‘We’re not here to take part, we’re here to take over’, the now infamous words rang around the 3Arena on July 19th 2014. Conor McGregor had just defeated Diego Brandao in the first round to cap off what felt like a defining moment in not only Irish MMA history, but for the sport as a whole. Fast forward exactly six years to the day, and many of the Irish stars that burst onto the scene following in Conor’s slipstream have now retired, or no longer compete in the sports premier league.
With what seemed to be a mega star in the making, a revolutionary head coach and a gym-full of young hungry killers, it seemed the Irish had arrived, and were set to take over the sport. On that summer Dublin night, wins for McGregor, Paddy Holohan, Cathal Pendred, Neil Seery, Norman Parke and the adopted Irishman Gunnar Nelson showcased the talent coming out of Ireland, and John Kavanagh earmarked himself as one of the most promising coaches in the sport with his SBG gym.
Fellow Irish talents Joe Duffy, Aisling Daly and Paul Redmond were signed not long after, and the following year the promotion returned to Dublin with Paddy Holohan headlining UFC Fight Night 76. Over the next few years the Irish would regularly appear on main cards and despite picking up a number of impressive wins along the way, the clear disparity between what Conor was doing at the very top of the game and what his fellow county men and women were doing was abundantly clear.
Holohan never fought again after losing to Louis Smolka at UFC Fight Night 76, Pendred did the same after being TKO’ed earlier in the card. Seery retired after back to back losses in 2017 and Parke was released after a 2016 loss to Rustam Khabilov. Aisling Daly and Paul Redmond failed to ever get anything going inside the octagon, and despite a promising start ‘Irish’ Joe Duffy couldn’t fulfil his potential, retiring on the back of three losses, the latest of which took place last night on Fight Island.
While McGregor has gone on to become the biggest star the sport has ever seen, the initial crop of Irish talent he came up with as a whole have failed to deliver. Bellator is now seemingly the home of Irish MMA, with young star James Gallagher leading the way and joined by fellow contenders Peter Queally, Kiefer Crosbie and Charlie Ward.
While the first of anything is always remembered fondly by those that were present at the time, the fact remains that McGregor aside, the first generation of Irish UFC stars could all have achieved more in their respective careers. But what they did accomplish was to help build the sport in the country, and help lay the foundations for future generations. While they may not have ‘took over’, they certainly played a pivotal role in the sports growth and popularity in the European market, and will forever remain heroes on the Emerald Isle.