It’s fight week baby!
We are only days away from the Irish annexation of Bellator. The second coming of Irish MMA.
On Saturday February 23, Bellator returns to the 3Arena for the third time in as many years for Bellator 217 – Gallagher vs. Graham. Compared to previous visits, Irish fighters completely dominate the fight card having 15 out of 32 fighters, an incredible 46.87 per cent! This would be 18 but due to injuries, SBG’s Sinead Kavanagh, John Redmond and Karl Moore unfortunately won’t be taking part.
We can already here the crowd singing “You’ll never beat the Irish”.
Mixed martial arts was first brought to prominence in Ireland back in 2014 when the UFC arrived for its second time on the Emerald Isle to host UFC Fight Night 46: McGregor vs. Brandao. Before this, speaking of MMA would generally lead to the question – “What is MMA?”
It was on that night at the 3Arena that Conor McGregor ushered the now well-known quote, “When one of us goes to war, we all go to war”.
The sport has since exploded onto the scene and although Irish participation in the UFC has seen a decline in recent years, fighters have been making quite the name for themselves across other organisations, giving true meaning to the turn of phrase – the fighting Irish. Bellator were quick to notice the potential superstars coming through the Irish ranks last year, when they signed a staggering 16 Irish fighters to their roster.
I've made it da!!
I can't put into words how happy announce that I have singed a contract with… https://t.co/S2rcZiz8sk
— james gallagher (@StrabanimalMMA) April 7, 2016
SBG Ireland (between SBG Concorde and SBG Charlestown) hold an impressive collection of 12 fighters competing this weekend while local rivals, Team Ryano, have three fighters scheduled on the card. There are some very intriguing bouts to look forward to, including two fights pitting the two Dublin-based gyms against one another.
Never has there been such a strong Irish presence on a global MMA event and with the recent news that Sky Sports obtained the broadcasting rights to Bellator events for the coming year, fighters have now been awarded a prime opportunity to showcase their talents to a wider audience and thus, cultivate greater profiles for themselves.
Here are five preliminary fights with homegrown fighters to get excited about this coming weekend:
Sam Slater (2-0) vs. Chris Duncan (3-0) – lightweight
SBG’s Sam Slater makes his Bellator bow this weekend and looks to extend his perfect professional record when he takes on unbeaten Scotsman, Chris Duncan. Slater is no stranger to the big stage having previously represented Ireland on two occasions at the International Mixed Martial Arts Federation World Championships in 2015 and 2016. Duncan will be no easy task for the Tuamgraney native, however, as he is also looking to keep his clean sweep of professional wins also and is currently on a 10-fight win streak when you take amateur fights into account.
Slater is cool, calm and collected in both nature and style, so this won’t phase him whatsoever. Duncan has never gone the distance which could be the difference between the two fighters. As the clock ticks on, Duncan may panic and try to scramble to finish, leaving him open to Slater’s slick strikes or even his accustomed rear naked choke. Somebody’s O has got to go on Saturday but one thing is certain, Slater will have the entire 3Arena and The Banner County roaring him on to what he will hope to be a third successive victory in the pro ranks.
Will Fleury (4-1) vs. Shaun Taylor (8-1) – middleweight
Tipperary native, Will ‘F*ckin’ Fleury, will be looking to redeem that shock KO defeat he suffered at Bellator 203 when he takes on Scotsman, Shaun ‘The Disgrace’ Taylor. A fight of obscenities of some sort as both fighter’s nicknames go, this should be an incredibly exciting contest. The Stone Thrower will be looking for redemption following the first loss in his entire career and there’s a feeling in the air that the opponent doesn’t matter to Fleury, who appears to be a man on a mission.
A cult hero of Irish MMA since his amateur days, Fleury has that winning mindset engrained in his game and with the added gratuity of fighting in front of an exuberant Irish crowd and now, Sky Sports cameras, we will undoubtedly see the best he has to offer. Expect to see a strong performance from the SBG prospect this weekend as speaking on his last outing, Fleury stated – “Mark my fucking words, I will be back from this and better next time.”
Paul Redmond (14-7) vs. Charlie Leary (15-9-1) – lightweight
Much to the surprise of most Irish MMA fans and Paul Redmond himself, Team Ryano’s, ‘Redser’ appears on the prelims of Bellator 217 taking on England’s Charlie Leary. Professionally competing since 2011, Redmond has fought at all levels beating Artem Lobov as an amateur under the Battlezone FC banner to the pinnacle of MMA, fighting in the UFC on two occasions. This will be Redser’s second fight with Bellator, having beaten Sergio de Jesus Santos by way of unanimous decision back in 2017. One thing’s for sure, Redmond will be eager to add another win to his record.
— SportsJOE (@SportsJOEdotie) November 24, 2015
Don’t be surprised to see the Dub unleash some of his sleek ground game in a bid to show his employers why he should have been on the 217 main card. What more motivation does fan favourite Redser need, especially against an English counterpart on home soil?
Leah McCourt (1-1) vs. Hatize Ozyurt (2-6) – featherweight
Hailing from Smithfield, Co. Down, Leah McCourt is no stranger to the big stage. In 2015 and 2016, McCourt won gold at the International Mixed Martial Arts Federation World Championships. At the latter tournament she finished each of the opponents placed in front of her. The mother of one, having only competed eight months prior to this event is looking for quick recognition in the women’s featherweight division as she has her eyes set on gold, gold and more gold to wrap around her waist. McCourt has a wealth of experience in her corner this coming weekend as she has been training with Owen Roddy’s at SBG Charlestown.
With the unfortunate withdrawal of fellow featherweight and SBG compatriot, Sinead Kavanagh, McCourt will be flying the flag for women’s MMA in this country when she faces Dutchwoman, Ozyurt. With Ozyurt having been previously knocked out in 17 seconds, McCourt will be very confident in her chances of getting her hand raised in her Bellator debut. With the crowd behind McCourt, as well as plenty of hype, oddsmakers will understandably expect only one outcome this weekend.
Charlie Ward (5-3) vs Jamie Stephenson (4-2) – middleweight
Having failed to make an impression on two occasions of asking in the UFC, SBG’s Charlie Ward is currently riding a two-fight win streak under the Bellator banner. ‘Relentless’ Ward will look to add to that when he fights Brit, Jamie Stephenson. The Mountmeelick man is an uproarious character behind the scenes, having called out rapper, 50 Cent, after his last bout for running his mouth about stablemate and close buddy, Conor McGregor.
Ward is the fighter whose KO victory of John Redmond back at Bellator 187 sparked the unseemly scenes of McGregor jumping into the cage to confront the referee and Irish MMA fans will be curious if ‘The Notorious’ will be in attendance on Saturday night. We will have our eyes peeled on this one for sure.