On January 17, 2009 the UFC debuted for the very first time in Ireland. The O2 arena saw a 1.3 million dollar gate and 9369 fans were in attendance. The card also did 350,000 buys, and kicked off a record breaking year that saw new benchmarks set in pay per view buy rates for the UFC.
The fans were a rowdy, boisterous bunch, chanting and singing. It was official, Ireland loved MMA and the UFC. About one month after that event, a young Irishman named Cathal Pendred kicked off his mixed martial arts career in spectacular fashion with a 38 second TKO over Attila Horvath.
Pendred was born in Boston, MA to Irish immigrants working stateside. By the time he was five years old, the family packed up and headed back to Dublin, homesick for their native country. Cathal remembers the day they left very well, the only member of the family unit that wanted to stay in Boston where all his school mates and friends were.
These days, 'The Punisher' maintains dual citizenship, and is proud to call both Ireland and America home. Since his MMA debut, he's racked up an impressive 13-2-1 record, is the CWFC welterweight champion and is currently riding an eight fight hot streak. With wins over names like Bruno Carvalho and Che Mills, the 25 year old is looking to make the jump to the big stage, following in the footsteps of his teammate, UFC featherweight star, Conor McGregor.
With McGregor bringing more hype than a leaked Kanye album, Pendred hopes the wait for a call from UFC matchmaker, Joe Silva or company president, Dana White is a short one. The former rugby player has been making waves already, and is no stranger to the attention of the masses, having already been the subject of an MTV documentary .
Cathal (pronounced Call), is a good looking, engaging young man. He's a bit more subdued than McGregor, but is still confident and witty. In a landscape where MMA would like to go worldwide with mainstream acceptance, he's the kind of guy that one would call a good ambassador for the sport.
Recently, my MMA Sentinel co-host, Iain Kidd, and I sat down with Cathal for a brief interview. The Dubliner discussed his take on the Irish breakthrough into MMA, why he's choosing to go 'the hard way' via The Ultimate Fighter, why he chose MMA over rugby, and much more. This will serve as the Bloody Elbow Meet & Greet with Ireland's next big thing.
The Irish Invasion
It's amazing, and what better guy than Conor to be out there getting all that buzz and attention. We always kind of knew that would happen. Irish fighters have always been well received in America. Boxing's big boom in the 90's, Steve Collins and Wayne McCullough were treated like hometown heroes. There's a lot of Irish Americans that are proud of their roots.
We sort of knew that once we cracked MMA, we'd be received the same way. It's brilliant to see Conor do it , and I can't wait to start fighting over there, myself. It's much better than we could have hoped. [Laughs] I've even got an added advantage. I hold two passports, and American one and an Irish one, so I'm about as Irish American as they come.
When my dad first found out I was involved in the sport, he thought I was just doing a bit of tae kwon do at the local karate club. A friend of his told him I was doing that 'cage fighting stuff'', and he said he nearly had a heart attack. He confronted me because he wasn't too happy about it.
I showed him what it really was, and educated him on it. He was tentative at the start, but then he saw what it really was, so he began to support me 100%. My mom took a bit longer to come around. Obviously, no mother wants to think of their son fighting in a cage for a living, but when she came around .... well, now she's my biggest supporter. I have a fan page on Facebook, and I think 90% of the comments and messages are from her [laughs]. She's like my Number One fan.
MMA Over Rugby
Martial arts has always been special to me. When I was a kid, I loved martial arts movies, so I ended up doing all sorts of martial arts when I was young. I did tae kwon do, judo, kickboxing ... I did a bit of everything. I never loved any one of them in particular, but collectively I did. When I found out what MMA was, when I was around 15 or 16, I was captivated by it.
I was in a high school where rugby was very big, and I was heavily involved in it. I didn't know if MMA was even in Ireland at the time. I'd never heard of any gyms or promotions around Ireland, so I didn't think there was an opportunity for me to take it up. There was a channel that used to show UFC events every weekend, and me and a friend of mine would watch that all the time. I really loved the competitive aspect of it.
When I played rugby, it might have been a team sport, but I always made it into a one on one affair. I would pick one guy and make my plan to just tackle and beat him the whole entire time. That's why I love MMA. It's the purest form of competition.
I lived in San Diego for a year after that, and since I wasn't playing rugby, I found a gym. I didn't even have to think twice about it. I just decided right then and there that I was taking it up.
