Joseph Duffy will fight Jake Lindsey at UFC 185 in Dallas. Dolly Clew
Dallas Debut

'I want to be remembered as a UFC champion, not the guy who beat Conor McGregor'

Joseph Duffy makes his long-awaited UFC debut on Saturday.

IF YOU HAPPEN to find yourself in downtown Dallas early next Saturday morning, there’s a chance you’ll bump into a frantic Irishman searching for a place to watch a rugby match.

Finding somewhere to see Ireland’s Six Nations game against Wales will be the first challenge of the day for Joseph Duffy. The second? His UFC debut that evening at the American Airlines Centre.

If Duffy hadn’t pursued a career in mixed martial arts, he’d have opted for rugby instead. And the meeting of Ireland and Wales has always been significant for the 27-year-old.

Duffy was born in Donegal but grew up in the Welsh valleys. He was a toddler when his father’s work commitments brought the family to the industrial town of Ebbw Vale in 1989, but there’s never been any doubt about which nation he represents.

“It was tough in Wales when I was young because I was terribly into sport, so if Ireland lost in the rugby I would try to skip the next day at school, just to avoid the hassle it would bring,” Duffy says.

“I suppose I would always have made it known I wasn’t from Wales. I would have had lumps knocked out of me at home if I ever shouted for Wales. I was born in Donegal, I’m proud to be Irish and I’ve never looked at myself as anything else.”

Despite captaining his school’s rugby team in Wales, it was martial arts that always occupied the majority of Duffy’s time as a youngster. He started with taekwon-do before progressing to traditional jiu-jitsu, a foundation that eventually led him to a career in professional MMA.

That began with an undefeated 10-0 run, which included victories over current UFC stars Conor McGregor and Norman Parke. After being defeated in a bout for the Cage Warriors lightweight title in 2011, Duffy turned to professional boxing and put together an unblemished 7-0 record. But his love for mixed martial arts drew him back in last year.

He returned to the European MMA circuit with Cage Warriors wins over Damien Lapilus and Julien Boussuge in 2014, and the UFC finally snapped him up on a lucrative deal in January. Duffy will step into the Octagon for the first time on Saturday to take on 28-year-old American opponent Jake Lindsey.

There’s plenty of hype behind Duffy going into the bout, much of it owing to the aforementioned win over McGregor. This will be the first time the US media have had access to Duffy too, so he’s likely to field plenty of questions about the UFC’s next featherweight title challenger throughout the week.

74864_169914036362105_6355209_n Joseph Duffy and Conor McGregor squared off in 2010. Peter Waldron Peter Waldron

That reputation also carries with it a significant amount of pressure and expectation. Five years have passed since that fight and much has changed for both fighters, but the MMA world is anticipating something special from the debutant next weekend.

“I’m not looking into all of that,” Duffy insists. “I made that mistake before, I tried to make a big statement when I had my first fight back in MMA last year and it didn’t turn out to be the performance I wanted even though I won. What I’ve got to focus on is getting in there, performing well and getting a win to settle the UFC jitters.

“When I finish fighting I don’t want to go down as just the guy who beat Conor. I’ve got my own aspirations. Touch wood, people will remember me with the UFC gold around my waist rather than anything else.”

Conor McGregor is arguably the most talked-about fighter in MMA at present, so Duffy understands that questions about his fellow Irishman are to be expected. But he’s eager to make his name based on his own achievements. Will a winning start to life in the UFC help him to do so?

“Hopefully. But I know that as long as Conor is doing well, my name is going to be held next to him. It’s up to me now to prove how good I am. I want to be the best in the world and anything less than that is failure.”

Duffy moved out to Montreal last month to train at the renowned Tristar Gym for his UFC debut. It’s home to a plethora of UFC stars, including legendary ex-champion Georges St Pierre and Rory MacDonald, who fights for the welterweight title in July.

Duffy, who’ll be staying in Canada indefinitely, says his preparations couldn’t have gone any better, and he’s benefited from sparring with the likes of John Makdessi, Nordine Taleb, Chad Laprise, Mike Ricci and Robbie Peralta.

Having sparred with George Groves, James DeGale and Chris Eubank Jr during his brief boxing career, Duffy is no stranger to mixing it with world-class athletes on a daily basis.

“The level here at Tristar is extremely high,” he says. “It’s exciting because it gives you goals to aspire to. There’s lots of improvements to be made but I’m in the right place to make them. I know my game is going to go to a whole new level.”

_D8A1737 A 36-second KO of Julien Boussuge saw Joseph Duffy snapped up by the UFC. Dolly Clew Dolly Clew

Another important aspect of this journey for Duffy is his acceptance as an Irishman. He might have spent most of his life in the UK, and although you can detect the Welsh tones, the accent is unmistakably Ulster.

His family regularly returned to Ireland throughout his childhood, maintaining strong links with his home village of Burtonport. Duffy is proud to be Irish, but even more so to be representing Donegal.

“Being accepted the way all the other Irish fighters have been is something that’s really important to me,” Duffy says, while sporting a mid-90s Donegal GAA shirt that automatically evokes memories of when Jim McGuinness’ hair was more substantial.

“I think that has started to happen since I came back to MMA last year. I’m getting a lot more Irish media wanting to talk to me now, so I do think I’m starting to be appreciated as Irish, and not a black sheep.”

Duffy has friends and family travelling to Dallas next Saturday from Donegal, New York, London… and Wales. They’ll start the big day by watching what Duffy hopes will be another Irish victory, with the game scheduled for an 8.30am kick-off on Texas time.

“I’ll be up bright and early, don’t you worry. Two of my mates from Wales are coming over so there’ll be plenty of chat back and forth. Hopefully we’ll get a result. That will definitely fuel the fire before my fight.”

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