THE DAY HAS finally arrived. For the first time in five years, the UFC is back in Ireland as the O2 Arena hosts Fight Night.
We’re in our seat and ready to bring you live updates of all the action.
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Conor McGregor defeats Diego Brandao with a first round TKO in the main event
Gunnar Nelson records a win over Zak Cummings by submission in the second round
Norman Parke is victorious against Naoyuki Kotani with a TKO
Ian McCall wins with a unanimous decision against Brad Pickett
Josh Sampo v Paddy Holohan (Holohan TKO first round)
Nikita Krylov v Cody Donovan (Krylov TKO first round)
Trevor Smith v Tor Troeng (Smith unanimous decision)
Mike King v Cathal Pendred (Pendred TKO second round)
Ilir Latifi v Chris Dempsey (Latifi TKO first round)
Phil Harris v Neil Seery (unanimous decision)
Welcome along, folks! We’re live from the O2 Arena in Dublin for the next six hours for what should be an incredible night of mixed martial arts.
Tickets sold out in record time for the event and the crowd is already beginning to pour in ahead of the first preliminary fight, which begins at 5.30pm.
There are ten fights tonight an fans will get the chance to cheer on five Irish fighters, with Dubliner Paddy Holohan the first to make his debut when he takes on Josh Sampo in a flyweight bout to open the night.
Middleweight Cathal Pendred and flyweight Neil Seery are also involved in the prelims before Antrim’s Norman Parke kicks off the main card.
Conor McGregor has been the name on everyone’s lips this week and makes his third appearance in MMA’s premiere franchise in the main event.
Here’s how the card looks:
Prelims – from 5.30pm (all three round bouts)
Josh Sampo v Paddy Holohan (flyweight)
Nikita Krylov v Cody Donovan (light heavyweight)
Trevor Smith v Tor Troeng (middleweight)
Mike King v Cathal Pendred (middleweight)
Ilir Latifi v Chris Dempsey (middleweight)
Phil Harris v Neil Seery (flyweight)
Main card – begins at 8pm (all three rounds except the main event)
Here we go. Tallaght native Paddy Holohan is up against American Josh Sampo in his first ever UFC appearance. The submission specialist, nicknamed ‘The Hooligan’, had a lengthy lay-off through injury been claims he’s as ready as he’ll ever be.
We’re about to find out.
WHAT A START TO THE NIGHT! Holohan comes out on the front foot and knocks his opponent to the floor and claim a first round win through submission with a rear naked choke.
The Dubliner then gives a heartwarming post-fight speech. “I’m one of you,” he tells the crowd. “I’m working class and have come up from nothing.”
Ends it by saying he’d love a good cuppa tea. Great character.
Holohan bounces out of the octagon and who can blame him? The O2 is absolutely buzzing already — and it’s not even 6pm yet!
Next up is the light-heavyweight fight between Nikita Krylov (16-4) and Cody Donovan (8-4).
Cody Donovan — from Denver, Colorado — is definitely playing up his Irish ancestry here to get the home crowd on side. The Rocky Road to Dublin rings out as he makes his way to the octagon.
ROUND 1: Donovan catches Krylov with a left hook but the Ukrainian immediately forces him backwards. Donovan has an arm bar briefly locked in then before Krylov escapes.
A massive groan goes up around the O2 as Krylov catches Donovan flush in the family jewels with a wayward kick, and the action is stopped for a minute or so.
The two go to the mat again and the typically Irish shout of “Ah jaysus, finish him” comes up from some wag in the crowd.
Krylov does really well to get out of a rear choke and then follows it up with a series of strikes to Donovan’s head… AND IT’S ALL OVER! KRYLOV WINS BY TKO!
Barely time to catch breath here. The next bout is just about to get underway — it’s the middleweight contest between Trevor Smith (11-5) and Tor Troeng (16-5-1).
Paddy Holohan celebrates with his Robbie Keane bow and arrow.
ROUND 1: Evenly matched between Smith and Troeng to start things. It’s the first fight tonight to go beyond the first round as well.
ROUND 2: Smith very much on top now as this one goes to the mat early in the second round. He gets a few strikes to Troeng’s head, and then finishes off the round in search of a submission. Troeng gets out on the bell.
ROUND 3: Back on the mat again early in the third and final round and Smith is in control again, keeping Troeng pinned. The American’s jiu-jitsu is one of his strong suits but Troeng is able to keep him out with some good defence.
This one is going to a decision…
TREVOR SMITH WINS BY UNANIMOUS DECISION (29-28, 29-28, 29-28)
Here we go – this place is about to get LOUD! In a few minutes, Dubliner Cathal Pendred (13-2) makes his UFC debut with a middleweight fight against his friend from the Ultimate Fighter house, Mike King (5-0).
Pendred, a former Cage Warriors champion, has bags more experience than King who fights for just the sixth time tonight. Will that translate in the octagon?
The O2 is virtually full already at this point, and we’re only half-way through the prelim card.
Tricolour aloft, Pendred strides to the ring as Italia 90 anthem Put Em Under Pressure gets the crowd even more fired up.
