It’s a typical autumn evening in Dublin – dull, cold and wet. However, behind the doors of Team Ryano on Dublin’s north side, the mood draws a stark contrast to the weather outside.
Visitors from the infamous Tristar Gym are in town and an agreement has been made between coaches Andy Ryan and Eric O’Keefe. At the expense of helping the Canadian team travel to and from the various obligations that Joseph Duffy, Tom Breese and Stevie Ray have to get through before Saturday, an impromptu seminar with wrestling coach Matthew Miller has been organized for the Irish team.
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A multiple time Canadian wrestling champion, Miller guides the attentive group through various subtleties and concepts regarding single-leg takedowns. Behind the large matted area where the seminar takes place, Ryan, O’Keefe, Breese and some other members of the Ryano crew share jokes, stories and techniques.
O’Keefe’s accent doesn’t sound the same as the thick Dublin brogues around him, but you can tell he has had his fair share of experience dealing with the quick and sometimes cutting wit of the Irish.
“I just handed my Irish passport in at the desk in Dublin and the guy said ‘Welcome home sir’,” the colossal coach tells me. “My Dad was Irish, so I’m Irish, that’s how I see it.”
Cornering Denis Kang back in 2009 for UFC’s first visit to the Republic of Ireland, O’Keefe is familiar with walking out in front of the passionate Irish support, but this time will be “special” for a number of reasons, according to the Tristar man.
“It’s going to be special because I’m going to get booed when I’m walking out with Tom and then I’m going to get the big cheers when I walk out with Joe,” he says with a smile.
Beside O’Keefe, Irish flyweight Neil Seery is stretching out in a fenced enclosure the team use for sparring. He breaks his focus from his various poses to occasionally join in on the banter. The Irish flyweight strips off layers upon layers of training gear after he finishes, which he wears to accelerate his weight cutting progress. It is a new dynamic that the Dubliner has to deal with as he has just undergone his first sport-specific strength and conditioning regime ahead of a fight.
“Only a few pounds to go, it’ll be no hassle,” he says, dismissing the talk of a dramatic weight cut ahead of his meeting with Jon Delos Reyes.
As Seery leaves the space, Tom Breese enters with Paul Redmond. UFC featherweight Redmond is the main link between the two teams as he left Ryano for a month to train in Montreal before returning for fight week. The duo grapple for a few rounds to get Breese sweating, knocking precious pounds off his weight cut.
By the time everybody leaves the premises, darkness has descended on the industrial estate that Team Ryano is situated in. The breaking news of Duffy’s withdrawal breaks into the quiet night, sending social media threads into convulsions.
Paddy ‘The Hooligan’ Holohan’s bout with Louis Smolka will be drafted in for the main event instead of the Donegal man’s meeting with Dustin Poirier. In quite an amazing ascent, albeit assisted by the cancellation of both the event’s co-main and main event, the Dubliner has gone from curtain raiser to headliner in the 15 months it took UFC to revisit the Irish capital.
Unfortunately for O’Keefe, there will be no big cheers for Joe to balance out a potentially frosty reception for Breese. However, there is no doubt that Holohan’s hometown crowd will throw every punch with him when he takes to the Octagon for his main event contest with Louis Smolka.
Peter Carroll is a longtime MMA journalist who writes for the Irish Mirror, FIGHTLAND and SevereMMA.com. Follow him on Twitter at @PetesyCarroll