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MMA

22nd Feb 2023

“No hand-outs. Did it the hard way” – Ciaran Clarke on Bellator 291, Drogheda, the future and more

SportsJOE

Ciaran Clarke

“It just goes to show what they do think of me.”

On February 25, Irish MMA fighter Ciaran Clarke will return to the 3 Arena to fight at Bellator 291, in Dublin’s 3 Arena. The card will be headlined by the welterweight title unification bout between Yaroslav Amosov vs Logan Storley.

The 27-year-old from Drogheda will open up the main card, in what will be his fourth time in a row fighting in Dublin. Clarke will come into the bout with a perfect 6-0 record, with all of his wins coming under the Bellator banner.

On Saturday, he will look to add to a record with four finishes (three submissions, one KO/TKO) as he faces Leonardos Sinis. His opponent is fighting out of Thessaloniki, Greece with a professional record of 11-5-1.

Donal Long sat down with Ciaran in SBG headquarters and discussed the event, his training, his hometown and a lot more.

The Drogheda man was originally scheduled to face Keir Harvie in a fight that Ciaran felt was “gonna be action from start to finish.”  However, he now turns his attention to Sinis, hoping for the same result.

“I was confident anyway. Confidence comes from your training. I found out less than two weeks before so the confidence was there anyway.”

Despite it being a late notice change, Clarke states, “Stylistically, I don’t think it matches up too well for him, and it matches up really well for me.”

The Irish fighter will now look to defeat the Greek to go 7-0. “I’m feeling good for it.”

Ciaran ClarkeCiaran Clarke poses for a portrait at The Gibson Hotel in Dublin. (Photo by David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile)

‘The support is unbelievable’ – Ciaran Clarke

Ciaran will be on the main card of a Bellator 3 Arena show for the fourth time in a row come Saturday, which is an opportunity he relishes.

“Looking at the full card and seeing the who’s who on the main card, I was just thinking, no way. It’s full of ex-world champions and well established fighters in Bellator.

“It just goes to show what they do think of me. I’m more and more excited to open up the main card, it’s my third time on a main card. I’m buzzing for it.”

Bellator events in Dublin have developed a good reputation in recent years due to the great atmosphere the crowd provides. Getting behind Irish fighters is something MMA fans around the country do not shy away from. Clarke acknowledges this by stating:

“We have a strong culture of it here. As soon as they hear you from Ireland, from the bottom of the country to the top, the support is unbelievable. It’s an us (Ireland) against the world kind of thing.”

That has been very much evident when it comes to the success of Irish fighters. Although the opportunity of the event is one he is thankful for, Clarke is still fully focused on
getting the right result on Saturday. “It’s the performance for me, I wanna go in there and really show on the night.”

Ahead of the fight, Clarke has felt his training camp has been “going great” and is now feeling excited to get into the cage. “I drive the doubt out with the training.
Leaving no stone unturned.”

As a young fighter, Clarke is still aiming to improve his skill set to reach new heights. “It’s about honing in on what I know is already there. I’m getting better.”

Boring fights have never been an issue for Clarke, and he showed serious heart in his last bout coming back from adversity to secure a submission win. “It probably was my toughest fight.”

However, these back-and-forth fights can be a tough watch for those supporting Clarke. A teammate at SBG remarked, “I’m dreading watching Ciaran’s fight. I’m hoping it’s not
another three-round heart in your mouth job.”

Ciaran is hoping for a quicker night at the office this time around to save his teammates some anguish. “For me, I wanna get in there and put in a good performance. I definitely hope to make this one easy. If I look too far ahead of what’s next, I’m forgetting what’s in front of me.”

Going into his fights, Clarke focuses on getting his hand raised on the night.

“The way I see my fights, I’m 0-0. That’s always my mindset. I’m always in that underdog mentality. That’s all I can do, focus on the man that’s in front of me.”

