November 19th, 2016.
Two heavyweights graced the canvass, the crowd subdued.
Two Top 15 contenders gunning to climb a rung of the 265 pound ladder. It’s not often majestic. It’s worth a look.
A hard nosed American – who trained by day and bounced by night – pitted against an equally hard nosed Russian. The story could have told itself.
Belfast was no stranger to the bloodshed and the combat. Men hung from the rafters of Ulster Hall in support of McGuigan in the 80s. A world boxing title would later change hands in the same crevasse.
Oblivious to this, two men were still at battle. The crowd watched on.
It was a fierce battle, that said, from start to finish. The taller, longer Russian had a game plan, and he stuck to it. The American wiped blood from his moustache in frustration.
Both fighters had their moments. There was only a hair between the two. It was to be one man’s night, however. Another tough lesson handed down by the powers that be.
That’s the MMA game. There can only be one hand raised. At least for the majority of the time. But it doesn’t stop with the shortcomings in the cage. That would be much simpler.
There’s more to the game than the simple lifting of hands, the jubilation on faces. Four more men would enter that same arena. Each drinking from a different well.
There are levels to it on the outside too. One can cheer to their hearts content at the sight of victory from afar. In this city, if it’s a union jack or a tricolour, the cheer is greater.
The Russian had his hands raised in the end, no surprise to you I’d assume. It was going that way. It looked like it might swing the other direction. Then it hit you. The usual.
The battle moved south 27 days later. Not between men, different troops altogether. They were the less experienced folk. Taking a gamble. It created a level of intrigue, no doubt.
This time they cheered in the crowd with conviction. The green, white and gold flew over the cuckoos nest – the same maneuver we’d seen 2 years prior. A different gang altogether, this time around.
They were cautious at first, only the five battles to wet the pallet. It was very much the young guns against the world. The young ‘Irish’ guns. It might have made all the difference.
Many were skeptical at first but you couldn’t blame them. They were only being Irish after all. Always a cautious approach we had. We’ll give it a go.
The main event looked uncanny to 27 days ago. We had the hard nosed American at the helm, albeit without the moustache. He’d be up against a Japanese Olympian this time.
Another crowd subdued for the most part, some taking the early train back to the coup. Sure you can’t blame them. They gave it a try.
“Well, try harder” I heard some say. That they did. “Give us a year” was their response. You can’t bate a man for trying.
This time there were four tricolours draped over the side of the cage. Four tricolours. That’s not a bad turn out if you ask me. They teamed up with the young guns, the new folk. It seemed to work before.
It was like a bicycle being built slowly. Start with the wheels, then the handlebars. Sure we might put the breaks on yet. Maybe. Not just yet.
Now there’s a bit of momentum gathering. Most of the chatter about the young man, “Gallagher”. “Sure he’s only a poor mans McGregor”.
Well, you have to go with what you have. A good workman never blames his tools. Your father probably told you that before.
We turn the page to February 23rd. Of the year that’s in it. No sign of a hard nosed American with the moustache. No sign of any Japanese Olympians knocking around the back of the docks.
This time it seemed like a domestic affair. Waterford, Laois, Dublin, Tyrone, Cork. You name it. They were all represented.
It was a bit like a Sunday in the Super 8s. Only instead of the banana sandwiches at half time you had fifty strong queuing for a pint.
None the less, they did themselves a service. A welcome affair. Sure the old crowd haven’t made the effort with us in years.
The old crowd would have us on a Ryanair flight to an Air BnB west of Copenhagen, paying a tenner for a pint and charging the phone in the airport. Can’t be having that.
It’s a sign of the times. The old folk had us chanting “Ole, Ole, Ole” before half of these young ones were getting the blue belts.
Now it’s moving at a faster pace. Two in the same year? They must love us. We don’t mind them either. Keep it coming, we say. Fáilte romhat a chairde.
What’s to be said of the old folk? They’re hardly a thing of the past. There’s some give and take to this whole thing. But we’d hardly turn our backs on them.
There’s mouths to feed here. They’re keeping it going. They’re doing something different. They’re taking us to the cleaners, but we’re bringing the washing back.
That being said – we’ll gladly let it go on. After all, the UFC are high and dry, but Bellator are the only show in town.