It’s a great hook. Not even “Irish” Joe Duffy can deny that. But as the Donegal native prepares for his UFC debut this Saturday against Jake Lindsey, he now has the opportunity to introduce himself to the Octagon faithful as a lightweight with world championship potential, and not just the last man to beat Conor McGregor.
“The fans should expect somebody who comes to fight and is always looking to finish,” Duffy said, and his 11 finishes in 12 victories, ten in the first round prove that he’s not just handing out a snappy soundbite.
Yet when called up to the big show earlier this year, first to face Vagner Rocha and now Lindsey at UFC 185 in Dallas, the immediate go-to line about Duffy was that he was the guy who finished the top featherweight contender from Dublin in 38 seconds back in 2010. Want more? In the fight before his win over McGregor, he defeated TUF Smashes winner Norman Parke. But after building a perfect 10-0 record, he suffered his first pro loss to Ivan Musardo in 2011 and walked away from the sport.
“I think a lot of people were confused when I left the sport,” he said. “Maybe some put it down to the loss. I just saw it as an opportunity to improve myself as a martial artist and it's an experience that I feel was very beneficial.”
That experience was a professional boxer.
“I had the opportunity to work with a world-class coach in John Tandy and he had belief in me so I thought I'll give it a shot; worst comes to worst I go back to MMA with better hands.”
Just as in MMA, Duffy excelled in the Sweet Science, compiling a 7-0 pro record before injuries stalled his progress and had him thinking about his old sport once more.
“I think the main reason was because I missed MMA,” Duffy said when asked why he returned. “I've been doing different martial arts my whole life, so it was a big adjustment; also, I was plagued with hand problems and that definitely got me frustrated sitting on the sidelines.”
Stepping back into the world of MMA in 2014, Duffy scored a submission win over Damien Lapilus and a knockout of Julien Boussuge, and it was like he never left, even if he admits it looked easier than it was.
“It definitely took a while,” he said of getting acclimated to MMA again. “Even now there are things I've forgot and I'm rediscovering. Week-by-week I feel like things are coming back slowly.”
Things had also changed significantly in the sport over the previous three years, especially at home in Ireland, where MMA has exploded into the public’s consciousness.
“I think it's been incredible and great for the country as a whole,” he said. “MMA is now on mainstream TV in Ireland so that shows just how big it's got in a short space of time.”
A big reason for that is McGregor, who went from obscurity on the local scene to headlining UFC 189 in Las Vegas this July against featherweight champion Jose Aldo. Duffy didn’t have any inkling things would take off like this for “The Notorious” one at the time they fought, but he’s pleased for his countryman.
“Conor's a great fighter but I don't think anybody could see him exploding on to the scene the way he did,” Duffy said. “But all credit to him. He's backed up everything he's said and now he fighting for that UFC gold.”
It’s Duffy’s turn now, and as he begins to make that climb up the ladder, he took the trek to Montreal to work with the renowned Tristar team home to the likes of Georges St-Pierre and Rory MacDonald.
“All their fighters have a very humble, down-to-earth attitude,” he said. “They’re very methodical in their approach and obviously there's an abundance of talent there so I felt I would fit right in.”
It’s been a long and winding road for Duffy to get here and he appreciates that journey. Some say he should have been in the UFC back in 2011, but in his mind, he’s right on time.
“I would say the call came at the right time,” he said. “I believe I'm a lot more well rounded than I was in the past and things have slotted into place at the right time for me.”