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'Joseph Duffy will be a force to be reckoned with in the UFC'

The experts have high hopes for Ireland’s newest UFC fighter.

JosephDuffy_Headshot (1) Source: UFC

THEIR ROSTER OF fighters is bigger than it’s ever been before, so UFC debuts are more frequent nowadays and don’t seem to cause the stir they once did.

Joseph Duffy appears to be bucking that trend this week, however. He’ll finally set foot in the Octagon tomorrow evening, and there’ll be more eyes on his lightweight bout against Jake Lindsey than would normally be the case for the second prelim of the night.

Had it not been for a combination of injuries and a temporary move to boxing, Duffy’s UFC debut would already have happened. But better late than never for the man from Donegal, who’ll aim to become the eighth Irish fighter to taste victory in the UFC this weekend.

Those who followed Duffy’s career before now will be tuning in because they’ve seen his enormous potential on the European circuit with Cage Warriors. The rest will want to get a look at the last man to beat Conor McGregor.

Five years ago at Neptune Stadium in Cork, Duffy overcame McGregor courtesy of a first-round submission. He’s had five other good MMA wins since then, as well as a 7-0 run as a professional boxer, but Duffy’s links to McGregor are now more prevalent than ever due to the phenomenal success of his former opponent in the meantime.

UFC commentator John Gooden was calling the action for Cage Warriors on that November evening on Leeside in 2010.

“At the time, I wasn’t thinking about the UFC for either of them — I wasn’t looking that far ahead — but what was clear was that they were a cut above the rest, in terms of the general feeling around who they were and what they were accomplishing. And when that fight went down, it was like two trains colliding.”

Few would contend that Duffy doesn’t have the ability to become a success in the UFC without the publicity that he has received as a result of that win against his fellow Irishman.

However, it has brought him plenty of media attention in the build-up to tomorrow night’s bout — whether he wanted it or not. An Irish debutant on the undercard of a pay-per-view event in the US isn’t the kind of thing that would normally arouse the curiosity of MMA fans west of the Atlantic, but this is different.

Josh Palmer, John Gooden UFC commentator John Gooden. Source: Dolly Clew

“Joseph Duffy is known in the United States as ‘the man who defeated Conor McGregor’, and that’s not a bad thing,” said MMAFighting.com journalist Dave Doyle. “In today’s UFC, many newcomers debut without much interest or notoriety. They all blend together.

“Had Duffy not defeated McGregor, he’d be just another face on the card and only the most hardcore fans would notice. But since he comes in with the hype of defeating Conor, he’ll have more eyes on his fight, and the ability to prove his victory over McGregor was not a fluke.

“He might be sick of talking about McGregor, but Saturday is Duffy’s chance to show that he deserves to be followed on his own merits.”

Duffy spoke to The42 last week and was adamant that the pressure that comes with holding a win over Conor McGregor isn’t something that bothers him. But one of his newest coaches says the level of expectation was something that needed to be addressed.

The Canadian city of Montreal recently became Duffy’s new home after he joined the renowned Tristar team, where the legendary Georges St Pierre, UFC title challenger Rory MacDonald and several other Octagon veterans are based.

“This whole Irish MMA thing and the buzz around him and guys like Conor McGregor; there’s pressure and he feels that pressure. He didn’t tell me, I had to pull it out of him because I could see it,” said Tristar coach Eric O’Keefe.

“I’ve done more interviews for this guy who’s on a prelim card than I do for guys who are on the main card. But it’s important that Joe doesn’t buy into all that. This weight on his shoulders and not wanting to let people down, screw that stuff.

“You have to do this for yourself and if you carry all that weight you’ll never succeed. He’s become a different, more light-hearted person since he stopped carrying that weight around.”

The move to Tristar has been hugely significant for Duffy, allowing him to test himself on a daily basis against some of the very best fighters in the world. It’s a step in the right direction and should add even more to his already extensive repertoire.

Coach O’Keefe can’t speak on behalf of the Tristar fighters, but due to his qualities — both as an individual and a fighter — Duffy has already proved to be an immensely popular figure in the gym.

“The best indication of that is to see the guys who want to spar with him,” O’Keefe said. “If a guy isn’t bringing something to the table, he won’t be asked by the top-level guys to spar. Joe is never short of high-level sparring partners. That speaks volumes for what people think about Joe.”

One fighter who is in a position to give an insight into what it’s like to work with Duffy is Tom Breese, the undefeated English welterweight who has also made the switch to Tristar in order to take his career to the next level.

Breese said: “Joe is a true professional. He doesn’t miss a training session, he’s disciplined when it comes to diet and he listens to and follows the coaches’ instructions.

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“I’ve seen huge improvements from him and he gets better with every training session. With his attitude to training and the skills he already has, I think he’ll be a force to be reckoned with in the UFC.” 

Untitled Tristars: From left to right - Rory MacDonald, Mike Ricci, Joseph Duffy and Tom Breese. Source: Twitter (@OKeefeMMA)

John Gooden believes Duffy’s decision to relocate to Canada is indicative of how determined he is to make his way right to the top in the UFC, something he’s capable of doing as long as a series of hand injuries he’s struggled with in the past don’t halt his progress.

“Joe is a very accomplished martial artist but when you get to know him a bit more, you can’t help but want to see him succeed,” Gooden said. “I think it shows his character that he’s been willing to uproot from wherever he’s located to seek out the very best and completely absorb himself.

“He’s a welcome addition to the UFC and I’m really excited to see what he’s been working on, adding his experience in boxing to what I always felt was a very entertaining mixed martial arts style.

“He can achieve as much as he wants. My only concern is injuries. That’s the only thing in my eyes that can stop Joe from making a big impact. But I honestly think he can break the rankings of the UFC by this time next year.”

There’s been a seven-year gap between between Joseph Duffy’s professional and UFC debuts. It hasn’t been a rapid rise; this is a moment he’s waited a long time for. 

The indications are that tomorrow night will mark the beginning of a long and successful career in the UFC. Sport isn’t always that black and white, but those who know him best believe there are no limits to what Duffy can achieve.

“I expected a lot when he came to Tristar, but what I’ve found has even exceeded that,” said Eric O’Keefe. “When you see how well he’s been doing and how much he can still grow, it’s scary.

“Some people think he’s at the top of his game right now — and he is doing really well — but he has so much room to grow and improve. I see big things for Joe.”

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About the author:

Paul Dollery

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