Since the rise of Conor McGregor, there has been a sudden surge in the number of Irish competitors in the UFC, the world’s premier mixed martial arts organisation.
However, while the likes of Paddy Holohan, Joseph Duffy and Neil Seery have been doing the Irish proud on an international scale, the number of Irish prospects making waves in both the Irish and European MMA circuit has been steadily rising year after year.
While watching these fighters showcase their talents may not be easy as seeing the likes of McGregor and co. compete in the UFC, there are still a number of fighters that are either only one or two fights away from competing in the Octagon, or who have shown in the early part of their career that they possess all the talent needed to one day join the UFC
Below are five Irish MMA fighters who should be carefully watched over the coming months and years.
A product of John Kavanagh’s Straight Blast Gym, Peter Queally has travelled all across the globe since his professional debut in 2012 on his quest to make it to the UFC.
With a record of 7-2, the Waterford native has gained the reputation of being one of Ireland’s most promising fighters. Fighting on several occasions in South African MMA promotion Extreme Fighting Championship, his momentum was halted slightly when he was forced to pull out of a welterweight title eliminator, and then went on to lose his next fight at lightweight by split decision.
He’s since got back to winning ways in his last two bouts and will fight again this February against Nathan Jones when UK promotion BAMMA returns to the 3 Arena on February 27th.
He may be known as “The Showstopper”, but he has somewhat failed to live up to this moniker lately. He gained notoriety in his amateur career with a stunning five-second head kick KO, but all of his professional victories have been unanimous decisions
Despite this, his victories have shown that he is a well-rounded fighter equally proficient on his feet and on the mat. Should Queally find himself victorious again in Dublin, it may be only a matter of time before he steps foot in the UFC octagon.
Also fighting at BAMMA 24, Newry’s Rooney has the opportunity to declare himself one of the best bantamweights in Europe when he takes on BAMMA’s featherweight champion Tom Duquesnoy in a non-title match.
A veteran of the Irish and British MMA scene, Rooney has been fighting the best in the country since he made his debut back in 2008. While he may have come up short against UFC veterans Paddy Holohan and Neil Seery, he holds an impressive 10-4-1 record over Brian Creighton and Alan Philpott.
Rooney is known mostly for his grappling; six of his ten victories have come by submission and he has never been submitted himself. However, he will have his hands full when he comes up against another talented grappler in the form of Duquesnoy.
Rooney may find the odds stacked against him when he fights in the BAMMA co-main event, but if he can pull off an upset in front of a home crowd, he will see his stock rise dramatically in MMA circles throughout and Europe and the world.
Mlambo may not have many professional fights under his belt, but has already proven that he has both the tools and potential to make a huge impact in the near future.
Having a background in amateur boxing, the SBG featherweight rose to prominence by becoming Ireland’s first world amateur champion in MMA, when he took home the gold medal from the IMMAF championships in July last year, winning four consecutive bouts in five days.
Since then, Mlambo has had mixed fortunes in his professional career. After an impressive hometown victory at BAMMA 22 in his professional debut, his pro record was evened out at 1-1, when he was defeated by Changxin Fu in Japan last month.
Despite this setback, his teammates and head coach have always insisted that he has the quality to make it to the UFC one day. He has no fights currently lined up, but Irish fans will be anxiously awaiting his return to competition to see him get back to winning ways.
Catherine may be coming off back-to-back losses in her career, but there’s no doubting that there’s still plenty of opportunities in the future for Costigan.
Known as the “Alpha Female”, Costigan impressed Irish fans with victories in all of her first five professional fights before signing with Invicta FC, an all women’s fighting promotion based in Las Vegas. Following a first round submission loss against Amber Brown, she would be defeated again at BAMMA 22 to leave her professional record at 5-2.
While these two losses may have set the Limerick fighter back significantly, Costigan has proven that she definitely has the skills to fight the best in the world, although her age of 35 may limit how far she is able to rise before time catches up on her.
She may have to move up a weight class in order to ever fight in the UFC (Costigan currently fights in the atomweight division; a weight class which the UFC does not have). She will presently be more focused on getting back to winning ways before setting her sights any further, however.
Irish fighters are often faced with the struggle of being compared to a certain Mr. McGregor nowadays. It may be too early to tell whether Dylan “The Nuke” Tuke can match his skills, but he certainly possesses all of the same charisma and personality.
19-year-old Tuke featured in the RTE 2 documentary “The Fighting Irish” (alongside the aforementioned Frans Mlambo) that showcased his professional debut at BAMMA 22, which saw him pick up a first round win via submission against Adam Caffrey.
Training in SBG alongside UFC flyweight Paddy Holohan, Tuke has recently announced his move to the featherweight division, and will once again compete in the 3 Arena at BAMMA 24 against Neil Ward.
While it may be too early to tell how far Tuke will make it in his career, he has already shown he has solid foundations to help him excel to the very top of the game. Whether he does or not, his vibrant personality will ensure that fans will be there supporting him throughout all of his highs and lows.
Daniel O’Connor, Pundit Arena