Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC
As Joseph Duffy made his triumphant return to MMA last August in Dublin at Cage Warriors 70, the Donegal man knew that a lot had changed since his exodus from the sport to pursue boxing in 2011.
‘Irish Joe’ had cited his previous victories over Conor McGregor and Norman Parke, fighters who had since been signed by UFC, as a reason to reignite his cause with MMA. Making his way to the stage that night in The Helix for his comeback, Duffy received an ovation like he never had before. With the Irish Invasion fully in swing after July’s UFC Dublin, a whole new fan base had transitioned to the sport.
After a five-year absence from Irish soil, last year’s UFC Dublin acted as a perfect launch pad for Irish fighters like Paddy Holohan, Neil Seery and Cathal Pendred. Although Seery had competed for UFC before, the Dublin date allowed the Irish to see the veteran go about his business, which brought about a carnival atmosphere in the 3 Arena. The anticipation for the debuts of Holohan and Pendred was measurable throughout the fight week and as the two SBG men took to the Octagon they received some of the biggest ovations ever heard for debuting fighters in the promotion.
Since signing on the dotted line for UFC this year, Duffy has competed in Dallas and Glasgow. Even though the Scottish city is only a 30-minute flight away and a lot of Irish fans did make the journey, Duffy will feel an energy completely different to Glasgow as he competes in front of a stadium jam-packed with Irish fans on Saturday night. Last year the volume of the crowd swelled in a tribal manner as the Irish fighters traded leather reaching fever pitch for the main event that saw McGregor get the better of Diego Brandao in one round. This time Duffy is guaranteed a memorable ovation and should he take a victory and his momentum in the UFC ranks will reverberate more than ever with the Irish.
There is the McGregor factor too. Although the Dubliner is enjoying an unrivaled popularity in his homeland there are still a number of fans that want to see ‘The Notorious’ derailed. Duffy is already very popular in Ireland, but should he get the better of Dustin Poirier there will be more of an outcry that ever for a rematch between him and McGregor. The Donegal man is a perfect counterpart to McGregor’s and his outspoken manner, which makes him all the more appealing for the interim champion’s critics. McGregor himself claimed that the main event between Poirier and Duffy is part of his contingency plan with the promotion.
According to McGregor, the fact that Duffy is facing another former opponent of his would allow the eventual winner to get a shot at him again. Given the SBG fighter’s plans to move up to lightweight, you can’t help but think he has a point. Certainly, Poirier or Duffy wouldn’t shy away from another bout with McGregor due to the money that’s involved in a showdown with him.
“Joe is not from Dublin,” said McGregor when Ariel Helwani asked him about his former opponent’s main event slotting at UFC Dublin. “He was born in Ireland, but he’s currently in Canada. He’s from London, Wales—I don’t know where the fuck he is from, but he ain’t from here. He has never stepped foot in that arena. He has never trained around this area.
“But, I don’t mind, it’s good business. You sell it as the last man to beat me and you put him against a guy that I’ve beat and it instantly has my name attached to it so, like I said, there is only one thing you can do when you’re faced with good business, you respect it. That’s what I done. I respect good business. Build up those opportunities, maybe a rematch with Dustin, maybe a rematch down the line with Joe. I don’t hold grudges on that.”
Some think it could be too early for Duffy to main event a UFC card as his top billing has come just seven months after his promotional debut. However, should the Tristar fighter prove that he is equal to his main event task, it will open him up to further high-stakes bouts in the future. Should he be able to rise to the occasion as he has in both Dallas and Glasgow, UFC will know they have another massive draw on their hands with Duffy.
Currently ranked 13th in UFC’s lightweight bracket, ‘The Diamond’ is the first ranked UFC opponent Duffy has faced. Regardless of the potential of a rematch with McGregor, a win could see the Irishman enter the top 15 fray at 155 lbs. As the lightweight division is undoubtedly one of the most stacked brackets throughout the promotion there will be plenty of opportunities for Duffy to prove himself as one of the best fighters on the world, a title the modest Donegal man believes he is certainly worthy of.
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