Bellator Dublin fight day is now finally upon us and all of the signs are there that it is going to be a pivotal night for the sport of MMA in this country.
I arrived to Dublin’s 3Arena yesterday at about 4:55pm, minutes before the Bellator 217 ceremonial weigh-ins took place.
It was almost strange to visit tonight’s battleground before any blood had been shed but even still, it was pretty clear that something very special and immeasurably important was on the verge of happening.
With each of the tickets swallowed up for the main-attraction this evening, there is something to be said for the public’s understanding of that fact and their drive to be a part of it once things get underway.
The weigh-ins were almost frustrating to experience from where I was sitting.
Not that the production was poor or that the energy was off in the slightest, but everything from the coiled tension to be seen in the homegrown talent to the colourful shouts emanating from those in attendance just made me wish we could jump forward 24 hours and get on with it.
We were not there yet, but boy did it whet the appetite!
A sold-out event, promised to be packed to the brim with the powerful support that the Irish capital has become famous for and a host of the finest Irish warriors littered through its billing.
I’ve said it before, aside a few outliers, this is Ireland vs. The Rest Of The World.
In the main-event, the overall narrative seems to be that we are going to learn a lot about the mentality of James Gallagher in this fight.
He’s facing a guy, in Steven Graham, that many have dismissed straight off-the-bat.
And it’s understandable. His 6-3 record doesn’t exactly read like something that should be a threat to The Strabanimal but on closer inspection, the man has proven his mental fortitude.
To lose three fights in a row in your first four fights is the type of setback that would dissuade some from making a career out of fighting but upon entering his fifth professional fight with a 1-3 record, a first-round gullotine submission would pave the way for a five-fight win-streak, all by way of finish, four of them in the first-round.
In the words of James himself, that is a confident man and because of that, that is a dangerous, dangerous man.
Gallagher lost out in brutal fashion last time around at the hands of Ricky Bandejas and while the fight against Graham is one that he should be winning, if he’s not coming into this one completely on-point, he’s fighting a guy who will be able to give him a very hard time.
That in itself makes this a compelling matchup.
James Gallagher is no grizzled veteran, one who is able to shake off a vicious loss through experience and maturity.
He’s a 22-year-old superstar-in-the-making who is looking to bounce back from a knockout that went viral by taking a headlining slot in a sold-out event in his home-country’s capital.
People are quick to write this bout off as a gimmick, but people also forget just how young this man is.
Of course, the grudge match between experienced veterans Peter Queally and Myles Price comes with the promise of a good knock.
It’s rare to have a well-publicised feud like this in a matchup of well-known Irish talents and with the eyes of the world on Dublin this evening, this fight’s inclusion is perfect for a myriad of reasons.
I’m not going to get into breaking down this fight-card, though. You likely know enough at this stage if you’re reading this article.
There has been some – usually from the outside looking in – who have disregarded this event’s lineup after a quick glance at its entirety on Tapology but this is as much a celebration of Irish mixed martial arts as it is a springboard for its future momentum.
When Bellator announced that they were bringing in a host of Ireland’s finest veterans, prospects, and fan-favourites in one fell swoop last year, many, myself included, speculated that it was an early play in their extensive plans for both the Irish and European scenes in the future.
And while that remains true to a certain extent, there are a lot of fighters on this card who are likely fighting for their Bellator contract.
I had the opportunity to speak to Coach John Kavanagh in SBG HQ on Tuesday and he seemed genuinely elated that many of his standout guys could finally push themselves to go full-time with their training because of the promise of a light at the end of the tunnel.
Not only that, Scott Coker’s newfound interest in the Irish market provides an extra level of incentive to those who are on the periphery of committing themselves to this game.
But aside from a few sure-things, there will be a lot of athletes competing tonight who will probably feel as though their future on this stage depends entirely on them taking home the win.
Bellator have offered an avenue for those who wish to take the next step in making mixed martial arts their life.
Unfortunately, those spaces are no doubt in short supply.
Tonight we shall see exactly who wants it the most.
This is it.
The first European fight-card to be broadcast on Sky Sports, a sell-out event in Ireland’s most iconic mixed martial arts venue, and no shortage of competitors who will walk out with the tricolour on their back.
They say things happen in waves and while there was no doubt something of a rough patch for the Irish scene in the last year or two, it’s hard not to feel shades of UFC Dublin 2014 off of this one.
Where the last generation paved the way and promised that they were not there simply to take part, tonight we shall play witness to an army of fighters who demand to be heard.
A lot of people aren’t convinced that Bellator Dublin will amount to much, but the landscape of the sport in this country could look very, very different by the time Sunday morning comes around.
I could feel a very unique buzz in the air all through this week.
Whether it was from the fighters I spoke to or through the jovial interactions between those within the media, there is the sense that we’re flying under the radar somewhat, but there is also every chance that we blow the roof off of the place in front of the world tonight.
Tune in this evening to see what happens. Watch it at home, watch it with friends or demand that your local barman flicks over the channel while you sip on your Guinness, you have absolutely nothing to lose.
And you never know, you might just witness something incredible.
Cillian Cunningham, Pundit Arena