Well the long wait for Irish fight fans is nearly over. It has been more than five years since the UFC last graced the little island that is Ireland. The UFC is a different animal than it was back then, of course if would be after half a decade!
Let’s set the scene here and get a bit of perspective. Rashad Evans was the light-heavyweight champion, GSP has just made his first title defense, BJ Penn was the lightweight champ and there were only five weight divisions in the UFC. In 2009 the UFC held a total of 19 events, this year already in the first 7 months they have held 23 events, with numbers 24 and 25 to take place by the end of the week.
With the additions of new weight classes and more events the whole landscape of the UFC has changed dramatically and that does have a knock-on affect to cards, to which I will compare the upcoming Dublin show to that of its counterpart over five years ago.
First things first, in 2009 Dublin received a ‘numbered’ card with UFC 93. To have a ‘numbered’ card nowadays is such a prestigious thing for cities and is now an ever growing rarity outside of the Americas. This year Dublin receives a ‘Fight Night’ and by its nature is considered a third rate card by UFC standards behind UFC on FOX and the aforementioned ‘numbered’ cards.
Let us compare main and co-main events. UFC Dublin 2014 has Conor McGregor vs, Diego Brandao in the main event slot and Gunnar Nelson vs. Zak Cummins in the co-main event. UFC 93 had Rich Franklin vs. Dan Henderson and Shogun Rua vs. Mark Coleman.
Let us look at the accomplishments of the competitors of those four fights:
Conor McGregor, 2-0 in the UFC.
Diego Brandao, 4-2 in the UFC, TUF 14 winner.
Gunnar Nelson, 3-0 in the UFC.
Zak Cummins, 2-0 in the UFC.
Rich Franklin, former UFC middleweight champ.
Dan Henderson, former two-weight Pride champ.
Shogun, former UFC champ and Pride grand prix champ.
Mark Coleman, former UFC heavyweight champ and Pride grand prix champ.
The difference between the two sets of fighters is off the charts but also reminiscent of what events outside of the US used to be like. The UFC threw their ‘legends’ or ‘star fighters’ onto overseas cards in order now to bolster fan interest but now they don’t really need too. They use local fighters to sell cards, hence McGregor main eventing.
Speaking of local fighters, back in 2009 Tom Egan was the only local representation on the UFC Dublin card. Many will say that his selection was way before his time as he went on to lose a one-sided affair against John Hathaway. This time however, Irish MMA has a total of six fighters (including Gunnar Nelson) competing on the ten fight card, all of whom are there on merit rather than the UFC needing an Irishman.
Yes the 2014 card does not have the star power of that of its predecessor but it also goes inline with how the UFC has progressed since then. Many ‘old school’ (a term I am using to represent fans that went to UFC 93) fans are not happy with the card. After five years of wishing and then hounding Dana on Twitter, once it became popular in Ireland, they finally have an event to look forward too and unless they were interested in grassroots Irish MMA then they have only got a fighter they know for two fights as the main event.
I was there at UFC 93, it was my first event and after being to seven since it still remains as the single best event I’ve been too. Am I excited for UFC Dublin this year? You bet your ass I am but I have been deeply involved with Irish MMA for the past 3 years and I’ve watched all these Irish fighters develop on the local scene before flourishing on the big scene. This event hits close to my heart but I have to respect that not many people are in the same boat as me. Not many have been so involved with the local scene and it is their opinions and views that are the majority.
But this years card sold out in record time you say? Yes of course it did! We have six fighters who train in Ireland competing on this UFC card, they have friends and family and teammates all wanting to see them compete on the worlds grandest stage. Add that to the loyal Irish MMA followers and the casual UFC fan wanting to witness a “UFC” event for the first time and don’t forget the Conor McGregor fan, who has been a fan of McGregor since he became a nationwide celebrity and thus becoming an occasional UFC fan in the process.
You have all these different type of groups of people vying for around 9,000 tickets. It was always bound to sell out.
Yes 2009 was a completely different card to that of the one taking place this weekend but the UFC and MMA in general in the country was at a different place. It serves as an example of the evolution of the sport, and of course some people will like and others wont but at the end of the day it is a ‘Fight Night’ and it does feature a few fighters that in a few years you will look back upon and think to yourself that you missed a chance to see him compete in what is Irish MMA grandest ever showing ‘UFC Fight Night Dublin’.