Ciaran ClarkeRafael Hudson, top, is submitted by Ciaran Clarke during their 150lb contract weight bout during Bellator 285. (Photo by Sam Barnes/Sportsfile)

‘I was the last fight of the night’

When it comes to his mental toughness, nerves don’t seem as severe for Ciaran Clarke, following a hectic debut in the 3 Arena.

“My professional debut on paper was a big success, of course it was,” he declares. Clarke would secure a third round submission, an ideal result. However, it
was the lead up to the bout and the backstage that made his debut a difficult night.

There was no scheduled time for his bout, meaning he wasn’t entirely sure when his fight would take place. If this wasn’t nerve-wracking enough, he was continuously told different times for his opportunity, all depending on fight results.

“The nerves were gone. I was starving, eight hours in the arena. It was a disaster.”

It wouldn’t be until the main event of Bellator 227 finished up that he would get his chance to shine. “Thank God, James Gallagher guillotined the guy in 35 seconds. I’ll never forget the relief. Deadly, ready to go.

“I fought at five past 12 that night. I was the last fight of the night. The lads were cleaning the stands while I was fighting. It was literally just my people there. They ran down to the front. It sounded like the arena was full. So it all worked out.”

His disastrous night didn’t even end there. “The bus ended up leaving. I’m stranded in Dublin with my girlfriend, my sister and her friend. All my friends and family are buzzing, on their way to the nightclub. As far as the win, it was brilliant. As far as everything else, it was a disaster.”

Going into fights now, Clarke remembers the nerves of this night. “Anything after that, if I even know what time I’m on at, I’m happy. It was a testament of mentality. It was harder than the fight.”

‘Always great bringing the crowd up from Drogheda” – Ciaran Clarke

Being from Drogheda is a massive part of the story for Ciaran Clarke. He is proud of where he comes from and the support he gets from his hometown is phenomenal.

“It’s always great with the crowd there. It’s always great bringing the crowd up from Drogheda. It’s always so consistent (people coming from Drogheda), 300 people every time. That’s consistent. It’s not a one-off thing, it’s every time. The support I get from them is amazing. I wouldn’t be where I am without them.”

His appreciation for his Drogheda support could not be higher, even discussing how it drives him further. “I know how much these things cost to come and see me. That means the world to me. It’s literally another reason for me to go and get the win.”

Clarke’s story, so far, has been inspiring to the people of Drogheda, and he means just as much to the town as they do to him. Speaking on what he thinks he means to
the town, he said:

“I think I’m relatable, you know? It’s a small town mentality. They see me as Ciaran down the road. They’re so proud of me, where I came from and what I’m doing now. Obviously, the struggles of the town is hard. The working class mentality. I’m the first to go professionally. Obviously that and chasing the dream of going to Bellator. They see that, they see the struggle that it was to get where I am now. No hand outs, did it the hard way. I think they get behind that.”

Not only does the town of Drogheda mean a lot to Ciaran, but he also feels like he owes a lot to his religion and faith. This largely comes from his upbringing and has brought it into his adult life.

“Growing up we were always going to mass on a Sunday. That was instilled in us very early. They created it in a way that it was an enjoyable thing. You go to mass in the
morning, come home, get lunch, get the donuts. I love Sunday’s now.”

Growing into the fighter he is today, Clarke still holds his faith very close to his heart. “I could go 20-0, but if I’m not a good Catholic, then it’s nothing to me.”

The success he has had in his career thus far has been fantastic, however Ciaran feels he couldn’t have done it alone. “I couldn’t do this without God. Ciaran Clarke could do it, but I do it through God. That’s where I get my strength.”

Not only does he feel like it has helped his career success, but it also played an important part in the direction of his life. “I was given trials in my life and I was able to go down the right way.”

As he looks to the future, Ciaran Clarke is still very focused on the task that is in front of him at Bellator 291. However, he does have another goal for 2023. “As of now this year, it’s definitely to get abroad. Be able to really establish myself in America with Bellator.”

To tune in to see Ciaran Clarke face Leanardos Sinis, the main card starts at 9pm on Saturday, February 25th. Since he is opening the main card, you should see Clarke shortly
after 9pm on Virgin Media Sport.

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