In this, the very first edition of Exploring Irish MMA, we spoke to SBG’s flyweight prospect Blaine O’Driscoll as he edges closer to his first BAMMA title-shot.
The Irish mixed martial arts scene just doesn’t seem to be slowing down in its growth and with this generation of rising stars, there are more than a few who have shown championship potential. This series will allow you to get to know the current crop before their names end up on the billboards, the pay-per-views and beyond.
Today marks the first entry into the series and what better way to begin than with a man who could well own BAMMA flyweight gold by year’s end if the promotion simply takes a look at what’s in front of them and give him the shot.
Blaine O’Driscoll, at 26 years old, has matured before our very eyes on the European circuit. Pace is as much a weapon as any perfected submission or deft strike thrown and while this SBG product’s finishing instinct has been a staple over the course of his career, no matter who it is that stands before him, they can be damn sure that they won’t have a moment to breathe for as long as the fight goes on.
Under the tutelage of John Kavanagh at SBG Ireland, O’Driscoll’s record stands at 6-2 as a professional and 4-1 under the BAMMA banner. It’s an even share as far as the methods of victory are concerned, two KOs, two subs and two that were left to the judges.
Speaking to us here at Pundit Arena MMA, Blaine is just one month removed from his first-round submission win over Aaron Robinson at BAMMA 35 and from the looks of things, his focus is now squarely on the improvements he can make ahead of his next outing – which he believes should be against the BAMMA 125lb champion, Daniel Barez.
“I have no injuries on me so I got straight back into training. We all just come back and everything just keeps going on.
“I have four wins at bantamweight and now one at flyweight, so that’s the next step – it has to be. I have more wins than most people who fight for a title in BAMMA. I see myself matching up well against [Daniel Barez]. His last two fights I feel as though he got lucky with the decisions, I’m not even sure that he won those.
“My next one will hopefully be in September or November when BAMMA are back in Dublin. I think probably in Dublin but I don’t mind, I’ll fight him anywhere – I’ll fight him in Spain if he wants. I would like to have it in Dublin, though. I’ve created a nice little following for myself.”
Barez (9-4), has had his grip on that belt for just under a year now, coming on top in his last three consecutive outings, defeating Andy Young by majority decision in his most recent bout.
Blaine really isn’t making idle comments when he suggests that people have been granted title shots in the promotion for less. With a proven record as a finisher across two divisions, at the very most, you’d have to assume he’s just one fight away from a matchup against the Spaniard.
And while his last victory was an impressive one, the fight that preceded it saw him lose out by way of third-round KO to Dominique Wooding, a man who has been attracting quite a bit of buzz himself.
That loss wasn’t one that O’Driscoll allowed himself to dwell on massively, though. Going back to the drawing-board and learning from his mistakes, he bounced back emphatically upon his return – but again, it was not a win that came without adversity.
“It felt great to get the win again. I remember thinking, when he had my back, ‘Ah, f**k man, not again. I’m getting out of this.’ Then when I did win, yeah, I was delighted.
A more natural flyweight who has fought predominantly as a bantamweight, finding comfort in fighting smaller men wasn’t èxactly on the agenda after a six-fight run at 135lbs. With his latest win at 125lbs over Aaron Robinson, however – his first fight in the division in over two years – Blaine seems to think that he can make a home for himself in the weight-class.
“I think I’m definitely a flyweight. I could feel a bit lazy staying at bantamweight, cause I didn’t really want to diet as hard. I could take fights last-minute. At flyweight, I need a few weeks notice so I can diet down properly and make it. I’m never too far off bantamweight. I rarely stray above 66kg (145lbs), bantamweight is easy.
“When I put the effort in and I’m not being lazy I can make 125lb easy. I never look at any flyweights and think that I wouldn’t beat them. I feel like I can beat any flyweight. Some bantamweights I look at and I’m like ‘Jesus Christ, they’re bleeding monsters’.
“I feel like I can be a world champion at flyweight and I didn’t really feel that at bantamweight so I just need to stop being lazy and get to where I know I can be the best.
“Some of the flyweights are a little bit faster, so I change my game a bit. Instead of me pushing the pace, I wait for them to throw. In the grappling exchanges I feel way stronger. I don’t feel like I’m losing any cardio or anything.”
One of the things I liked about Blaine before I ever spoke to him personally was the way he has been looking at his early-career run on the European circuit. Calling it something akin to an ‘apprenticeship’, he doesn’t trick himself into thinking he could jump straight into the UFC without gaining the adequate experience first – a refreshing take in a sport filled to the brim with delusions brought about by ego.
And while he is yet to be tested on the global stage, in his eight fights as a pro and his amateur career beforehand, O’Driscoll hasn’t been taking gimme fights with cans in an attempt to make his record appear more impressive.
Records are just a pair of numbers and for his own apprenticeship, getting the best experience possible has been paramount.
Now, with his ninth fight on the horizon, it’s clear that he feels as though he is ready to start knocking on the door of the UFC and in BAMMA champion Daniel Barez, he sees the perfect opponent to use as a springboard to make his push.
“Barez is as good as most people in the UFC. BAMMA is really high level compared to most other shows. I haven’t really gotten any easy fights so I feel like I’ve had a good apprenticeship.
“I could go through most of the people in the UFC, the top-10, the top-5. I see the top-10 as being kind of good, but outside of that – most people in the UFC are sh*t.
“I want to get that BAMMA belt, maybe even defend it once. Then I think I’ll be gone to the UFC after that. I think realistically I’m two fights away.”
With an eye on a return to Dublin before 2018 is through, Blaine could well achieve his goal of a title win and its subsequent defence by next summer.
The road to the top is one that you can mould to a certain extent yourself. You can place your focus on looking good against lesser opposition in an attempt to dupe both yourself and the UFC into thinking you are ready and before you know it, you get your wish. The world’s premier mixed martial arts promotion comes a’calling and you find yourself in a shark-tank without the fight-experience needed to swim safely.
Talent and hard-work are crucial, but a healthy attitude towards your ascent is another thing entirely and with Blaine O’Driscoll and his ongoing apprenticeship, we’re seeing a 26-year-old with the maturity and the skillset necessary to achieve the type of success he knows he is at the door of.
Each entry to the series will become available to read below as it goes live.
Part II – Richie Smullen – 155lbs – (3-0-1)
Part III – Will Fleury – 185lbs – (4-0)
Cillian Cunningham, Pundit Arena