Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past couple of years, you know that MMA is the fastest growing sport in the entire world.
Originally dubbed a brutal no-holds barred blood-sport, MMA has evolved into a chess match between two combative individuals. A battle between two well-conditioned athletes, using a blend of striking and grappling techniques to checkmate their opponent into either a knockout or a submission.
The majority of MMA’s fan base comes from North America and Japan; however, in recent years, the sport has been exploding over in European countries. England, in particular, seems to be gaining most of the attention, with British fighters such as Michael Bisping, Dan Hardy, Terry Etim, and several others making waves in the UFC.
While the United Kingdom receives the bulk of MMA media attention in Europe, as was evident in Season Nine of The Ultimate Fighter on Spike TV, which featured a whole team of British fighters, the beautiful country of Ireland is not following far behind. In fact, Ireland may eventually surpass the U.K as far as growth in the MMA industry is concerned.
Irish fans of any sport are extremely passionate, so its MMA supporters are no different. When the UFC made its first trip to Dublin, Ireland for UFC 93 earlier this year, the crowd went absolutely crazy throughout the entire event, which impressed UFC President Dana White, who promised many more events to be held there in the near future.
MMA in Ireland has been steadily growing since the early 2000’s and it isn’t just their fan base that is impressive as the country is home to many talented young fighters that could be just a year or two away from becoming household names.
With that being said let’s take a look at some of the top prospects as well as the pioneers of Irish MMA.
John Kavanagh (MMA Record: 3-3)
Becoming a well-rounded MMA fighter in Ireland was close to impossible in the early days, as there weren’t any high-level grapplers for aspiring fighters to learn from. Ireland always had a strong base for striking arts such as boxing and Muay-Thai, but wrestling and Jiu-Jitsu was almost non-existent until Kavanagh came along.
Kavanagh is the founding father of Jiu-Jitsu in Ireland and is currently the only black belt that the country has produced and to top it off his ground game is absolutely outstanding. He’s a self-taught master that studied grappling techniques from books and tapes before traveling across Europe to enter Jiu-Jitsu tournaments.
As an MMA fighter, Kavanagh isn’t overly impressive but as a coach he can be comparable to an Irish Greg Jackson. He has teamed up with fellow BJJ ace Matt Thornton to form a branch of academies across Ireland called Straight Blast Gym.
Tom Egan (MMA Record: 6-2)
At the ripe age of 20 and already having one UFC fight on his record Egan is considered the future of Irish MMA. Egan, nicknamed “The Tank” boasted an unblemished 5-0 record before battling Englishman John Hathaway at UFC 93 in Dublin.
The Dublin crowd was certainly on Egan’s side, but it just wasn’t enough for the Irishman to overcome the more experienced Hathaway. Egan was finished by strikes in the first round and was soon cut from the UFC roster but rest assured it will not be the last time you see him competing in the Octagon.
Unfortunately, he was choked out in his MMA return earlier this month by Rob Mills but is looking to rebound against highly touted Frenchman Gary Kono at Ireland’s largest MMA show to date—Cage of Honour which will be taking place Nov. 7.
With the rumors of another UFC event to be held in Dublin in 2010, a dominant victory could put “The Tank” in consideration for a re-signing into the organization to fight on the card.
Gunnar Nelson (MMA Record: 5-0)
Technically speaking, Nelson is not an Irish fighter, since he was born in Iceland, but his fighting ability should be reflective of Ireland MMA considering the fact that he is a top student under Kavanagh and is a disciple of Thornton’s Straight Blast Gym.
Nelson now trains in The United States and as of Sept. 30, 2009 he is a BJJ black belt under Renzo Gracie. Nelson also finished fourth overall in the Abu Dhabi world championships in the Absolute Division.
With an unbeaten record and five straight finishes to his name, it’s only a matter of time for the Icelandic fighter to make some serious waves on the bigger shows.
