Back in 2014, early in his rise to UFC prominence, Conor McGregor coined the phrase, “If one of us goes to war, we all go to war,” to describe the support for Irish MMA.
Nearly a decade later, those words still ring true. As Irish strawweight Shauna Bannon prepares to make her octagon debut this Saturday at UFC London, she does so with the full backing of many of Ireland’s original MMA trailblazers. UFC veteran Paddy Holohan is her head coach and McGregor is one of her main sponsors, with the latter even hosting a watch party for Bannon’s fight against Bruna Brasil at his Black Forge Inn restaurant in Dublin.
“I was over the moon, really,” Bannon said of McGregor’s support on The MMA Hour.
“Even before I was in the UFC, he used to congratulate me and text me ‘well done.’ I really hope he can come back and fight as well, and we can have a whole new Irish [era], because I do really believe that the takeover part two is going to happen. There’s four Irish fighters on the roster now, and there’s so many more to come as well. Ireland has unbelievable athletes and we’ve seen it happen before, and I think it’s about to happen again. And I’m so excited to be part of it.”
Super excited to be supporting Ireland’s newest UFC fighter! Shauna Bannon is FIREWORKS! Excited to see her grace the Octagon this week! We are with you all the way Shauna, when one of us go to war! ❤️ https://t.co/Hs3DtdJGKD— Conor McGregor (@TheNotoriousMMA) July 19, 2023
A lifelong martial artist with a background in kickboxing and Taekwondo, Bannon strides into her UFC debut with a perfect 5-0 professional record, highlighted by a pair of victories under the Invicta FC umbrella. She defeated two-time Invicta FC title challenger Minna Grusander via unanimous decision this past March in her most recent outing.
Bannon, 29, was still just a teenager when McGregor and the first wave of Irish UFC fighters lead a revolution for the country’s MMA scene. Her coach, Holohan, was a major part of that wave, competing five times in the UFC from 2014-15, including a memorable first-round submission victory over Josh Sampo at the infamous UFC Dublin event in 2014.
Bannon now becomes the first student from Holohan’s gym to reach the UFC.
“Paddy is one of a kind, he really is,” Bannon said. “He genuinely cares, that’s the most special thing, because I really believe you need to have trust in your coach, and you see these people kind of going from gym to gym to gym, and I’m like, ‘How can you do that? How do you trust what someone’s saying to you when you don’t have that connection and bond?’ I’ve known Paddy longer than five years, but I know him closely five years, and he has never pointed me in the wrong direction. When he gives me advice, it’s genuinely for what’s best for me and [my son] Jace. He wants me to do well for me.
“Nothing is about him. It’s all for me and he genuinely cares. And the guidance that he gives me, not just inside the cage, but outside the cage as well for life, he’s a coach and he’s a friend, and I’m super grateful to have him and his partner Chelsea, the two of them, they’d literally do anything for me. And without them, I wouldn’t be where I am today.”
“To be his first student in the UFC is amazing,” Bannon added. “I kept saying before I was here, I was like, he’s walked the walk that I want to walk and he knows what it feels like, and the mistakes he’s made, he’s able to tell me, ‘Well, I’ve done this and I would’ve done this.’ He’s literally walked the path, so it’s just like following in his footsteps, any errors he makes, we can correct them. So it’s super cool.”
Bannon has the support of other Irish MMA trailblazers as well ahead of her octagon debut, including the first Irish woman to ever compete in the UFC: Aisling Daly.
“We’ve trained together a bit as well, so Ais has my back 100 percent,” Bannon said. “She’s legit. She did this all when nobody was doing it, when there were no girls doing it, when she had no female training partners. She’s literally the OG of Irish female MMA. Nobody’s done it like Ais, and it’s just, I don’t think she gets enough credit for what she’s done, especially in the time that it was. Like, obviously now female MMA has grown so much in the past 10 years, but back then nobody was doing it — and she made it happen.”
Bannon now joins McGregor, Ian Machado Garry, and Rhys McKee as the four Irish fighters currently under UFC contract. Considering that McGregor and Garry both scored highlight-reel knockouts in their debuts, Bannon hopes to replicate those feats against Brasil.
“I’m going to knock her out in the second round,” Bannon predicted. “Foot to the mush and I want the bonus off Dana [White].”