Since a magnificent showing in 2014 during which hometown fighters took a clean sweep at UFC Fight Night “McGregor vs. Brandao,” Irish MMA has been searching for its next big night on home soil. Away from the Emerald Isle, fans have enjoyed the Conor McGregor Show, as the reigning Ultimate Fighting Championship lightweight titleholder has taken them on a journey beyond what anyone could have expected. In Ireland, the experience has been far different.
After McGregor defeated Brandao in Dublin a little more than three years ago, there was much talk of him returning to Ireland to compete, either at GAA Stadium Croke Park or Aviva Stadium -- two venues that would draw somewhere between 50,000 and 80,000 fans. Unfortunately, nothing has materialized due to concerns over local residents blocking the event, as well as Ireland’s time zone being too far out of sync with America to make showing fights on pay-per-view in the United States possible. At the moment, it appears as though McGregor will not be back fighting in Ireland in the foreseeable future.
Moreover, there has been a string of unfortunate fight cancellations in Ireland. UFC heavyweight champion Stipe Miocic’s bout with Ben Rothwell fell through the same week Joseph Duffy was forced to withdraw from his pairing with Dustin Poirier in Dublin. Belfast also saw its share of canceled fights in both the UFC and Bellator MMA, with Gunnar Nelson-Dong Hyun Kim and Liam McGeary-Chris Fields.
While it has been something of a golden era in Irish MMA, it has not all been smooth sailing. That holds true on Friday, as Bellator returns in a co-promotion with the British Association of Mixed Martial Arts at 3Arena in Dublin. Initially, James Gallagher, arguably the top mixed martial arts prospect in Ireland, was booked to headline the event opposite Jeremiah Labiano. However, an injury denied the SBG Ireland standout a possible coming-of-age moment in the Bellator 187 main event.
With the card now devoid of big names, a large contingent of emerging Irish talent will get an opportunity to make a name for itself; and the time could not be better. Not so long ago, fighters like Paddy Holohan, Cathal Pendred, Neil Seery and Aisling Daly were all climbing the UFC ranks. They have all left the stage, leaving an opening for the next wave of young fighters.
Brian Moore finds himself in prime position to make such a move. Hailing from Wexford on Ireland’s southeast coast, Moore ranks as one of the country’s most experienced practitioners. He has compiled a 10-5 record since he debuted six years ago. He returned from a two-year absence in late 2015 to win three out of four, all by stoppage. Moore’s only loss in that stretch came against former M-1 Global champion Daniel Weichel. The well-rounded John Kavanagh protégé will get a golden opportunity when he meets the undefeated A.J. McKee in the repackaged main event in perhaps the toughest test of his career.
Dylan Tuke and Sinead Kavanagh are in similar positions, though both fighters are looking to bounce back from losses. Another SBG Ireland product, Tuke made his debut in 2015 and quickly rattled off three straight wins, the last of which came in a “Fight of the Year” contender against Adam Ventre. A subsequent setback against Cameron Else -- a man who also holds a victory over Paddy Pimblett -- saw Tuke take an 11-month break. Kavanagh, meanwhile, had her momentum stalled in back-to-back defeats to Iony Razafiarison and Arlene Blencowe. McGregor once labeled her as the potential Next Big Thing on the world stage.
Along with BAMMA title fights for Richard Kiely and Andy Young, two former Irish UFC fighters are also featured on the card. Hot off his win under the KSW flag at the same arena two weeks ago, Paul Redmond takes on Sergio de Jesus Santos; and two-time Octagon veteran Charlie Ward battles Team Ryano rep John Redmond in a true fan-friendly showdown.
This card will not provide anywhere near the thrills of UFC Fight Night 46 in terms of atmosphere or quality. However, it could launch the careers of the latest batch of Irish prospects. If they are anything like their predecessors, they will be worth keeping an eye on.