ready to move up to the next level. With a ‘Fight of the Night’ victory over Bielkheden, Cathal began to set his sights on the Cage Warriors welterweight world championship, calling out the champion, Frenchman Gael Grimaud, after another win over Brazilian Bruno Carvalho.

In March 2013 spoke to Cathal before his Cage Warriors world title fight. He was a man on a mission and firmly believed a victory would put him on a collision course with the UFC. “I can only control what I can do. I think I’ve 100% done enough to get the (Cage Warriors) 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.”

And win the Cage Warriors title he did.

Man on a Mission

With a world title on his shoulder and an impressive winning record at the time of 12 wins, 2 losses it still wasn’t enough to get the call from the UFC. Considering Conor McGregor, Jim Alers and Neil Seery are all Cage Warriors world champions who have been recently signed up by the UFC, Cathal could feel a little hard done by. But he didn’t. Instead he went big game hunting again.

Cathal fought Che Mills in June 2013 after Mills had been released by the UFC. At one point Mills was a hot prospect but after shipping a few losses found himself in Cage Warriors looking for a fast track back to the UFC. This was exactly the type of ‘big game’ opponent Cathal required.

Cathal blasted Mills from bell to bell in the first 2 rounds using his high pressure style to smoother and exhaust Mills. With Mills consistently on the back foot defending, Cathal picked his shots and landed at will. By the third round Mills had mentally checked out of the contest under the onslaught from Cathal. Pouring on the pressure, Cathal left the referee no option but to opt for fighter safety and stop the fight.

It should have been Cathal’s first successful title defence but as Mills missed the contracted weight for welterweight contests, the fight was relegated to a non-title fight. Over time this point will be academic as Mills was only going to be a stepping stone for Cathal whether it was over 3 or 5 rounds of fighting.

“I can only control what I can do”

Only a few months after the Mills victory Cathal took himself to the auditions of The Ultimate Fighter, securing his place in the TUF house and yet again firmly putting himself in the driving seat of his career.

For fighters on the cusp of making the UFC, participation in TUF can be a double edged sword. If you go all the way, like Norman Parke, you’re guaranteed a multi fight contract with the largest MMA promotion in the world. A bad showing can result in you being cast out to the MMA wilderness with a long road back to the UFC’s good graces.

In Cathal’s case it could have been considered a real gamble. He’d amassed a winning record (13 wins, 2 losses and a draw), had a Cage Warriors world title and built a solid reputation as one of the best welterweight outside the UFC. He’d also been continually proving himself against UFC calibre opposition.

If you look at his last 6 fights (5 wins and a draw), 2 wins came against former UFC fighters, a win and a draw came against guys who were signed by the UFC after fighting Cathal and he won his Cage Warriors world title off a guy who the UFC selected for a previous version of the reality show TUF. So why take the risk, why not just wait it out?

Like his go forward fighting style, Cathal’s attitude to his career doesn’t include sitting on his hands and waiting for things to happen.

Long Way Around

Once again the risk taking paid off. Cathal re-emerged from the TUF house having lost in the semi-final to the eventual winner. Though he was disappointed in his performances, he clearly did enough to warrant inclusion on the UFC Fight Night in the O2 this weekend. Interestingly, if he had progressed to the final he would have fought last weekend and missed out on a fight in his home town.

While the direct route would have been more preferable, the roundtrip Cathal has taken to get to the UFC will do just fine. US fighter Mike King is the next hurdle for Cathal to overcome on Saturday night in the O2. Whether he’s in the Octagon or quarter-backing his career, Cathal has generally found a way to win.

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