It may have taken more than two decades, but Cathal Pendred is keeping his promise.
“Ever since I came to Dublin when I was four, I always said to myself that I was gonna go back but I never got the opportunity to go back to Boston.”
This Sunday, he’s coming home, and it’s hard to think of a more triumphant way to do it than as a UFC welterweight fighting Sean Spencer. Sure, most rightfully consider Pendred as one of this generation’s Fighting Irish from Dublin, but his origins are in Boston, where he was born in 1987.
The son of Irish parents who made the move to the United States, Pendred’s father was a former policeman in Ireland who earned his law degree and wanted to use that degree abroad. Boston was their destination.
“Even as young as I was I remember how well we were treated,” Pendred recalled. “We were treated nearly like royalty because we were Irish, and so many people claim their Irish heritage and are proud of it, so when they have people from the motherland, they’re treated so well.”
Life went well for the Pendreds in the States, but eventually, homesickness began to seep into the house.
“My dad didn’t want to leave,” Pendred said. “But my mom was homesick and just missed her family.”
The family soon moved back to Dublin. Pendred was only four.
The Ultimate Fighter" width="250" height="375.72046109510086" align="left" />“I remember being devastated at the time,” he said. “I had begun pre-school, I had friends and Boston was my world, and it was being taken away from me. It was difficult for me, but I settled in eventually into Dublin.”
He even picked up the accent. Pendred, now 27, laughs.
“When I first started school over here (in Dublin), I got teased because I had this little Yankee Boston accent. I suppose it eventually withered away. But I still get teased because I refer to my mother as mom, which is a very American thing. That’s one thing that held true and I refuse to give that up, no matter how much teasing I get from friends.”
And now he’s come full circle, the local boy who left town, became a man, and is coming back as one of the best in the world in his particular field. For Pendred, that field is mixed martial arts, and from the first time he put gloves on, he wanted to fight in Boston.
“When I started my path in MMA, I said I was going to return to Boston and get a fight there,” he said. “In 2013, the UFC was going back to Boston and I made it a point to get on that card and unfortunately I didn’t and I was devastated. But I kept going on and I knew I would get there eventually.”
In 2014, Pendred made it to the UFC after a stint on season 19 of The Ultimate Fighter, and along with his SBG Ireland teammates Conor McGregor, Paddy Holohan and Aisling Daly, they captured the imagination of a nation. And while last summer’s epic show in Dublin was seen as something that would never be matched, Saturday’s card at the TD Garden does have the potential to do just that.
“This is really similar,” Pendred said. “Not only is there a handful of us fighting on the night that fought in Dublin, but there’s also a hell of a lot of Irish traveling over. There’s a couple thousand at least flying over from Dublin, which is not an easy thing to do, especially at this time of year when people are a bit more stuck for cash after Christmas. So it just goes to show the following we have here in Dublin.”
Pendred and his teammates take that following seriously, and whether you’re a fighter or a fan, it’s great to see an entire country backing a group of young men and women chasing their dreams.
“It literally does feel like we have the country behind us, and it makes it that much more sweet when you succeed,” he said. “It’s not just you relishing in the glory; there’s the country behind you cheering and feeling like they won too. That’s the great thing about Ireland and I think it’s because we’re such a small nation. We’re a small little island of five million people and we’re always the underdogs. There’s nothing much ever expected of us and we know that, and I think that’s why the country has such great support of its athletes. We want to show that we’re not just this little country no one pays attention to.”
The world is paying attention to each of the Fighting Irish now though, with much expected from the group that has taken the UFC by storm. That hasn’t made fighters like Pendred complacent or timid. It’s only made him hungrier.
“It’s something that’s been built in me and it always feels that way,” he said. “It’s great to have the support and it feels amazing when I win and have these other people relishing in the glory as well, but at the end of the day, I set out in this sport because of my own ambition, my own competitive nature and that’s still in me. That’s the reason I’ve done it from Day One, and if I was fighting in Boston with no one there and no one supporting me, I would still be doing this. It’s an added bonus for me, but it’s not the reason I do it. I do this to achieve greatness.”
Will he get there? Only time will tell that tale, but what he’s shown beyond a shadow of a doubt so far is an iron will that you can’t buy or train. You either have that or you don’t, and as Pendred showed in his epic come from behind UFC debut win over Mike King last July, he’s got it.
“You don’t often have a fight that people constantly talk about,” he said of a fight that saw him nearly get finished several times before he roared back to finish his foe in the second round. “We’re seven months on from that fight now, and every day I’m still getting Tweets about that fight. It means a lot to me and it’s special, so I’m very grateful.”
That doesn’t mean he wants too many of those to be his calling card.
“The Mike King fight was great, it was very entertaining, but I can’t make a career of fighting like that,” he said. “I won’t last very long if I do. I was treading a thin line in that fight and I easily could have lost. I can’t make it that difficult for myself every time. But I suppose it’s like a secret weapon I know I can lean on if need be. That’s not the first time I ended up in bad positions where I should have been put away but I wasn’t. It came down to my stubbornness and also my opponents somewhat breaking. It’s a very difficult thing for a man to comprehend when he throws everything humanly possible at you and you’re still standing there in front of him and they can’t put you away. And it somewhat breaks people sometimes. But I never have to question my heart.”
Don’t worry about this homecoming. Win or lose, Boston will be proud of Cathal Pendred.