The team I was a part of in school was a real star studded team, and quite a few of the guys have gone on to play professionally and are huge stars. To be honest though, I don't think I would have went to the top of the sport. It purely comes down to this; the reason I'm successful in MMA is because I love it so much that I'm obsessed with it. I think about it morning, noon and night. I'm constantly training, trying to improve myself.
I loved rugby, but not to that extent. I think to really succeed at any sport, you have to be that way. You have to be willing to put countless amounts of time into it. I didn't have that kind of passion for rugby, so I really don't think I would have got to the top of the game there.
I know I'm going to get to the top of this sport. I don't stop thinking about it. I constantly want to train and get better and improve myself. For those reasons, I know I'm going to be a world champion one day.
My motivation is just to be the best. I have this will to compete deep inside me. I was just born with it. I'm always trying to compete at everything. My friends always joke about it, because I'll compete with them over any little thing. If someone says they can do something faster than me, or they're better at something than me, no matter what it is, I'm going to try to outdo them.
When it comes to MMA, I just want to be known as the best welterweight in the world. That's what drives me every day. The money and fame and all that, it comes along with being the best, but it's not what drives me. It's that love to compete. That's what all the great champions will tell you, too. We're all driven by the desire to be the best.
Always The Scrapper
I was always in fights in my teenage years. It was that competitive streak I told you about. I love to fight, and it got me into trouble a lot. That's the great thing about MMA. Since I took it up back when I was 19, I haven't been in a single fight outside of the professional, competition arena.
I know back in the days before I got into the sport, I would have gotten into a fight at the drop of a hat, but these days, a guy can be literally screaming in my face, and it doesn't really phase me. I think it's because in the back of my head, I know I would beat this guy, or I could seriously hurt him. I don't have to prove anything to this guy, and my ego isn't shattered by walking away from a guy like that. You just can't go around hitting civilians [laughs].
I really think they should introduce MMA programs to kids in school. It would stop them from fighting on the streets and hurting each other. If you do it in a controlled environment, they can get it all out of their system there.
The Ultimate Fighter
I've been sitting around since June, and I don't have a fight lined up. I always like to have one lined up because it drives me and keeps me motivated. It's driving me nuts that I don't have anything right now. I have to keep moving forward. There's really no fights for me outside the UFC. I like to take a step up in competition after every win, and there's just no step up for me. Paul Daley would have been an option when Bellator let him go, but he has since signed with another organization, so that can't happen.
The UFC isn't really signing any welterweights at the moment. John, my coach from out there in Boston, he told me that The Ultimate Fighter was having tryouts in a few weeks at 185. I had to think about it a little bit, but I said yes. I want that contract, and I don't mind going the hard way to get it.
To be honest, I don't mind going in at 185. I'm a big welterweight, and I don't know that I could make 170 three or four times in six weeks. Right now, I'm about 205 pounds. It's a bit heavier than usual, as I try to keep it around 200 pounds. I've trained with middleweights plenty of times and never been out-muscled. I'm confident I'll be just fine in there. With no weight cut, I could really go a million miles an hour on these guys.
It's happened before, where guys go to the tryouts and don't even go into the house. They're just handed a contract. That's something I'm hoping will happen to me. Maybe they will just hand me a contract and I can get in on the Manchester card. We'll see what happens.
Right now, I'm doing my first acting gig for a BBC drama called Ripper Street. Acting is something I always kind of had an interest in. My love for martial arts came from watching movies when I was a kid, and I always thought that I'd love to do martial arts in movies. This opportunity came up, and I took it.
I didn't get to do any fight scenes in the show. I play this heavy, a gangster type. I was too scary for everyone. Nobody wanted to get hurt [laughs]. Seriously, no one messes with my character, so unfortunately, I don't get to do any moves.
It's pretty cool, and hopefully it will lead on to more in the future. Maybe I can do some Hollywood action movies, but I'll wait until after I'm a UFC champion before I start thinking about that [laughs].
Whether it be The Ultimate Fighter, Ripper Street or a near future UFC card, Cathal Pendred is definitely someone MMA fans should keep their eye on. I've got a feeling this guy is going nowhere but up, and it's probably going to be a quick ascension to the top.
*Special thanks to Cathal's lovely girlfriend Michele McGrath for orchestrating our use of the great photos in this feature. All images provided by Cathal Pendred.*
You can follow Cathal via his Twitter account, @PendredMMA