TUF 20: Aisling Daly Looking to Keep the Momentum Rolling for Irish MMA

Duane FinleyContributor IJuly 30, 2014

Personal photo on Twitter

There are few things on the MMA landscape currently generating more heat than Irish MMA.

With a band of talented and rowdy fighters in two, and the success of the UFC's return to Dublin still echoing, the spotlight has fallen on "The Emerald Isle." While that type of broad-scope attention can create an added amount of pressure, the mixed martial artist coming out of the Irish scene appear to be right at home in the fire of hype and expectation.

In the now-famous words of rising featherweight star and Dublin native Conor McGregor, the Irish didn't come to the UFC to take part, they came to take over. And after a clean sweep at Fight Night 46 where ferocity, heart and national pride were put front and center, "Notorious'" sentiment has certainly held up thus far. The Irish have arrived to the biggest stage in MMA to make some noise, and Aisling Daly plans on causing some ruckus of her own.

The SBG Ireland-trained fighter was selected to take part in the historic 20th season of The Ultimate Fighter where the organization will not only introduce a brand new division to the promotional fold, but crown its first women's strawweight champion at tournament's end. The 16-fighter cast presents a wide range in experience and expectation as the roster is lined with the top-ranked 115-pound women fighters in the world, all of which are out to carve out their place in UFC history.

Photo taken at TUF 20 Media Day

Daly is certainly on a mission for championship gold entering the TUF house, but she's also looking to keep the momentum rolling for her homeland. That said, no matter how determined her fighting spirit, Daly is still adjusting to the increased attention attached to her latest endeavor.

In the lead-up to UFC 175 last month, and prior to the cast members heading into the house for six weeks, the UFC held a media day for the fighters in Las Vegas, and Daly took time to enjoy the circus. 

"I'm honestly having trouble taking it all in," Daly told Bleacher Report. "There is just so much going on. So much has happened in the last couple of days that my head is in the clouds pretty much. Hopefully I'll settle in really soon. But it is such a strange experience to be at home in Ireland one day, then be here in Vegas the next. It's all pretty special and I'm working it out.

"The media before we go in has been pretty crazy, but I think things will definitely settle down when we get into a regular routine with training and fighting. The media stuff is all a bit alien to me because I don't do much of that stuff at home, but the fighting is where things feel natural. MMA is what I know, and as long as I get to train and fight I'll be happy. Fighting is the easy part."

While there is a solid mixture of international talent in the inaugural strawweight tournament, Daly is the only Irish fighter in the fold. The 26-year-old was a staple on the European circuit for years before taking her talents stateside to compete on various stages around the U.S., where she's faced a collection of some of the most notable fighters south of the 135-pound mark.

When the proverbial ball gets rolling on the 20th season of The Ultimate Fighter, "Ais the Bash" will be out to add to a movement that has been a longtime in the making.

"It's amazing to see all the noise Irish MMA is making, but at the same time, I've seen all the groundwork that went into it," Daly said. "This has not been an overnight success. There are guys on our team that have been training six, eight or 10 years to find success. We've been working hard for a very long time in the background. We have been in the best in Europe for quite some time, winning titles in different promotions and what not, but it is amazing to see our guys getting signed to fight on the biggest stage on the planet in the UFC. The guys deserve it. They have worked hard, just as I've worked hard to get here. I couldn't be happier for the Irish Invasion.

"The vibe in our gym is very positive and driven. Everybody is working even harder now because we all know what is possible. There is going to be a lot of success coming to Irish fighters and I'm looking forward to seeing how it all takes off. That 'Fighting Irish' saying is very true and things seem to be working out very well in the UFC."

As Daly has spent the better part of the past decade developing her skills as a mixed martial artist, she's done so along side a cast of hungry young talents on her team at SBG Ireland. The John Kavanagh-led squad has become one of the premier collectives in Europe and they are quickly gaining recognition across the globe. 

Gregory Payan/Associated Press

Of the fighters she considers her family at the Dublin-based camp, Conor McGregor has commanded the most spotlight. The former two-divisional Cage Warriors champion has been nothing short of a sensation under the UFC banner and he couldn't be more excited to see Daly get the opportunity to chase down her dream.

"It is absolutely phenomenal for me to see her come to the UFC," McGregor told Bleacher Report earlier this month before his bout with Diego Brandao in Dublin. "Aisling has been around the team since the start. She's been there since day one. To see her get her break and to see her division finally get accepted into the UFC and to see them dedicate an entire season of The Ultimate Fighter to her weight class inspires me. They are in that house right now and I have no doubt the event will be shown to them and they will get to watch it.

"I'm definitely thinking of my teammate in The Ultimate Fighter house and I'm going to put on a great performance for her. I know she's going to fight with all her out. I've shed blood, sweat and tears with these people day in and day out and to see my teammates breakthrough as well is perfect. It's phenomenal and it keeps me going."

One fighter on the SBG Ireland roster who can appreciate the endeavor Daly has committed to is her teammate Cathal Pendred. "The Punisher" was a competitor on the most recent installment of the reality-based fighting program and was easily one of the most popular fighters to come out of the season. While he was derailed in the semi-finals by eventual winner Eddie Gordon, the Boston-born fighter pulled off a sensational comeback in his official UFC debut in Dublin by submitting Mike King in the second round of their tilt.

Much like the excitement McGregor showed for Daly getting a shot to make UFC history, Pendred was happy to see his scrappy teammate get the biggest opportunity of her career.

"It's amazing and it is great for Ais because she's worked hard for a long time," Pendred said. "To be honest, we never thought we would ever see this and I don't think she thought she would ever see this either. It didn't look likely that females would ever fight in the UFC and that put the women in a position where they had to face that they were never going to get as much glory as the men because the UFC is the top of this sport. For that to have changed, and those doors to have opened and Ash to have made it is amazing.

Pendred's personal Twitter photo

"As soon as we heard that was going to happen, we were confident Ais was going to be a part of it because she is one of the best fighters in the world at her weight class. She has a lot of experience and she's defeated some of the best girls around. Plus, with the explosion of MMA in Ireland, it only made sense. Irish fighters are becoming popular all over the globe and having her on the show made sense for everyone involved."

While Daly's skill set will ultimately dictate or success during the tournament, her Irish heritage will certainly provide some added attention to her profile. She is well aware of how big the Irish movement in MMA has become, and when factored into America's apparent affinity for all things related to her homeland, Daly sees the potential for an interesting formula to unfold this season.

"It's funny because the idea of being Irish is kind of sensationalized here in America," Daly said. "Back in Ireland, we go all out once a year for St. Patty's Day. It's all shamrocks, green beer and green milkshakes, but it's pretty much just that one day where we go all out like that.

"I don't want to disappoint anyone by not being Irish enough for them," she laughed. "Should I die my hair green and paint a shamrock on my face? I think people are going to expect me to live up to being Irish a bit and expect me to be drunk on whisky every night when I'm in the house, but that is not going to happen. I'm a professional athlete and I have to keep those things under control. I'll let the fighting do the talking then do some celebrating at the wrap party."


Duane Finley is a featured columnist for Bleacher Report. All quotes are obtained firsthand unless noted otherwise.