ROUND 1: King tries to silence the ground quickly by lifting Pendred off his feet and driving him backwards off his feet.
Then the first moment that has this Dublin crowd as King catches Pendred square with a thumping right and follows him to the ground to press home his advantage. It looks like it could be all over inside the first couple of minutes but roared on by the crowd, Pendred somehow survives.
There a few more nervy moments as King tries to press home his advantage — Pendred appears to be cut as well — but the Dubliner manages to fight his way back to his feet and make it to the horn.
The crowd, as you’d expect, goes mental.
Heroic stuff – but how much did that round take out of Pendred? That’s the question now.
ROUND 2:Much more even at the start of this second round as both men try to catch the other off guard with a punch. Pendred eventually locks in a hold from behind and gets the takedown but King is able to wriggle free and they’re back on their feet before long.
Now it’s Pendred in control as he takes King Down again and locks in a submission hold. IT’S ALL OVER!! PENDRED WINS!
That is quite an incredible comeback by Pendred. “I feel fantastic,” he says.
He was here in 2009 at UFC 93, sitting in the crowd. “Here I am five and a half years later just because I worked hard and I believed in myself.”
Just to give you a flavour of what it’s like in here, here’s Pendred’s walk to the octagon:
Wow. I’m fit to go home after that but we’re only getting started. Next up, the penultimate prelim fight — and another home fighter, veteran Neil Seery (13-10). He’s up against English flyweight Phil Harris (22-12-0, 2 NC).
ROUND 1: So far, so Seery as he takes control with some superb strikes in this opening round. Rather than following Harris to ground, he stands off and lets his man back to his feet.
That’s easily the first round to Seery though.
ROUND 2: As long as this fight stays standing, you get the feeling that Seery will be in control. The second round is his again. Harris tries to get the takedown early in the round but Seery is able to keep balance and get free. When they do eventually go to ground, it’s Seery who dictates.
The round finishes with Harris on the flat of his back and Seery standing over him, each of his kicks drawing an OLE from the O2 crowd.
ROUND 3: Both men stay on their feet for the most part and when Harris tries the takedown, Seery dodges him. The only real danger here is a cut which has opened up on Seery’s right eye but it doesn’t seem be bothering him too much.
With 20 seconds left Seery goes in for the kill but doesn’t finish Harris off. It doesn’t matter — he’ll win this on the scorecards.
NEIL SEERY WINS BY UNANIMOUS DECISION (30-27, 30-27, 30-27)
As expected, Seery is declared the winner. Clearly emotional, he dedicates the win to his nephew Jamie who was buried on Monday.
That’s three out of three for the Irish lads. A packed O2 can’t ask for more than that!
Alright, on to the final prelim fight of the night. For anyone waiting for TV coverage to start on 3e, you will be joining us after this one is done.
Sweden’s Ilir Latifi (9-3, 1 NC) takes on Chris Dempsey (10-1).
ILIR LATIFI WINS BY TKO, RD 1 2:07
Well, that didn’t take long! Latifi catches Dempsey with a low kick to the left leg, knocking him completely off guard. Before the American has a chance to recover, Latifi is all over him and the referee waves it off after a second or two. Game over, Ger.
So that’s it for a few minutes. We’re going to take a quick break and we’ll be back for all of the main card action at 8pm.
Here we go again! To anyone in front of a TV, you can tune in now on 3e or BT Sport. The main card is just about to get underway with four fights, topped by McGregor v Brandao.
First up, it’s another of the Irishmen — Norman Parke (20-1), from Bushmills, against a man who already has more than 50 fights under his belt, Naoyuki Kotani of Japan (33-10-7).
Parke has his right ankle strapped up. Kotani is having none of the early-fight pleasantries, and slaps Parke’s hand away as the two meet in the centre.
ROUND 1: Kotani’s saved by the bell! Parke has the upper hand at the end of the round and gets a few clean punches and elbows in from his position astride Kotani.
To that point it had been a fairly even first round — Kotani taking the early initiative before Parke responded with a flying knee.
Round 2: Another really good round for ‘Stormin’ Norman who completely takes control and then gets the ground and pound going. The referee takes a long hard look to see if Kotani can continue to keep his guard up and block Parke’s punches… and waves it off!
Parke wins by TKO 2!
Superb celebration by Parke who vaults his way over the side of the octagon and charges towards his fans who are sitting ringside.
“Hey UFC, gimme a top 20 opponent next!” he bellows. “Diego Sanchez, where ya at punk?!”
Four out of four for the Irish so far, and three stoppages inside the distance.
We’ve still got adopted Irishman Gunnar Nelson to come in the penultimate fight of the night… and that McGregor fella too.
But first, it’s time for the man with the finest moustache in all of MMA. American Ian McCall (12-4-1) takes on England’s Brad Pickett (25-8).
Three rounds (or less) of flyweight action coming at you very shortly.
Whisper it but this could be fight of the night. Cathal Pendred’s incredible comeback to beat Mike King is the frontrunner in my book so far.