Owen Roddy (MMA Record: 5-3)
“Rowdy” Roddy—and no, we aren’t talking about the professional wrestling legend—has established himself as the greatest featherweight fighter in all of Ireland. Roddy is well-versed at all areas of the game but his stand-up technique is especially devastating.
His Floyd Mayweather-esque hand-speed and vicious knees have led him on a four fight win-streak and he doesn’t appear to be slowing down anytime soon. Roddy could be just a couple more knockout victories away from signing with a major organization, perhaps the WEC would be interested?
Aisling Daly (MMA Record: 5-0)
“The Bash” is ranked by some in the top five in the super-flyweight female division and is another product of Kavanagh’s SBG Ireland. She has finished all eight of her professional fights in which she has showcased brutal ground n’ pound, crisp stand-up technique, and bone-snapping submissions to establish herself as Ireland’s premier female fighter.
Daly fell in love with martial arts early on in her life studying karate at the age of 10 and eventually transitioning into Jiu-Jitsu and finally into MMA. She will be competing on the previously mentioned Cage of Honour show against Maiju Kajula in her next fight.
Her dream is to eventually compete in the United States for a big show like Strikeforce, and so long as she continues her winning ways, that dream could become a reality very soon.
Greg Loughran (MMA Record: 18-13)
Northern Ireland’s Loughran is a grizzled seven-year veteran of the game, and despite his record, he’s recognized as one of Ireland’s toughest 155-pounders. Recently, he competed and lost against top three lightweight and Bellator champion Eddie Alvarez at Bellator’s premier event. Despite a losing effort, Loughran buckled Alvarez early on with a powerful left hook but was unable to finish the Philly native.
Loughran has also fought and lost against other recognizable fighters such as Jeff Lawson and Terry Etim. He also holds a notable victory over Ultimate Fighter finalist Andre Winner via second round technical submission.
There’s no doubt that Loughran has the heart of a true Irish warrior but his skill set is limited and he has been unable to surpass journeyman status as of yet.
Stevie Lynch (MMA Record: 4-2)
Lynch is a one-time UFC veteran that competed in Belfast, Northern Ireland for UFC 72 in a disappointing loss to submission wizard Dustin “McLovin” Hazelett. He was submitted in the first round by way of a beautifully executed anaconda choke and followed that up with another loss to Jim Wallhead at a Cage Warriors event in the UK.
He hasn’t competed since but prior to those bouts he was riding a four-fight win streak and looked to potentially become the next big thing in the welterweight division. Time will tell if at 38 years old Lynch returns to fighting to recreate his winning ways or not.
Colin Robinson (MMA Record: 9-8)
Robinson is one of Ireland’s most famous heavyweights, as he has been under the bright lights of the UFC on more than one occasion. Sadly, both were losing efforts to Eddie Sanchez at UFC 72 and a devastating knockout at the hands of Antoni Hardonk at UFC 80.
The big man has had his fair share of victories utilizing his heavy-handed boxing ability but has also taken several losses. Currently he has lost his last four fights and doesn’t seem to be on the verge of a comeback.
Regardless, Irish fans recognize “Big C” as a true pioneer of the sport in their homeland and whether he eventually becomes a champion or not he will always have respect for leaving it all in the cage every single time.
Karl Roche (MMA Record: 2-4)
Roche is an up and coming heavyweight prospect out of SBG Ireland and will be headlining the Cage of Honour event against UFC Hall of Famer Dan “The Beast” Severn. Like his teammate Egan a victory could add Roche to the next UFC event in Ireland and a chance to challenge against the top heavyweights in the world.
Do not let his losing record fool you as Roche is a talented fighter posing threats both standing up and on the ground. As he gains more experience it’s inevitable that you will be seeing him competing in larger fighting avenues in the future.
These are just some of several fighters that are flying under the radar in Ireland and at the rate the sport is progressing over there it’s only a matter of time before we see the crowning of an Irish UFC champion. Certain fans may disagree with that, but the Irish should not be underestimated.