Blaine O’Driscoll will make his first outing as a Bellator fighter in next weekend’s return to the Irish capital in a fight that carries more weight than most realise.
When Bellator made moves to dip into the European market late last year, their focus on the talent emerging from both Ireland and England saw them carve out opportunities for several fighters who could well become major players in the promotion as time goes on.
Ireland, in particular, was crying out for the type of avenue that only a major business in the mould of the Scott Coker-run organisation could produce.
Now, dozens of this country’s finest prospects for the first time see a light at the end of the tunnel in what is still an intensely difficult road to travel.
One name that was absent from Bellator’s memorable return to the 3Arena in February was the highly-touted flyweight Blaine O’Driscoll, a man whose has been blossoming on the regional scene before our very eyes in recent years.
Using his pace as a weapon to the same degree as any punch, kick, or submission attempted, O’Driscoll had been carving out a name for himself as one of Ireland’s top rising fighters – something that made his omission from the original Bellator Dublin that bit more disappointing.
Flyweight is in a weird place globally. While the UFC’s 125lb division remains in a state of limbo – unaided by its champion’s 135lb aspirations, Bellator have yet to even open the weight-class.
This leaves guys like Blaine in an odd spot.
Thankfully, a fight on this weekend’s show was offered to him – a matchup against the unbeaten Jake Hadley on the night’s prelims.
Speaking to us here at Pundit Arena, O’Driscoll explained how there has been no indication given to him by Bellator about the creation of a 125lb division, something that leaves him determined to make an undeniable statement about both his own merits and the need for a flyweight class.
“There is no flyweight division. They don’t want to invest too much advertisement in a division that doesn’t exist. It should definitely exist. I don’t see why they don’t take advantage of it.
“I just want to get in and put it all on the line in there, to make it the most entertaining fight I can and really show them that you need to get a division for the flyweights.
“There’s no indication that they’re doing it. They must be thinking of it, though, if they’re putting a flyweight fight on it.
“There are plenty of flyweights that were on BAMMA that would make it a great division. Some of the top flyweights are in Europe, you know. Compared with all of the other divisions, where the top guys are in America and Brazil, the top flyweights are definitely over on this side of the world.
“I don’t see why they wouldn’t.”
Indeed, there is quite a strong pool of flyweight talent being nurtured on European soil in recent years – perhaps the most relevant example being Blaine’s fellow Irishman Ryan Curtis, who blew the roof off the 3Arena in February after a first-round TKO of Luis Gonzalez after a year-and-a-half on the sidelines.
As far as Blaine is concerned right now, a statement victory of the highest order will be required on Friday night. Not just to help the growth of his own name in his promotional debut, but also to give the Bellator the nudge necessary to see them make the call.
“There’s no security in it at all so it’s really on me to go out there and show what I’ve got. The only security is that I’ve been given this golden chance to go out and show them.
“Others might have the security where they can go in and coast, they can get a decision and everything will be grand.
“For me, I have to go in and do something special, something that will show them why they should make the division.”
It’s one helluva narrative if you ask me.
Blaine is no stranger to making a statement, though. When I spoke to him last, he was fresh off of a third-round submission victory over Teimur Rahimov – a win that saw him earn the WWFC flyweight champion.
It was a trip into enemy territory, so to speak. A fight that saw him taking on a Ukranian in Kiev and one that, in many ways, proved the constant evolution of his game.
Though no doubt buoyed by getting his hands on a championship belt, O’Driscoll insists that the belt only serves the purpose of reminding him about his true goals.
“I have it in my kitchen there sitting on top of the press but that’s nothing for me. My goal is to get a belt in a real, top promotion – whether it’s the UFC or Bellator, if Bellator want to make one. That’s my real goal.
“If I got that, it’d be something that would make me really happy to have in the kitchen.
“This is only a motivator. It’s only the beginning. I’m nowhere near done yet.”
Virtually all of the Irish fighters I had spoken to during the build-up to last February’s card cited the morale within the gym as something that allowed the spread of an infectious spirit, shared under one roof.
It’s that type of buzz that leads to special occasions like last time around and with such a massive pressure on his shoulders, O’Driscoll seemed thrilled to be heading into this one with every possible box ticked.
“Everyone is going through the same process. Everyone is winding their training down at the same time. So if you’re looking for someone just to go a bit slower, just to keep the calories burning, there’s a lot of people around to do it.
“It’s a nightmare if you’re in your last week or two of camp and people are only starting their camp. They’re on their highest buzz and you’re done with training at this stage.
“But now, everyone is on the same buzz, which is really good and really helpful.”
On the subject of his opponent Jake Hadley, O’Driscoll expressed his belief in the technical advantages he holds over the unbeaten Englishman while drawing attention to some of the somewhat questionable feathers in his cap.
Though complimentary of his most recent outing, a victory over Nkazimulo Zulu, he took aim at Hadley’s 4-0 resumé – which, to be fair, contains a win over the 0-24 Reece Street as his third professional bout.
“I only really rate his last fight. His three fights before that were all against crap people, fights to build up his confidence.
“His last guy was obviously a good win but even that guy Zulu, he’s old, he’s over the hill. I feel like I’m better than him everywhere. I’m better on the feet, better on the ground.
“I think I can beat him anywhere. I don’t know how I’m going to finish it but I’m coming to finish him in the first round. It’s either going to be a choke or a left-hook.”
Cillian Cunningham, Pundit Arena