Guest column: 'We really needed this'
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Mo chara Petesy Carroll, one-third of the famed Ringer MMA Show trio, which also includes TMITH Chuck Mindenhall, is the godfather of Irish MMA media.
On Saturday evening, he attended the first local MMA show in Ireland since February 2020, Cage Legacy 13.
While the rest of the MMA community was focused on another UFC/Bellator Saturday night, the ever-important Irish MMA scene, which is enjoying a renaissance as of late, needed an event like this to help kick-start things since the pandemic.
Petesy covered the event and was kind enough to file this for us. Enjoy.
In a secluded hotel in Meath, 20 miles from the scene of Conor McGregor’s coronation moment at the 3 Arena in 2014, mixed martial arts emerged from the darkness of the pandemic on Saturday with Cage Legacy 13.
Across the border in Northern Ireland, due to the U.K. easing restrictions recently, fight cards have been taking place regularly since June.
The mood in the venue on Saturday for the all-amateur card -- the first MMA offering of any description in the Republic since February 2020 -- was one of relief, gratitude and excitement.
“A Pivotal Moment”
“For the last two years, we haven’t been able to do anything,” explained Andy Ryan, one of the founding fathers of the Irish sport.
“For the young fighters, there has been nothing to work towards in terms of competition. A lot of them are at a pivotal moment in their careers, whether it’s climbing the amateur ladder or beginning to turn pro. We really needed this.”
Although Cage Legacy 13 was closed off to the general public, the magic of the regional community was on display.
Legends of the scene like Ryan, Owen Roddy and Philip Mulpeter dart in and out of the backstage area cornering fights, or merely spectating. Active professionals like Bellator’s Charlie Ward or Combate Global’s Patrick Lehane generously offer their time to the next generation of Irish hopefuls without fanfare or flattery.
All seemed right again, at least in the world of Irish MMA.
The Next Irish Champions
Joe McColgan and Paul Hughes’ recent capture of Cage Warriors titles have made Belfast’s Fight Academy Ireland the de facto top team on the island. Head coach Pat McAlister underlined the importance of amateur events like Cage Legacy 13 as a rite of passage for the future stars of Irish MMA, including his own UFC hopefuls.
“These cards are so important. If you want to get into a situation like Paul’s or Joe’s, you need these fights,” said McAlister.
“The guys I have here today are the same guys that will be preparing for Cage Warriors title fights in five or six years. I know there is no crowd today, but to be getting used to the experience of competing is vital.”
Ever since the death of João Carvalho in 2016, the scene that created the likes of McGregor and the cast of the UFC’s Irish Invasion has undergone wholesale changes. Outside of the banner shows like Bellator and the UFC, it’s very difficult to stage professional fights due to the level of medical clearance fighters need to achieve before competing.
The focus of the scene has turned to government regulation and the amateur sport as the Irish Mixed Martial Arts Association (IMMAA), under the guidance of the International Mixed Martial Arts Federation (IMMAF), look to convince the powers that be of MMA’s sporting merit.
Since 2016, the early success of James Gallagher and Leah McCourt proved that some amateur fighters can be as prominent as the majority of professionals. 18-year-old Max Lally - who claimed the super lightweight (165 pounds) title at Cage Legacy 13 - has all the makings of the next marquee amateur from the Emerald Isle.
The decorated grappler has trained with the famed Danaher Death Squad, competed in Eastern European wrestling tournaments and recently was crowed IMMAF World Youth Champion. With Roddy and McGregor’s wrestling coach Sergey Pikulskiy in his corner, the intrigue surrounding the teen has been palpable.
Even with all of his early plaudits, Lally understands the importance of the scene being active to achieve his goal of competing in the UFC.
“It’s the only way we’re going to get better,” said the newly-crowned champion. “As a country, if we don’t compete against each other, how far are we going to get? We need to be fighting each other now, so when we get to the big stage we can come together and compete as a nation.”
Around the world, the health and wellbeing of Irish MMA is wrongfully evaluated based on Conor McGregor’s most recent contest. Meanwhile, McColgan and Hughes have been crowned Cage Warriors champions, Ian Garry has signed with the UFC following his title capture and Peter Queally and Sinead Kavanagh are scheduled to fight for Bellator gold.
That being said, the most important fight in Irish MMA at the moment is not taking place in a ring, a cage or an Octagon.
The biggest victory for the scene right now is clinching government regulation, which will allow the sport to be policed and vetted in the same way Gaelic Games, soccer and rugby are. Five years into the fight for government recognition, the tireless work of people within the scene like Liam Óg Griffin and Tim Murphy, among many others, continues.
Ryan, who has been on the front-line of the fight since it began, remains confident that IMMAA will achieve government recognition in the future.
“I think we’re a big enough community to stand on our own. We have a lot of clubs and members onboard with IMMAA and I think we’re going in the right direction. We’re doing the right work, and it’s a lot of work,” said Ryan.
“I take my hat off to all the people who preparing the paper work and who are in constant communication with the government. I really believe it will all be worth it one day.”
There will be many more bouts with regulation in the future, but this night was all about celebrating the rebirth of an infamous conveyor belt, as the Republic of Ireland’s mixed martial arts scene growls back into gear.
You can follow Petesy Carroll’s work here and here. He also does great work for MMA On Point. Photo courtesy of Petesy Carroll.
Great article Petesy. I love going to Cage Legacy cards and I can't wait until they reopen to fans, sooner rather than later. I'd love to see all the clubs get together and push for more regular Cage Legacy cards too. Maybe we might even see Battlezone be brought back I to action too!
Going to keep an eye out on Max Lally now!