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Dublin: 13°C Sunday 16 May 2021

Five years on: Remembering the last time the UFC came to Ireland

The biggest event in MMA visited Dublin’s O2 in January 2009.

imageFans at the O2 arena. Credit: INPHO/Morgan Treacy

ON 17 JANUARY 2009, the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) rolled into town for the first time as the organisation’s president Dana White brought his increasingly-popular spectacle to Dublin’s newly-refurbished O2 arena — formerly the Point Depot.

Although Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) was very much a minority sport at the time, fans were eager to get a taste of the once-off event with over 9,000 tickets selling out months before the big night.

The light heavyweight bout between Rich Franklin and Dan Henderson took top billing with the winner earning the chance to coach Team USA in The Ultimate Fighter reality television series, while the undercard included tasty match-ups such as Mauricio ‘Shogun’ Rua v Mark  Coleman and Marcus ‘The Irish Hand Grenade’ Davis v Chris Lytle.

Former Irish Olympic boxer Wayne McCullough, meanwhile, was brought in by White in an ambassadorial role to promote the occasion.

Ireland’s great hope was a young man by the name of Tom ‘The Tank’ Egan, who had been signed up to give home fans a local fighter to throw their support behind. SBG welterweight Egan was pencilled in to take on England’s John Hathaway in the final fight of the preliminary card.

At just 20 years of age, the Kildare native was short on experience but jumped at the chance to live out his dream by stepping into the Octagon having grown up training in his house alongside current UFC fighter Conor McGregor before they discovered John Kavanagh’s SBG.

imageJohn Hathaway and Tom 'The Tank' Egan at the weigh-in.  Credit: INPHO/James Crombie

At the time, Egan said: "It's going to be an amazing experience and I really can't wait. I'm fighting on behalf of Irish fighters and Irish MMA and it's great to see the UFC in Ireland.

It is a feeling of all my dreams coming true. Every punch and every fight has worked its way to this."

Unfortunately, it proved too soon for Egan and he was defeated by technical knockout (TKO) in the first round. Here's clip of him backstage before the fight and giving his thoughts afterwards:

YouTube credit: The Telegraph

Graeme McDonnell, founder of, recalls the night:

I had been watching UFC for a couple of years when it came to Ireland. All of my friends used to look at me like I was crazy when I mentioned MMA. I finally convinced two lads to come with me to UFC 93 and they loved it and have been fans ever since.

There were 9,000 fans there on the night but it was a niche sport at the time. There was a big buzz around it and people were trying to get tickets late on. A lot of boxing fans also went along thinking they would try it out.

I remember at the time there were a lot of people complaining about the card, saying “where’s this guy?” but it was actually a brilliant card with the likes of Shogun, Henderson, Franklin, Chris Lytle and Hathaway all involved. It was great.

The only fight that was boring was the Shogun v Coleman but there was good action in the rest of them. The crowd was going absolutely ballistic for Marcus Davis, there were ‘Ole’ chants going and people were going off their heads.

He walked out with an Irish flag and his nickname was 'The Irish Hand Grenade' so that’s all you need.

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imageA huge crowd watches on. Credit: INPHO/Morgan Treacy

I had been to events in the O2 in London but it wasn't as good because it is small and there was no second tier. Everybody was in on top of each other.

Even Dana White said it was pound-for-pound the best atmosphere ever. What is noticeable is that these days people only turn up for the main cards and don’t even watch the others. That night the place was full before the Tom Egan fight.

I had never seen Tom Egan fight up to that point and was just into the UFC until I realised there was actually a strong Irish team.

He was 4-0 at the time but he wasn't ready. It was a different dream to get to the UFC back then. But as John Kavanagh said, he wasn’t ready but you don’t say no to the UFC.

UFC fan Noel McGuinness was also in the crowd that evening:

As far as I remember it got going at four in the afternoon and when we arrived the place was already packed. There was some atmosphere and the place was buzzing.

It was my first UFC fight but I was a big fan at the time. We would have a few lads over to watch other events on telly on a Saturday night so to have it in Dublin was amazing. I remember looking forward most to seeing the Henderson v Franklin and Belcher v Kang fights.

I’m surprised they haven’t been back since because even before Conor McGregor blew up they would have had a sell-out here.

I worked in the IFSC and the fighters were staying in the Clarion Hotel nearby. They just happened to be checking in a few days before and I came across a number of them. All the UFC staff were so friendly and made an effort to say hello.

They were signing posters and happy to pose for photos. I got pictures with nearly all the fighters on the card as well as some of the announcers.

imageNoel McDonnell meets Mauricio 'Shogun' Rua. Credit: Noel McDonnell

YouTube credit: dametallica

In the eagerly-awaited main event, the two US fighters exchange early blows with Henderson coming out narrowly on top (29-28) after the first round. There is little between them but Henderson takes the second by the same scoreline before winning via split decision (29-28, 29-28, 27-30) with Franklin claiming the final round.

imageRich Franklin (left) and Dan Henderson. Credit: INPHO/Morgan Treacy

During the week, we asked fans to tweet us their memories from the night:

imageimageimageWere you at UFC 93? How was it for you? And are you looking forward to it returning in 2014?

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About the author:

Ben Blake

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