Finally after five long years, the UFC returns to Ireland this Saturday night. Dublin's 02 will host the much anticipated event which will showcase some of Ireland's top MMA talent, including break out star Conor McGregor and Ultimate Fighter 19 contestant Cathal Pendred. The card isn't laden with major star power but has managed to gain serious hype on the back of Conor's outspoken personality and supreme confidence. This event has sparked more interest in the U.S. than most international fight nights with perennial MMA journalist of the year Ariel Helwani dubbing it 'the people's card.' He will be in Dublin all week to cover the event for mmafighting.com. On the back of Conor's first UFC win and appearance on The Late Late Show with Pendred, interest in MMA in Ireland has exploded. It's safe to assume the card would have sold out anyway with Ireland being starved of a UFC event for so long, multiple UFC post fight press conferences over the years were hit with the question, 'When is the UFC coming back to Dublin?' With the added interest and media attention of a home grown star, the tickets sold out in minutes. There is a feeling in the air, an atmosphere building, the idea that everyone in attendance at the 02 on July 19th is going to be a part of something special. Below we take an in-depth look at some of the night's main bouts.
Conor's original opponent, Cole Miller had to pull out of the fight due to a hand injury. It was disappointing as the pair had gone back and fourth in the media several times and were building a solid rivalry, however the UFC wasted little time in finding a replacement in the Brazilian Brandao. He is the winner of TUF 14, slick on the ground, explosive on the feet and always dangerous. In many ways it might be a better fight than against the more measured and technical Miller. It might also be a tougher test for McGregor, the fans are expecting a knockout. Conor's first UFC bout was a 1st round knockout, he won a decision in his next fight after injuring his knee. The injury kept him out of action for nearly a year, but it hasn't affected his confidence. He is accurate, fast and hits hard, he has excellent movement and a solid base on the ground. Diego will come forward throwing bombs and winging fight-ending haymakers. If Conor can keep his head and work on countering Diego as he comes forward, this will be a very quick fight. If it goes passed the first round and we see some action on the ground, Brandou's jiu-jitsu black belt might be enough to catch McGregor. Both fighters cardio could be tested, in that case Conor would seem to have the advantage based on Diego's history.
Pick: Conor McGregor by 1st round K.O.
Highly rated Gunnar Nelson also trains at SBG in Dublin with the likes of McGregor and Pendred. Hailing from Iceland he is an impressive 12-0-1 in MMA. Including 3-0 in the UFC, with two 1st round submissions. He has a very strong Jiu-jitsu game and is underrated on the feet. Similarly to the main event his original opponent had to pull out. Stepping up to take on Nelson in the co main event is TUF alumni Zak Cummings. Since losing on the show he has amassed a two fight win streak in the UFC with one submission win and one via decision. It's definitely a step up in competition for Cummings who also possesses good jiu-jitsu. This fight may be contested on the ground and could go to decision if they cancel each other out in the submission game.
Pick: Gunnar Nelson by 1st round submission - Rear Naked Choke.
This is undoubtedly the most anticipated fight on the card from a non Irish perspective. Two extremely popular and well known fighters who have fought the best of the best in two divisions. The English Pickett is no stranger to post fight bonuses and is coming off a win over Irish fighter Neill Seery who will also be appearing on this card. Brad has a technical brawling style which had endeared him to fans over the years and he notably has a win over the current UFC flyweight champion Demetrious Johnson. This is only his second fight at flyweight as he looks to make a run at the title. McCall has already fought the divisions champion twice, once in a bizarre draw and then dropping a decision. He is coming off a win over Iliarde Santos and looking to get back on track. He is technical and good everywhere, both fighters will need to dig deep in what promises to be a spectacular back and forth affair.
Pick: Ian McCall by decision, unanimous. (Fight of the Night)
On the under card Dublin's own Cathal Pendred will take on fellow TUF 19 cast mate, American Mike King. They both lost on the show via decision to eventual winner Eddie Gordon, however Cathal's loss was a controversial split decision. Pendred possesses one of the strongest wrestling games in Irish MMA and will look to secure a takedown early to go for the ground and pound finish. Mike King is also a talented wrestler and will hope to do the same. This may come down to who has the better gas tank and who has improved the most since their time on the show.
Pick: Cathal Pendred by decision, unanimous.
There are six more fights on the card including more Irish talent. Expect the arena to be full from as early as the first preliminary fight. This is without a doubt the most important day in history for Irish MMA. The atmosphere in the 02 will be incredible and hopefully the UFC will have no choice but to return to Ireland soon. If you failed to get a ticket, you can watch the fights on UFC fightpass or on 3e. Irish MMA has arrived.
Original Article: http://www.oxygen.ie/ufc_dublin_preview.PAGE7313.html
By Philip Hanna. (@philiphanna_)