This Saturday night at the 3Arena in Dublin’s docklands, the recent spate of top quality MMA shows to visit Ireland’s shores continues.
Just a couple of months after North American giant Bellator MMA made it’s first foray into the Irish market alongside the well established presence of BAMMA at the same venue, and mere weeks after the promotional pair lit up the SSE Arena in Belfast, Cage Warriors makes it’s triumphant return to the island.
Not since August of 2014 has Cage Warriors presented a show in Ireland, but the company’s previous visits are synonymous with names like Cathal Pendred, Artem Lobov, Neil Seery, Aisling Daly, Paddy Holohan, Joseph Duffy and a young fella named Conor McGregor – hard acts to follow.
However, at Cage Warriors 81, a number of Irish fighters will attempt to do so.
One of the most intriguing bouts on the line-up is between SBG Ireland’s Blaine O’Driscoll and the MMA Clinic’s Darren O’Gorman.
— Cage Warriors (@CageWarriors) March 1, 2017
Two of the most promising young prospects in the country, these bantamweights are perfectly matched. Dublin’s O’Driscoll is 25 years old and is 3-1 as a pro, while Cork’s O’Gorman, aged 23, is 4-1 in the paid ranks.
And they both have very similar plans for 2017.
O’Gorman recently told the42 that he hopes to notch four wins this year, adding that he feels this will be enough for him to warrant consideration from the UFC.
Speaking to Pundit Arena earlier this week, O’Driscoll stated an almost identical goal.
“My goal is four fights. If I get four I’ll be delighted,” he said, before identifying one extra target. “I want to finish this year with a belt around my waist.”
Only tied to a one-fight contract with Cage Warriors, O’Driscoll is also open to fighting for a title in BAMMA, where he has competed on two previous occasions. The bantamweight titles of both promotions are currently vacant, but the SBG representative says that he can also make flyweight.
Four wins and any title, O’Driscoll feels, will also give him a real chance of landing a spot on the roster of the world’s premier MMA promotion.
“If I can finish this year with a belt and the UFC come back here next year, maybe early next year, I think I’ll be able to get onto that show,” he said. “So I’ll concentrate this year on getting myself a pro belt, getting myself some kind of selling point.”
“Everyone likes to see someone with a belt.”
The fact that O’Driscoll and O’Gorman both sense they are just a handful of wins away from a UFC berth makes their willingness to fight each other at this point all the more impressive. There are much easier ways for each man to add to their resumes and, as O’Driscoll’s teammate Artem Lobov has often pointed out, most fighters hoping to make it to the big leagues only seem concerned with creating aesthetically pleasing records, no matter how superficial they might be.
O’Driscoll isn’t interested in such subterfuge, however.
“This is my apprenticeship on the way to the UFC. If I want to do a shit apprenticeship, when I get to the UFC I’m going to get found out and I’m going to get fucked up,” said the fighter. “I want a hard, tough apprenticeship, with some tough tests. Then, when I get [to the UFC], I’ll be at that level, I’ll be ready for that. You’re not going to get easy fights forever, so you may as well learn what it’s like.”
“If you are in easy fights, you are not going to improve that much. When you fight someone good, even if you lose, you gain so much more confidence when you come back to training because you know you have competed at that level. It’s almost like you have done months of training that you actually haven’t done. By competing at a high level, you almost gain levels as well.”
In his most recent outing, last December, O’Driscoll outpointed tough fellow Dubliner Neil Ward over three rounds at BAMMA 27. It was a good test for the young prospect, who had to come to terms with Ward’s educated and technically sound boxing game. However, he did so with maturity and poise.
“I knew he had good boxing, because I had seen him fight loads of times,” said O’Driscoll. “The plan was to push him to the fence and take the back. I’d go for the takedown and as he tried to defend it, I was just moving around to the back. It was working each time, but I was making a few mistakes on the back in finishing the takedown. Since that fight I have really worked on those mistakes and I have really improved since then.”
“My boxing is pretty good as well, it’s just that the easier option was to go for the takedown because that was working. So, I go with the least amount of resistance. I feel like I can win fights anywhere, but I’m going to find the openings in there because I’m good everywhere. I’ll find your weakness and exploit it.”
Win or learn is his coach’s famous motto, but O’Driscoll is obviously determined to learn regardless of the result.
Aside from learning from the few mistakes he made in an impressive performance, Blaine also gained valuable experience competing under the bright lights of the 3Arena and in front of the throngs who had turned out to watch the BAMMA/Bellator co-promoted offering.
This is something he feels will stand to him on Saturday.
“That was my second time fighting in the 3 on BAMMA, so it felt a bit more normal the second time,” O’Driscoll told PA. “The first time I was a bit nervous. The second time it felt grand. It actually feels like home now. This is going to be my third time, so this time I should be really relaxed. It’s the same kind of situation, going through the same things, the same walkouts.”
Though his talents have been showcased at some of the biggest events to take place in Ireland over the last couple of years, O’Driscoll has not amassed the sort of following or conjured the same sort of hype as some of his fellow SBG prospects. Dylan Tuke suffered a blip in his last outing, but prior to that ‘The Nuke’ was garnering plenty of attention. While James Gallagher is a runaway train.
However, O’Driscoll feels that his opportunity to make a real statement and identify himself to Irish MMA fans as one to watch for the future has arrived.
“I know a lot of people are overlooking me at the minute,” he said. “They are not taking me that seriously, but this is the one where I want to show what I’m all about. After this fight, people are going to take me seriously. They are going to see a different level in me.”
“Everything is coming together for me lately. I have a good gameplan that I have really been focusing on and working on. I have found the strengths in my game and I have really worked on them hard for this one. This is going to be the one where people are going to see the real Blaine.”
The Cage Warriors 81 prelims will be steamed live on The Sports Bible website, while the main card will air live on Eir Sport 2 from 9.00 p.m. GMT.
Editor’s Note: At Pundit Arena we are dedicated to supporting the next wave of Irish MMA stars and we are delighted to announce our sponsorship of Blaine O’Driscoll for Cage Warriors 81.