Before Saturday's UFC Fight Night Poirier vs. Duffy, journalist Ralph Welch takes a look back at the last time the UFC visited The Emerald Isle from unique perspectives. Today, Aisling Daly provides her viewpoint of the last Dublin card from afar. Check back Oct. 19 for Paddy Holohan's experience from inside the Octagon. Part 1: Welch shares his standpoint from the 2014 Dublin visit
Aisling Daly has bittersweet memories of the UFC’s unforgettable visit to Dublin last year.
The event, headlined by Conor McGregor’s bout with Diego Brandao, featured many of the Irish strawweight’s compatriots from Straight Blast Gym (SBG). With McGregor as the star attraction, the camp was building a reputation for producing some of European MMA’s finest talent. The UFC’s first visit to Dublin in five years gave the tight-knit team an opportunity to prove their worth on a global stage.
Unfortunately Daly would not be there to experience it with them.
“Four weeks prior to Dublin I’d gotten on the plane to Vegas to go on The Ultimate Fighter,” she said. “I knew the card had been announced. I knew I had teammates fighting on the card. But I honestly didn’t know anything about what was going on: whether anybody had got injured, if there were any additions to the card. I knew nothing because on The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) you are literally locked away from the rest of the world.”
Daly was part of the extraordinary 20th season of TUF that pitted the finest female strawweights in the world against each other, all vying for the inaugural UFC title. It was an opportunity that Daly couldn’t refuse.
She knew, however, that not being able to support her team on their biggest night would be an emotional experience, particularly good friend Paddy Holohan, who opened up proceedings on UFC Fight Pass versus Josh Sampo in his first outing at the flyweight limit.
“I watched the fights a day or so later on tape delay,” she said. “I was super-nervous, super-excited. This was Paddy’s first time making 125 lbs. I remember thinking ‘Did he make the weight? If he did, did he make it well? Has he recovered? What way is this going?’”
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Holohan showed no sign of nerves as he dispatched Sampo with a spectacular first-round finish that sent the Irish crowd, packed to the rafters even before the opening bell, into raptures.
“To see the reaction of the fans absolutely mind-blowing. I was so happy for my teammate and my friend but I was a bit heartbroken that I couldn’t be there to experience it with him myself.”
Holohan’s win set the tone for an evening of unparalleled Irish success, though it wasn’t without some nervous moments. Cathal Pendred was clinging onto his senses in the first round of his middleweight scrap with Mike King. The American seemed one clean punch from victory when the klaxon sounded.
“That was pretty crazy,” said Daly. “Myself and Tecia Torres were watching the fight together. Mike King was her teammate and Cathal was mine. It looked like he was on the way out. It was gut-wrenching to watch. It was completely nerve-wracking, hair-on-the-back-of-your-neck stuff, hoping that he’s going to do the business.”
Ultimately Pendred prevailed in an astonishing second round comeback. A win for adopted Irishman Gunnar Nelson, the Icelander who has made Dublin his home during training camps at SBG, followed as momentum built towards the main event. Even though her team had secured a clean sweep thus far, Daly was still beset by nerves when headline act Conor McGregor made his entrance.
“Brandao had a good reputation. He was going to be a tough opponent for Conor. I wasn’t taking anything for granted, even at that point.”
Of course, McGregor prevailed to punctuate a historic night for his nation and launch his own meteoric rise to the top of the featherweight ranks.
Freed from her obligations on The Ultimate Fighter, Daly was finally reunited with McGregor and the rest of her teammates some two months later, hearing first-hand their views on that momentous night.
“They were still buzzing,” she said. “The way one of the guys described it to me was it was like someone put a speaker on your chest due to the vibrations of the crowd. People are still talking about UFC Dublin now. Even Dana White and Lorenzo Fertitta are still talking about how it was the craziest crowd they’ve ever seen and the best atmosphere they’ve ever experienced. After hundreds of UFC events, that’s no small thing for them to say.”
The testimony of all who were privy to that amazing night in Dublin has helped prepare Daly for the wall of noise that soon awaits her at The O2 Arena. She gets a chance to make up for lost time when she squares off against Brazilian Ericka Almeida on October 24th as the UFC returns to Dublin after 15 months away.
The hometown favourite is expecting a raucous reception and vows not to be over-awed by the occasion.
“The Irish fans get behind their own,” she said. “I’m aware of how the crowd are going to react. I’m aware of the sound experience I’m going to have. I’m ready for all that. That crowd is all there for me, screaming for me, cheering for me. Everyone is going to be against her. It’s no pressure for me. It’s just going to be enjoyable to be able to walk out to that crowd.”
Ralph Welch has had his work featured on BT Sport, The Mirror and UFC.com amongst others. Follow him on Twitter at @RalphWelchMMA