Peter Carroll: With no hometown draw in Belfast, are the Irish still taking over?

UFC Belfast takes place on November 19th

Peter Carroll: With no hometown draw in Belfast, are the Irish still taking over?

UFC President Dana White ©INPHO/Cathal Noonan

The UFC are very fortunate that Neil Seery has decided to hang up his gloves on November 19th in Belfast, because without the Irish flyweight’s final fight, there is little to intrigue the Irish fans to the card.

Even Seery is a reach in a certain respect, because really, you would expect a representative from Belfast to have a prominent place on the card, or at least someone from Northern Ireland.

Imagine the two recent Dublin cards with the only representative from the island being Norman Parke on the card – it just doesn’t provide the same backdrop or elicit the same emotion from the crowd.

Last weekend, I really doubt that the spectators at the Manchester Arena from UFC 204 would have stayed awake until six o’clock in the morning without the involvement of hometown favorites Michael Bisping and Davey Grant.

No Hometown Interest

Each time the UFC have come to the Emerald Isle they have had hometown interests involved, in Belfast and Dublin.

Colin ‘Big C’ Robinson and Steven Lynch were brought in for the promotion’s first trip event on the island in 2007, and Robinson remembers the importance of their inclusion on the card.

“When Stevie and I walked out in Belfast back in 2007, they cheered more for us than any other fighter on the card, bar Forrest Griffin who was in the main event,” said Robinson.

“Back then, people had heard of UFC and they were gaining interest, but the local fighters really added to the atmosphere in the arena and gave it that big backdrop. It’s crucial for local fighters to be on these cards.”

Northern Ireland’s Norman Parke talked for years about how much a Belfast event would mean to him, yet he was controversially cut from the organization back in April despite having a winning record. When whispers about the Belfast card emerged, Alan Philpott, Andy Young, Karl Moore and Joe McColgan positioned themselves for UFC debuts, but the calls never came.

“It’s bad thing for Northern Ireland, to be honest,” ‘Big C’ said. “All the fans up here had to look forward to was Norman getting on it.

“I think Karl Moore was very unlucky. He’s right there now as far as I’m concerned. He’s done some good things and he’s already gone pretty far in the game. I think Andy Young was very close too and had he won that title fight at BAMMA, I’m sure they would have reached out to him.

“They will regret not getting someone on because I think the crowd would be a lot more vocal and passionate with a local fighter involved.”

Taking Part?

At one stage, there were eight representatives between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland on the UFC’s books – Norman Parke, Conor McGregor, Neil Seery, Paddy Holohan, Cathal Pendred, Aisling Daly, Joe Duffy and Paul Redmond.

Since then, Artem Lobov has joined the ranks, but Pendred, Holohan, and Redmond have parted ways with the promotion for various different reasons.

With Seery about to compete in his last fight ever and Duffy claiming that free agency is an option following the final bout on his current contract, the numbers are set to dwindle again.

The momentum the nation had has become more and more reliable on McGregor’s unparalleled trajectory and while that is good enough to keep the fans interested in PPV cards, the absences of cult heroes like Seery will be missed sorely the next time the promotion returns to our shores.

Although it won’t sit well with fans, the chances of McGregor ever competing in Ireland while he is at the top of the sport are very slim.

He is Dana White’s pay-per-view king and with that sort of business primarily being geared towards the North American market, it really makes no sense for the promotion to put on a pay-per-view show in Ireland.

Croker No Hoper

We seem further away from an event in Croke Park than ever before because of a number of factors.

Last weekend in Manchester, UFC opted to put on the event on US times, with Michael Bisping’s main event against Dan Henderson finishing up at about 5.30 in the morning.

As we already know, Croke Park has a curfew that would force the event to finish six hours before it’s usual slot. Due to the amount of money it would cost to put on a show in the historic stadium, losing out on the pay-per-view numbers would make no sense to the world’s flagship promotion, despite the tremendous backdrop a McGregor title defence in Dublin would bring to the table.

The dwindling numbers of Irish fighters is another reason that the Croke Park event seems unlikely. Even if UFC managed to broker a deal that would see the curfew suspended for one night, the fact that there wouldn’t be enough Irish fighters to keep the momentum going in the terraces would hinder the event significantly.

Despite the England world cup qualifier, and a Rugby League final taking place in Manchester on Saturday, it was the English fighters that forced the spectators to get involved from the stands and keep the electric atmosphere resonating throughout the Manchester Arena.

When Seery retires and if Joe Duffy doesn’t resign, we will have three fighters on the UFC's books with McGregor, Daly, and Lobov.

The rumours of McGregor taking a year off after his monumental clash with Alvarez in Madison Square Garden are rife and who knows what will become of the Irish contingent without their leading man if he does take a leave of absence?