Safe to say that the crowd are on McCall’s side here. A smattering of boos as Pickett is announced in the octagon.
Round 1: Pickett starts off with two crackling low right leg kicks, the first of which nearly knocks him off balance himself.
Pickett lifts his knee straight into McCall’s groin and the American needs a moment or two to readjust, for want of a better word.
Very little to choose between them so far though. Pickett not quite living up to his ‘One Punch’ nickname but he has landed a few. He might just have shaded that round but it’s a coin toss in my book.
The scourge of all sporting events, the Mexican wave, has started to ripple around the arena. Tickets for tonight were like golddust – would you not just watch the fight?
I wouldn’t dare call it revenge but McCall has just caught Pickett square in the groin. What goes around, I suppose…
Round 2: Even stevens again – a few good body shots from McCall; Pickett hits back with a left.
Not quite fight of the night material here. Three minutes left for one of these men to take control…
Round 3: McCall is probably landing the cleaner punches now and strikes with a leg sweep to bring Pickett down to the ground, stamping his authority on this final round.
He finishes off with a few strikes to the head. Will that be enough to seal it for McCall?
IAN MCCALL WINS BY UNANIMOUS DECISION (30-27, 30-27, 29-28)
No argument here. McCall certainly took control in the second half of the fight and frustrated Pickett.
There’s a small section of fans with a California flag; they’ll be delighted with that one.
There’s a bit of debate about McCall’s “Uncle Creepy” nickname. No debate about the quality of his moustache though.
Now… Gunnar Nelson may have been born in Reyjkavik but you can expect him to get as raucous a welcome as any of the Irish fighters on the card here tonight.
Gunni trains out of John Kavanagh’s Straight Blast Gym with McGregor, Pendred et al, and is a serious favourite with the home crowd.
Here we go! Gunnar Nelson (12-0-1) comes out to what sounds like a country and western lullaby — maybe he’s trying to put Zak Cummings (17-3) to sleep.
My prediction here? Nelson by submission in the first round.
What an ovation for Gunni! Might as well be from Rathfarnham as Reykjavik!
Cagey start to this. “There’s only one Gunni Nelson” rings out from the fans…
Round 1: Cummings gave as good as he got in that round but bar a few clean strikes from both men, it was a tame enough opener. Good defence on both sides.
Wrestling is one of Cummings’s strengths but Nelson is more than happy to go toe-to-toe as he tries to take him to the mat. It actually looks like Cummings is getting on top a little but Nelson takes him down and gets that rear choke hold locked in, despite Cummings best attempts to fend him off.
ALL OVER – NELSON WINS BY SUBMISSION, RD 2
4:48 was the official time of Cummings’s submission there. He managed to hold off for 20 or 30 seconds but just couldn’t keep Nelson at bay for the 12 second to the buzzer.
“This is the best crowd I’ve ever fought for,” says Nelson, who clearly knows how to keep the crowd onside.
He wants a top five or top 10 opponent in the welterweight division next. If he keeps choking opponents out like that, who’s to say he can’t have it?
TICK TOCK, TICK TOCK. The atmosphere has been at fever pitch since I arrived at the O2 at 5pm this afternoon. Now, four and a half hours later, it’s nearly time.
In a few short moments, Conor McGregor will make his way to the octagon and this place will go into OVERDRIVE!
Here comes Brandao! Darude ‘Sandstorm’ belts out as he makes his way to the ring, interrupted by a smattering of boos.
He’s won 22 times, with 14 stoppages. You can bet the Brazilian tries to take McGregor to ground and get an early submission – he admitted as much this week.
Alright Ireland, here we go! Conor McGregor marches to the ring and it’s time for tonight’s main event.
McGregor v Brandao – call it, kids!
We’re up and running. McGregor tries a few early wheel kicks to get things started. Every single person in the building is on their feet.
Brandao tries to take a bit of the sting out of the fight by holding McGregor in a clinch but it’s the Notorious who scores the first big takedown and takes the early initiative. He’s getting some good ground strikes in, but Brandao is defending well.
ALL OVER! MCGREGOR WINS BY TKO, ROUND 1!
Consider the hype well and truly backed up. McGregor wins in the first round as promised!
“It would take something special to come to my home town and take this away from me. There’s not a man in the world who can beat me on this soil.”
McGregor says he’s going backstage to drink some whiskey with the UFC bosses and talk about filling football stadiums. The next time the UFC comes to Dublin, they’re going to need a bigger stadium!
“It’s a clean sweep for the Irish,” McGregor proclaims. “And we’re not here to take part – we’re here to take over!”
That’s that, I guess. It took Conor McGregor just four minutes and five seconds to deliver on his promise and take his UFC record to a perfect 3-0.
You can be sure that he has his eyes on a lot of bigger fish before the end of the year. When the latest featherweight rankings are released, he will almost certainly be a top 10 man. After that, who knows?
That’s it from us tonight at the O2. It was, you have to say, a massively successful return to Dublin with five out of five Irish wins — and one for Gunni Nelson to boot.
All the headlines tonight belong to one man though. Conor McGregor promised a lot, and he delivered.
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