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Dublin prepares for the Fighting Irish

DUBLIN

The area surrounding the 3Arena this week is calm and tranquil, a far cry from the scenes witnessed on July 19, 2014, the UFC’s first event in the Irish capital in over five years.

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Last year, the crowds wrapped around the arena like a boa constrictor waiting for the doors to open. Hours later they emerged merrily, singing songs of heroes gone by in homage to the efforts their countrymen who went unbeaten at UFC Fight Night: McGregor vs Brandao in the face of international opposition.

This year, the buildup is more businesslike. Across the road in the Gibson Hotel, the cast of Saturday’s Fight Night Dublin card check-in and sign their allotted amount of posters, a task that takes them roughly 20 minutes. More than 11 nations will be represented on the Dublin card, but there is an evident camaraderie among the Irish charges.

Speaking to Cathal Pendred on his way through the Gibson Hotel after fulfilling his duties for the day, the welterweight is stopped three times by his fellow Dubliners Neil Seery, Team Ryano coach Andy Ryan and,  finally, by his SBG teammate Paddy Holohan.

“It’s like being in my local pub,” laughed Pendred, who faces unbeaten English welterweight Tom Breese in just a few days time.

The city seems to be shifting its focus to this weekend’s UFC card after the disappointment of the international rugby team’s exit from the World Cup at the hands of Argentina last Sunday. At the arrivals area of Dublin Airport, a mural of all seven of the UFC’s representatives from the Republic of Ireland – Seery, Pendred, Duffy, McGregor, Holohan, Daly and Redmond – welcome international visitors to the country.

Following the River Liffey down from the Gibson Hotel and into the heart of town, passing the Convention Center that hosted the infamous UFC 189 press conference, commuters have seen the same mural since Monday. Emblazoned on a building along the City Quay, when darkness falls on Dublin at roughly 6 o’clock, the faces of the ‘The Fighting Irish” are lit up and more prominent as the same city workers make their way home.

Murray’s Bar at the end of historic O’Connell Street is expecting some busy nights this week due to the arrival of the world’s flagship MMA promotion. Last year’s Dublin event saw UFC president Dana White show up in the bar to buy all of their punters a pint, having warned the Irish fans that he would be showing up in advance. This year Murray’s will host a number of events from a meet and greet with the UFC’s official guest fighters to a quiz with commentator, John Gooden. 

“A few of the fighters are going to come and they’re saying that there’s a 50-50 chance of Dana showing up again,” the barman tells me from behind his station that boasts drinks mixers with the UFC logo printed on them especially for the fight week.

Murray’s was among many memorable nights from last year’s UFC visit, which climaxed with Conor McGregor’s first round knockout of Diego Brandao. The event acted as a launch pad for the careers of Holohan, Pendred, Seery and Norman Parke, and while they will get a chance to feel the support of their home crowd again on Saturday, Joseph Duffy and Aisling Daly will witness it for the first time.

The roar of the passionate fans was heard around the world last year, and in four days time they get their chance to make another lasting impression on the international MMA scene. 

Peter Carroll is a longtime MMA journalist who writes for the Irish Mirror, FIGHTLAND and SevereMMA.com. Follow him on Twitter at @PetesyCarroll

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