Boston reveres the Irish, and the Irish love Boston. After being founded by the English, Boston became the first stop for the initial wave of European immigrants, predominantly those from the Emerald Isle. For some, that bond is greater than others. Cathal Pendred was born in Boston; he left as a child but this week he returns an adult as his parents once did, looking to ply his trade and build a better life for himself and those he holds dear. And he’s not alone. There and back again Most people don’t remember a whole lot about life before the time of their fifth birthday. Cathal Pendred can recall more than most; the UFC welterweight has frequently spoken of his happy childhood in Boston, chiefly the kindness the city bestowed on him as part of a young Irish family; a link to home. With such a melting pot of settlers, heritage is an important part of US culture and there’s no greater example of that than Boston. Even today the city boasts a population nearly sixteen percent of which are direct descendants of the initial 35,000 Irish settlers. Although he was just a child at the time, the warm welcome his family received left a big impression on Cathal. On Saturday night he’ll get a chance to repay that kindness by giving the home crowd something to cheer about. It’s been a long and storied road back. Pendred came up through the ranks on Europe’s Cage Warriors promotion, which is in equal parts a blessing and a curse. On the one hand ruling the roost at CWFC gives a fighter instant credibility. On the other – excuse the cliché – there really are no easy fights. Pendred learned this to be true throughout his CWFC stint, facing a murderer’s row of Europe’s top 170lb’ers. At just 24 years of age Cathal was thrown in at the deep end against European standout and UFC veteran David Bielkheden. It was CWFC’s first trip to Dublin’s Helix, an intimate and atmospheric venue that would play host to a number of iconic MMA moments in subsequent years. Pendred’s victory over the Swede was arguably the first of those; the SBG fighter blitzed his man in the early offing, the crowd roaring almost to the point of white noise as Bielkheden was dropped repeatedly to the cage floor. The visitor briefly silenced Dublin’s screaming masses in the third, putting the local fighter on the seat of his pants. They would soon turn the volume back up to optimum levels though, willing Pendred to the final bell and a decision victory. The true grit shown that night would go on to be a hallmark of his fights, particularly his next outing against Judo and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu black belt Bruno Carvalho. The Irishman was made to endure some truly gut-wrenching submission attempts en route to victory. His next obstacle was arguably Europe’s best unsigned welterweight at the time: French veteran Gael Grimaud. I was fortunate enough to slip away from my post and mix with Cathal’s supporters for the five-round war of attrition. I knew I’d made the right choice when his fans delivered one of the finest chants I’ve ever heard at an MMA event; a slow, monotonous repetition of “Gael is a girl’s name”. In the UK and Ireland, ‘Gail’ is indeed a girl’s name; sometimes the simplest ones are the best. The fights against Carvalho and Grimaud had taken place in Cardiff and London respectively. When Pendred returned to Dublin to fight Che Mills, it must have felt like déjà vu; same venue, same atmosphere and a UFC veteran to whom he was considered a heavy underdog standing in his way. It was dubbed the most important European MMA fight of the year, and Pendred won it emphatically. The celebrations were grand; even Cathal’s mother got in on the action, entering the cage with a shirt imploring Dana White to sign her boy. The rest, as they say, is history. Pendred and stablemate Conor McGregor aren’t alone on their trip to Boston this week, nor are they the only components of the UFC’s continuing Irish invasion. SGB stablemate Paddy Holohan joins the fray once again after a pair of wildly entertaining UFC appearance. Norman Parke (who hails from Northern Ireland) is thought of highly by UFC management and has been handed a huge test (or opportunity, depending on how you look at it) against Gleison Tibau. Enter the Ryanos There’s more than one team in Ireland making waves. Flyweight Neil ‘2Tap’ Seery fights in just over a week’s time at UFC Stockholm. Teammate Paul ‘Redser’ Redmond had planned to attend as a corner man; instead he’s inked a deal that will see him compete on the same card. Dublin’s Helix once again played host to some of the pair’s finest moments. Seery was something of a journeyman, taking fights against anyone at any weight purely for the love of the game and some quick cash. He had a job running a warehouse (he still does) and a family; a career in MMA wasn’t really a consideration. He’d mulled-over hanging up the gloves, but his trainer Andy Ryan – himself formerly a fearsome martial artist and now coach of Dublin’s Team Ryano – convinced him he could be a world champion. He was originally pencilled in as alternate for what would have been a tournament to find CWFC’s vacant flyweight strap a home, but injuries and the UFC signings of Ali Bagautinov and Dustin Ortiz saw Seery get his chance to fight for the belt outright. ‘2Tap’ faced and soundly defeated surging Finnish prospect Mikael Silander in a rousing contest to capture the gold (on the same night that Pendred bested Mills) and was subsequently signed to the UFC. It was a true Cinderella story. Also on the card that night was fellow Dubliner Paul Redmond. ‘Redser’, as you will quickly come to learn, has a reputation for toe holds. He’s pulled off three of them in the Helix, including a couple of neat rolling variations. Also a familiar face behind the ones and twos of Dublin’s nightclubs, the Irish MMA community have long-backed Redmond for a UFC call up. Now he’ll get his chance. Outside of Dublin, Donnegal’s Joe Duffy also signed a UFC deal last week. Although currently residing and training in London, Duffy’s MMA return at the Helix last summer was damn near perfect. ‘Irish Joe’ had taken time off to pursue a boxing career and was considered a legitimate pugilistic prospect. His return generated an atmosphere and elicited an ovation not felt or heard in the venue since Conor McGregor knocked out Ivan Buchinger to become a two-weight world champion. After serving up a UKMMA knockout of the year candidate in his follow up fight, a move to the UFC was inevitable. Most of the talk has been accompanied by the ‘last man to beat Conor McGregor’ tagline; he was, but he’s so much more. 2015 looks like it’ll be Ireland’s year on the global stage. There’s potential for success, a world champion and that long awaited yardstick of MMA cracking the mainstream; and outdoor sport stadium show. Meanwhile, at gyms on the Emerald Isle, young kids like SBG’s James Gallagher watch their teammates take centre stage while sharpening their tools and thinking of the future. Pendred, Holohan and McGregor lead the charge this weekend, and there’s an orange, white and green machine behind them.
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