It came as a surprise to a lot of the Irish MMA community when British promotion BAMMA booked Dublin’s 3 Arena for an event back in June. Setting the date as September 19 for their marquee show in the Irish capital, the obvious issues were voiced immediately—how would they sell this show without the brand power of a promotion like UFC? And again, more importantly, how would they sell an event without a polarizing figure like ‘The Notorious’ Conor McGregor?
In many ways, there is no better time to test the Irish MMA market outside of UFC and McGregor. Despite never hosting an event on the Emerald Isle before, BAMMA is very aware that MMA has never been as popular in the country. Having to explain the sport is a thing of the past as McGregor’s outspoken manner and spectacular fighting style have propelled MMA into the broader consciousness of the Irish mainstream.
Although UFC will return to the 3 Arena in October themselves, a month after BAMMA 22 which will suit the British promotion, they too will not have the Pied Piper of the Irish sport at the forefront of their card. However, McGregor is now synonymous with the UFC brand and having beaten Diego Brandao in the main event of the promotion’s show last year, this year’s October event will still live off the burning embers of UFC Fight Night: McGregor vs Brandao.
Some of the biggest names in the sport spoke of how memorable that night was in 3 Arena last year as 9,500 fans became a choir for the Irish MMA charges that fought—McGregor, Nelson, Parke, Pendred, Seery and Holohan. Dana White still speaks about the Irish being the loudest fans “pound for pound” that he has ever witnessed. When they return in October, Joseph Duffy takes the top billing. Although the Donegal man’s first two UFC outings have been stellar, many casual fans simply know him as “the last man to beat Conor McGregor”—a situation that has been both a blessing and burden for the Irish lightweight.
It isn’t the first time that that a promotion outside of the UFC has put on an event in the famed Dublin arena, known to locals as ‘The Point Depot’—it’s original title. Back in 2005, before UFC even had their first event in Ireland, Rings - Bushido came to the land of saints and scholars. Gegard Mousasi even competed on the night, taking a victory over Team Ryano stalwart John Donnelly. Another man who competed at the event is former Irish national MMA champion Mick Leonard, who remembers a lot of marketing surrounding the event despite the niche crowd that MMA appealed to at the time.
“Rings - Bushido Ireland in the Point was a brilliant night for me. There was a lot wrong with the event, it was billed as Ireland vs England and that kind of attracted the wrong kind of crowd to begin with. Then the rules were messed up, there were no knees or elbows and because most of the crowd came to see brawls, and we did give them some, I think they wanted more.
“All the Irish guys lost on the night apart from me as far as I remember, and Rings was a big deal back then,” explained Leonard. “There were about 4000 people in the arena that night and when I won the place went crazy. It had been given a good bit of coverage—there were ads on bus stops and it was scheduled to be televised by TV3—so I became a minor celebrity for a few weeks. I remember being stopped in Dundrum Shopping Centre by people who were there, it was pretty cool,” he recalled.
Despite Rings not even filling half the arena according to Leonard’s account, English promotion Cage Rage brought their Contenders: The Real Deal to the Dublin arena in 2007. It seems that most of the people outside of the Irish MMA community have no recollection of the event, and although it might have been successful than the Rings show, it certainly didn’t sell out the way UFC’s first two trips to Dublin in 2009 and 2014 did.
BAMMA seem to have a way better chance at getting the arena over 5000 mark on the night due to the card they have put together. Surging featherweight Tom Duquesnoy defends his title against Brendan Loughnane in the main event. More importantly, a legend of the Irish scene, Chris Fields, will lock horns with Christopher Jacquelin in the co-main event. Northern Ireland’s Alan Philpott takes on Regis Sugden for the British title on the night and various established Irish pros like Catherine Costigan, Damien Rooney, Philip Mulpeter, Conor Cooke, Karl Moore, Myles Price, John Redmond and Connor Dillon will also compete at the event.
The number of notable Irish amateurs that will compete for the first time as professionals at BAMMA 22 might make the card even more appealing for diehard MMA fans. John Kavanagh’s protégé James Gallagher will make his first professional bow on the night, and the anticipation around the SBG man’s bout is like nothing the Irish scene has witnessed before. Another bout that pits two debuting pros against one another is Adam Caffrey versus Dylan Tuke, and given their outstanding amateur careers, the flyweight contest is shaping up to be one to remember.
There has been a lot of talk of “bandwagon” MMA fans since McGregor’s emergence. The term is a bit rich considering that just over 1000 people went to see ‘The Notorious’ win his featherweight and lightweight titles under the Cage Warriors banner in Dublin. However, at least 10,000 people will tell you that they were there on them nights. That being said, people want to be early to the party so the snobby hipster MMA fans will not undermine them. For those people, BAMMA 22 is a must.
For the Irish MMA community, the diehards that go to regional events, the card spells guaranteed excitement. However, with over 20 fights scheduled for the night, it might be a bit too much action for the casual fan.
One thing is for sure though, the number on the gate will certainly indicate if the loyalty of the crowds we saw at UFC’s Dublin event is more with McGregor and brand itself than it is with the sport as a whole.
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