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Combat

28th Feb 2023

‘Enough to send shivers down anyone’s back’ – What makes MMA nights in Ireland so special?

SportsJOE

MMA

You get invested, even if you didn’t plan on it.

Ireland is a country that has always had a strong love for sport, writes Donal Long. From GAA to rugby, there are few people in the country who don’t let sport influence their life. Some get their boots laced up to walk out at the Aviva stadium to represent their country, while others get their rain jackets ready to coach the kids on a Sunday morning. Either way, sport is a rich part of Irish heritage.

As the years have gone on, the Irish interest in combat sport has increased massively. We have the success stories of the country to thank for this. Katie Taylor has proved the doubters wrong, becoming an icon to Irish people and women all over the world in the process, while Conor McGregor became a global superstar, bringing the sport of MMA to new heights.

The love for combat sport now runs deep in the country, which is something MMA organisation Bellator has picked up on.

Bellator has made a habit of bringing their top MMA fighters to Ireland as frequently as they can. World champions and global superstars have fought in the 3 Arena over recent years, but why? What makes Dublin such a special place to host an MMA event?

If you have been to any of the Bellator cards in Dublin, then there is no doubt you know why. If you haven’t, let me describe it to you…

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‘Zombie’ nation

Bellator 291 took place in the 3Arena on Saturday. On the night, the arena wasn’t filled, so there were some empty seats as you gazed up at the stands. If you were to close your eyes and just listen however, there were moments when it sounded like a packed out stadium.

Those in attendance made up for the empty seats, as if they were instructed to do so. People all over the country should now be familiar with Peter Queally’s iconic walkout.

Walking out to ‘Zombie’ by The Cranberries, this is something everyone should experience as an Irish person. Each and every audience member in the arena was on their feet singing for the duration of the song. The togetherness in the atmosphere was enough to send shivers down anyone’s back. The roaring crowd gave the fight a gladiatorial feel.

It really felt as if Queally’s Irish supporters were sending him into a battle to the death, which creates an atmosphere like no other. This isn’t a flash in the pan, once off thing either. Every time Queally walks out to that 3 Arena crowd, they all get behind him.

The fans in the 3Arena didn’t save their voices for Queally, by any means. The card started at around 5pm on Saturday. From the first Irish fighter to the last, every single one got supported in the successful moments they had. No matter who it was, every fighter who represented Ireland was celebrated like the last. Each win felt special and significant, and the fans really cared about the Irish getting the right result.

The encouragement that the fans gave their fighters in losing positions showed how deep their support went. More than anything, these fans wanted their fighters to win. This even includes Pedro Carvalho and Aseal Adjoudj, who can consider themselves adopted Irishmen.

Bellator

‘They’re Irish, which is all that matters’

Each of Ciaran Clarke’s suffocating takedowns were celebrated like a goal or a try in the World Cup. While Sinead Kavanagh was landing punch after punch on her opponent, with
shouts getting louder and the heart rates increasing as she damaged her opponent.

Again, voices weren’t reserved for the top names on the card. Every successful Irish punch, kick and takedown felt like it personally meant something to people in the crowd. You get invested, even if you didn’t plan on it.

These aren’t just athletes that get paid to compete. This is the guy you went to primary school with. This is the girl you see in the shop every Sunday. This is your sister’s boyfriend’s third cousin that you met once in the pub. Maybe you have never heard of this person in your entire life. But they’re Irish, which is all that matters. Which is really what makes these events so special.

Even Ukrainian champion Yaroslav Amosov was feeling the love from the Irish crowd. He put on a show for the 3 Arena, and his best moments were thanked by an atmospheric
reception from the crowd. There were even proud Ukrainian flags scattered through the Dublin crowd, which no doubt gave further inspiration to the champion.

If you are Irish and you are a fan of sport in general, there is definitely something in these MMA events for you. Every time an Irish fighter walks into that cage, it’s like the crowd re-sets. Each fight means the crowd does whatever they can to encourage their native warriors.

It doesn’t matter if they’re from Dublin, Galway or Cork. It is Ireland versus the whole world, and there is no doubt that feeling is evident on fight night.

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