Yet again, Bellator pulled out all the stops for their seemingly twice-annual trip to the 3Arena in Dublin.
As the Scott-Coker led organisation continues to battle with the UFC for supremacy in the MMA community, it would seem as though Europe, and in particular Ireland, is the market that they wish to tap into and make their own.
They’ll never quite take over the UFC as the sport’s premium organisation but they do continue to sell-out shows across the world and are not afraid of taking risks, as highlighted by their signings of big-name celebrities such as Aaron Chalmers and James Haskell to their roster.
We’ll have to wait until May to see whether the Haskell experiment proves successful. However, Chalmers, despite tasting defeat on Saturday night, has proven some of his doubters wrong and has shown genuine talent inside the cage.
You may disagree with this approach and that’s fair enough, there’s a definite argument that it brings the sport into disrepute. However, what cannot be denied is that it puts bums on seats. The harsh truth is that that is all that matters for many.
Anyway, back to Bellator Dublin…
Saturday’s event was very nearly thrown into disrepute itself when usual headline act, James Gallagher, was pulled from his main event bout with Cal Ellenor due to injury.
Despite boasting a plethora of Irish fighters on their roster, the loss of Gallagher could have seen the entire show scrapped. Yet, Bellator chose to put all of their eggs into Leah McCourt’s basket as she headlined in his stead.
They then got the victory they desperately wanted after the SBG Charlestown striker impressively escaped a deep arm-bar attempt from her opponent, Judith Ruis, before storming to a unanimous decision victory.
Bellator didn’t necessarily need McCourt’s help in selling out the 3Arena, with 15 Irish-based fighters and a reputation for being the most vivacious supporters in the MMA-world, a strong crowd showing up on Saturday night was never in doubt.
They could, though, have taken a different route altogether. Kiefer Crosbie was the standout fighter on the card and probably should have been given his chance to close the show, having been a backup to his good friend Gallagher, as well as Peter Queally, for so long now.
Boasting an impressive record of 8-1 with his only defeat coming via disqualification, Crosbie deserved to top the bill on Saturday, but his day will come soon.
That’s not a knock on McCourt whatsoever, but it was a risk.
However, she got her chance in the spotlight and took it. She also did it with grace and genuine class. From the day she was announced as the main event, to her multiple media appearances during fight week and then finishing with her dominant display in front of a raucous home crowd, McCourt handled herself with distinction and showed that despite her relative inexperience, she does indeed belong at this level.
Given what was going down across the country last weekend it would have been easy for Bellator Dublin to fly under the radar, especially given that James Gallagher wasn’t even competing.
"It really is a once in a lifetime experience." – Leah McCourt@leahmccourtmma reacts after the biggest night of her career in @BellatorMMA Dublin's main event. 👊#BBCMMA #BellatorDublin #MMA @Bellator_Europe @BBCSport pic.twitter.com/aKVlrkbtnO
— BBC SPORT NI (@BBCSPORTNI) February 23, 2020
Dublin hosted a double-bill under lights in Croke Park while Cork and Limerick did battle in Páirc Uí Chaoimh in what has become arguably the most entertaining fixture in hurling.
Over in Twickenham, Ireland got humbled by England in what was a bleak day for the rugby fraternity while halfway across the world Andy Lee played a pivotal role in Tyson Fury’s return to the big time.
Despite all of this, the real winner this past weekend was Ireland’s well-established and very vocal MMA community, who saw their marquee man pulled out through injury only for the night to be saved by a shining star from Belfast.