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24th Feb 2018

UFC Dublin experience gave Ariel Helwani an epiphany about the sport

"Conor McGregor is us"

Ben Kiely

Ariel Helwani

UFC Fight Night 46 in Dublin only happened three and a half years ago, but it feels like an age considering what followed.

People may have forgotten, but Conor McGregor headlining the promotion’s highly-anticipated return to these shores was a massive deal for the MMA community in Ireland. At the time, it marked a seismic shift in the country’s attitude to what was a niche sport at the time.

Since that magical night in Dublin, the sport in Ireland has exploded into the mainstream, and now an Irishman is arguably the biggest star in the game.

Ariel Helwani was in Dublin all fight week to cover the event and the experience clearly had a huge impact on him. Speaking on the MMA Beat, he recounted an eye-opening experience he had at the open workouts in the Irish Museum of Modern Art which made him realise there was much more to this sport than what we perceive as the traditional MMA community.

“An event that I’ll never forget is the Dublin show – Conor doing what he did. I’ll never forget being at the open workouts and being outside and some kids, who couldn’t have been older than 12, on their bikes, just kind of hanging around and asking me, ‘Is Conor McGregor in there?’ and I was asking them, ‘Do you know who Conor McGregor is?and they were telling me why they liked Conor McGregor.”

“They were saying, ‘Conor McGregor is us.’ They literally said that. They said, ‘Conor McGregor is us. Conor McGregor gives us hope. Conor McGregor is someone we look up to. He came from the streets and now look at all these people here to see him.'”

Helwani explained that at that moment, he had an epiphany about how culturally significant the event was and that it wasn’t just your bog-standard, generic European card.

“It was one of the first times where I recognised that MMA is bigger than our little bubble and this is a cultural event. This is a guy coming home, promising that he’ll bring the UFC back and the entire community is here to root him on. We don’t see that often in our sport. We see that with GSP coming to Montreal and 124 had that. That was a great crowd. Anderson had that to a degree for 134, but for the most part it’s just events in locations in Las Vegas that means something to us as a community, but not to a country.”

“I don’t think I’ll ever forget that, what a privilege it was to cover that one.”