Charlie Ward (right) with SBG team-mate Conor McGregor. INPHO/Colm O'Neill
UFC Belfast

McGregor got him in the door but Kavanagh says Charlie Ward is worthy of UFC debut

The Irish welterweight makes his bow in the octagon this weekend.

JOHN KAVANAGH IS confident that Ireland’s newest UFC fighter will justify his place on the roster when he makes his debut this weekend in Belfast.

Despite having competed just four times as a professional, Charlie Ward (3-1) will take on undefeated American welterweight Abdul Razak Alhassan (6-0) at the SSE Arena on Saturday night.

Given his relative lack of experience, the news of Ward’s move to the UFC came as a surprise. His status as a training partner of UFC featherweight and lightweight champion Conor McGregor opened the door, but Kavanagh believes Ward will grasp the opportunity.

“Conor was able to leverage some of his influence there,” said Kavanagh, Ward’s head coach at Straight Blast Gym in Dublin. “He’s a fairly new pro, but in saying that, what he’s been able to do would not be that unusual for an American-based fighter to get signed on that.

“As promoters over here know, he’s very difficult to match. He’s a hellish match-up for anybody. The strongest guy I’ve ever met in that weight class without a close second. He’s got solid hands, really tough wrestling and can wear anybody down.

“Conor definitely wedged the door open for him. He’s got to go in there against a difficult opponent and show that it’s justified. But anybody who has trained with Charlie and has seen him fight will know that you’ll never have it easy against him.

“At the end of the fight, if there are any naysayers out there thinking that he only got this opportunity because of Conor, I think they’ll see that he deserves this chance.”

John Kavanagh Straight Blast Gym head coach John Kavanagh. Tom Hogan / INPHO Tom Hogan / INPHO / INPHO

His UFC debut offers Ward an opportunity to end a challenging year on a positive note. In April he overcame Joao Carvalho via third-round TKO in Dublin — only to learn 48 hours later that his opponent passed away after undergoing emergency brain surgery.

“Obviously we had that devastating incident in April and it’s been a tough few months for him. Thoughts of leaving the sport were there, but tragedies unfortunately happen in all sports,” Kavanagh said.

“Separate to Charlie, it did lead to some positive changes in Irish MMA. We’ve seen a massive increase in base-safety levels at shows now.

“Charlie kept his head down, trained hard and now to have this small light at the end of the tunnel, he wants to grab it with both hands and make the most of it.”

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