Learning under Fire: The Development of Cathal Pendred

Fightland Blog

By Peter Carroll

Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

Cathal Pendred’s early MMA outings were showcases of strength, will and determination. Despite being a complete beginner with no background in combat sports, the Dubliner naturally gravitated towards the wrestling aspect of the sport which provided him with the easiest transition from his days of mauling, scrummages and hard tackling in his Schools rugby career.

In its formative years, Irish MMA boasted several seasoned jiu jitsu practitioners, John Kavanagh and Andy Ryan among others, who provided competitors with a fundamental knowledge of ground fighting. To add to that, the country’s strong foothold in the art of pugilism and the amount of dedicated training facilities allowed the early MMA fighters to gain a certain well-roundedness to their games.

As with a lot of European countries, wrestling appeared to be one of the areas that the Irish fighters seemed to struggle with, but it was never a problem for Pendred. The physically imposing welterweight would rag doll opponents and suffocate them under his high pressure top game. It was that dominant control that saw the Dubliner win a national title under the Cage Contender banner just over a year into his career.

“Most guys who get into MMA usually have a base in another martial art that they take into it, when I started out anyway, but I literally had nothing,” explained the TUF 19 cast member. “I played a bit of rugby, but I had no experience in any combat sports. Wrestling was something that I just took to quickly, it was the most natural progression for me.

“When I started out a lot of my victories came from me being able to impose my will through wrestling, but the only reason I used it so much was because I was only developing the rest of my game.”

Pendred’s winning ways caught the eye of breakthrough European promotion Cage Warriors and he soon proved to be one of their premier 170 pounders using the same grinding style that he had ran through the Irish scene with. In March 2013 the SBG fighter became the CWFC champion on the back of a decision win over Gael Grimaud and in retrospect he highlighted how the game he displayed in them times was utilized more out of necessity than choice.  

“When I was coming up with Cage Warriors I fought an awful lot of seasoned grapplers like Danny Mitchell, David Bielkheden, Gael Grimaud and Bruno Carvalhothese guys are black belts in BJJ.

“Even though I was confident in my own skills, I didn’t want to try anything too crazy on guys of their level at the time. I did well though, I fought these accomplished grapplers and won with that type of game plan. Although people didn’t see much of it then, I was always sharpening my other tools in the gym,” said Pendred

The most dynamic shift in Pendred’s style came when he fought Che Mills last June in front of his hometown crowd. The Dubliner cites the Mills bout as the first time he felt like a complete fighter as he matched the English knockout artist in the striking department before claiming a TKO victory over him in the third round.

He said: “When I fought Che Mills I had it in my head that I was going to stop him with strikes, I know I attempted one submission on him, but I wanted to show my striking in that fight.

“It was in the Che Mills fight that I really felt like a complete martial artist. I was able to stand with a UFC veteran who is considered a very good striker and I ended up beating him by TKO.

“The reason why people have seen a different approach from me in the UFC and on TUF is because I have completely changed as a fighter.

“I have far more ability in the striking department and as we saw at the Dublin card, I’m comfortable going for submissions now too.”

Given that the Mills fight was Pendred’s last outing outside of UFC competition, the former Cage Warriors champion was asked whether there was an onus on him to put on more exciting showings with the world’s flagship MMA promotion.

Having fought to a decision loss in a bout full of thrills and spills in the semi-final of TUF 19 before his comeback submission win over Mike King at Dublin’s July event, Pendred is adamant that his new found style is based on his constant development.

“The fans want to see exciting fights and I want to be in exciting fights. The UFC reward their fighters for putting on a show but I certainly haven’t changed my style just to make my fights more spectacular or anything like that.

“People who have watched my career from the start might have seen a different approach from me in the past, but that’s only because I’ve always been playing catch-up to the other guys,” he said.

Cathal Pendred makes his first UFC appearance at welterweight on October 4 at UFC Fight Night - Nelson vs Story against Gasan Umalatov.

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