Pundit Arena caught up with Team Ryano’s Andrew Murphy ahead of his fight with Richie Smullen at BAMMA 26…
Inspired by Conor McGregor’s oft recited backstory and his subsequent exploits on MMA’s world stage, there are increasing numbers of young Irish fighters taking the massive risk of committing themselves full-time to chasing the UFC dream.
And don’t expect that trend to slow down anytime soon. The McGregor show is, after all, an intoxicating one.
However, not everybody on the Irish scene is following headlong down a ‘Notorious’ path.
On Saturday night, Andrew Murphy will make his professional debut as part of the BAMMA 26 show at Dublin’s 3Arena. His first foray into the paid ranks will be against dangerous SBG fighter Richie Smullen.
Murphy’s story is not one of chasing dreams and taking risks, but rather one of pragmatism, enjoyment and simple goals. The 30-year-old, who fought six times over the course of a lengthy amateur career, isn’t seeking fortune, fame or even world championship gold.
“I just want to start getting some wins on the board at a professional level and become a legitimate pro,” Murphy recently told Pundit Arena. “I am quite happy knowing that I will never be a world champion, but I just want to see how far I can go with this.”
“I do this because I enjoy it, I’m not doing it because I’m looking for money. I find it makes me a better person and I enjoy the idea of getting comfortable in the uncomfortable.”
Don’t mistake the Carlow native for a fighter lacking determination, commitment or drive though.
Murphy works as a full-time fitness instructor at the new Waterford Institute of Technology Arena, he has a wife and a young son, but he still finds time to train six days a week. It’s a schedule that also involves a lot of travel, as the fighter makes an effort to train at a variety of locations in order to gain experience with a host of different coaches and training partners.
“You could nearly call me the travelling man,” said Murphy. “Sully’s Gym in Kilkenny is affiliated with Team Ryano and that’s essentially my base camp, with [BAMMA veterans] Myles Price and Mick Brennan. Then we go up to Dublin to train with the likes of Redser[Paul Redmond], Neil Seery and the rest of Andy Ryan’s crew to test ourselves with what I would call sharks – just cream of the crop fighters.”
“I also get a nice bit of training done with Bobby Meade and Gary Wallace in Team Ryano Waterford. So the fact that Team Ryano have affiliate gyms dotted around where I live and work is brilliant because it still feels like I’m going to train in the same environment but I have different bodies all the time and it keeps things fresh.”
“In the last year and a half I have really stepped it up by just going to train with some really quality guys.”
Training with UFC veterans like Redmond and Seery may have brought Murphy’s game along at a rapid pace in recent times, but his opponent has also benefitted from sharing the mats with some world-class operators. Training alongside the aforementioned McGregor, as well as the likes of Paddy Holohan and Gunnar Nelson at SBG, Smullen has developed into a really interesting prospect.
On his professional debut at Shinobi Wars 8 back in July, Smullen submitted Welshman Jay Moogan with a beautiful leg-lock in the second round.
Murphy was impressed, but unperturbed.
“I have seen Richie on a few shows, I don’t pay too much attention to my opponent, but, look, he is a quality guy,” Andrew said. “He did a really good job on his debut. He pushed his opponent into the cage and showed lovely control.”
“You can’t be giving a guy like Richie your leg because he will take it home with him.”
Legs are not the only limbs that Smullen wants to mount on his wall either. He will also take your arm if you give him the opportunity. Of the six amateur wins credited to him by the MMA records database at Tapology, four of them came via submission – three armbars and another leg-lock.
Murphy is aware of the threat that the SBG product poses on the canvas, but he isn’t intimidated. A distance runner in his youth, Andrew feels that the longer the fight goes on, the more his conditioning will become a factor and thus Smullen’s grappling prowess will be less of a cause for concern.
“He has got super grappling – he’s a purple belt in jits[Brazilian jiu-jitsu],” Murphy told PA. “The thing I notice with belts is, as a black belt gets tired, he becomes a brown belt, as a brown belt gets tired, he becomes a purple belt, as a purple belt gets tired, he becomes a blue belt and so on.”
“I’ve been an endurance athlete all my life. I ran miles upon miles back in the day. The way I see it is that I banked those miles. So when it gets to round 2 and round 3, I feel like those will be my rounds – when I will come into my own because my cardio is really fucking good.”
“I feel like I’ve got a lot of weapons that can cause Richie trouble and I’m sure he will be saying the same about competing against me, but that’s what makes this match-up so exciting.”
As an amateur, Murphy competed exclusively at lightweight, but he was regularly urged to attempt the cut to featherweight by his coaches, who felt he was more suited to the 145-pound division. The fight against Smullen provides him the chance to test that theory for the first time, and he is optimistic.
“I always fought at lightweight and if you look at any of my fights, I was always the smaller guy,” he said. “I was 3 or 4 kilos smaller than my opponent every time.”
“I have my weight where I want it now and I’m feeling really good. I am feeling on point.”
“I will have a level playing field with the weight for once. I feel now that I will be operating at my best weight class. This is what Myles[Price] and Mick[Brennan] have said to me from day one.”
Leading the kind of life he is leading at present, Murphy probably couldn’t find a more suitable gym to train at than Team Ryano. At the Dublin facility, the presence of Neil Seery provides constant reassurance that one can achieve his/her goals in the sport whilst holding down a full-time job and remaining dedicated to family.
“The fact that he has done what he has done and is still doing what he is doing, just shows it can be done,” Andrew said.
The Dublin flyweight, who could face Ian McCall in Belfast later this year, has stated on many occasions in the past that he advises young fighters not to focus on MMA with a single-mindedness that is detrimental to their lives outside the gym.
Murphy shares this outlook.
“This is my hobby, it’s not my job,” he said. “I think Neil said it himself, he is trying to encourage a lot of the younger lads at the club to get a job, to get their qualifications. You have to look beyond this.”
“I think a lot of people outside of MMA don’t realize, they see the big show, they see the UFC and they think everybody is making big money. Outside of Conor and a few really big names, you are not going to survive for the rest of your life on the salaries they are getting handed out.”
Perhaps, like Seery, Murphy’s attitude will take him on a journey to a place he never expected to go. But for now, enjoying life and maintaining balance is this fighter’s priority.
“I will keep competing as long as I enjoy it,” he said. “And I’m really enjoying it because I’ve got good guys around me.”
“I have everything in balance. I have my my family, my job and my training. It’s like a tripod – if you don’t put effort into all three of them, it falls over.”