The second installment of BAMMATOR, the co-operative brainchild of Scott Coker’s Bellator and David Greene’s BAMMA, hit Belfast on Friday night as both promotions ventured into Northern Ireland for the first time in their respective histories.
After a successful co-promotion in Dublin in December, Coker and Greene decided to team up once again to try and further embed themselves within the rapidly growing Irish MMA market.
It’s a market that is there to be tapped into as MMA is experiencing an unprecedented boom period over the last 16 months as Ireland and Northern Ireland have hosted a combined four UFC/Bellator shows within that time frame.
By comparison, in the eight years before 2015’s UFC Fight Night: Holohan vs. Smolka, there had only been three UFC shows between both countries. The demand for MMA has grown exponentially since then and it’s not just the the spectacle and the allure of the UFC that’s bringing in fans.
Promotions like BAMMA and Bellator are now making significant dents into the Irish market but it hasn’t exactly been a clean break through.
It turns out that Irish fans still really like watching Irish fighters. Who would have thought.
At the first BAMMA/Bellator collaboration in December, the Bellator 169 main event of Satoshi Ishii vs. Muhammad ‘King Mo’ Lawal seemed like an afterthought in comparison to James Gallagher’s third round stoppage of Anthony Taylor, a sentiment that can be supported by both viewing figures and the ever reliable ear test. Crowd noise rarely lies.
However, while King Mo may be widely respected within the global MMA community, he resonated mostly as a footnote with Irish fans in Dublin as a sizable contingent of attendees at the 3 Arena headed for the exit signs as soon as Gallagher had his hand raised by referee Marc Goddard.
Bellator tried to address this issue in Belfast this time around by thrusting Irish veteran Chris Fields into the Belfast main event, before he was replaced by Vladimir Filipovic only to be substituted out by Brett McDermott two days later.
But the rest of the BAMMA/Bellator card was packed with domestic talent from Keith McCabe and Glenn Irvine in the opening fight of the night, to Gallagher and Sinead Kavanagh on the main card.
Team Ryano’s McCabe and Andrew Murphy kicked off the night with first round stoppages of Irvine and Stephen Kilfin respectively, before Derry native Paul Hughes disposed of Adam Gustab within 92 seconds of his professional debut, dominating the Polish fighter with a series of impressive flurries.
Hughes soaked up every moment of his first in-ring interview admiring his handywork on the big screen before proclaiming he was ‘the future’ of Irish MMA.
It’s hard to argue with the talented 19-year-old after he completely dismantled Gustab, but you can make a much more convincing argument against Phuket Top Team’s Decky Dalton and Next Generation’s Rhys McKee.
The duo are among two of the most promising fighters in Irish MMA and they have no problem in elaborating on the full extent of their capabilities, with Dalton proclaiming that he could finish former UFC Featherweight champion Jose Aldo within two rounds before his fight with former Ultimate Fighter winner Jonathan Brookins.
McKee was just as bold in his pre-fight predictions claiming that he could have finished Conor McGregor on the night that he abruptly stopped Jai Herbert in the first round of BAMMA 27 in Dublin last year.
As fate would have it, Dalton was soundly beaten by Brookins while McKee was brutally stopped by Barnett with a series of knees to the face. Both Dalton and McKee fought bravely, but unfortunately for the touted duo their actions in the cage paled in comparison to their ambitious pre-fight statements.
Elsewhere Belfast native Andy Young won the vacant BAMMA interim flyweight title with an impressive display against Dominique Wooding.
After two enthralling rounds with several exciting exchanges, Young ultimately outwitted Wooding and took his back in the third before finishing the fight with a wonderfully executed rear-naked choke.
In the main event Stormin’ Norman Parke ousted Dubliner Paul Redmond with a majority decision in a fight that was razor close.
Judges scored it two rounds to one for Parke, but it could have easily went the other way with the second round really anyone’s guess.
It’s a big loss for Redmond, in a fight that he trained ferociously hard for, but tonight reminded all in attendance that MMA cares little for training or pre-fight predictions. It’s what happens in the cage that ultimately counts, and when you looked at Paul Redmond’s face as he left the SSE Arena dejected and despondent, you know that what happens in the octagon counts for an awful lot.
Jack O’Toole, Pundit Arena