With the spotlight on certain fighters hailing from the Emerald Isle becoming brighter and brighter, thanks in no small part to the impact that Conor McGregor (13-2) made in his amazing UFC debut, it’s time to take a look at him and some of the other fighters and their camps in Ireland that you may very well be talking about over the next few years.

Beginning at the top, the man making all the headlines in Irish sport at the moment is “Notorious” Conor McGregor. An unprecedented amount of coverage has been afforded to the Dubliner in Ireland, the likes of which hasn’t been seen of any mixed martial arts fighter in the country ever. With much of the coverage speaking of a rags to riches story, the best part of all of this is the positive light that the 24 year-old is shining on Irish MMA right now, something it badly needs in a country who’s mainstream media is barely aware of its existence.

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McGregor’s appearance with probable future UFC welterweight Cathal Pendred on the country’s most watched chat show, The Late Late Show, was an historic moment and went down brilliantly with those who didn’t know these two fighters before, but who now are interested in the sport and curious as to their next fights.

But all of this admiration and pageantry is nothing without McGregor’s personality and in-cage ability. As a two-weight champion with Cage Warriors (the first man since Dan Henderson to hold championships in separate weight divisions simulataneously), McGregor was the real deal before even making his UFC debut in Stockholm at the beginning of April. A New Year’s Eve first round knockout of Ivan Buchinger solidified his European MMA legacy and was ultimately the exclamation point on his push for a UFC contract.

With all the hype in the world, the job still needed to be done in the Octagon and it remained to be seen whether McGregor’s supreme self-belief and deep philosophical outlook on fighting would be enough to defeat a man who was 3-0 inside the UFC’s featherweight division, Marcus Brimage. The outcome was emphatic, as McGregor took only 67 seconds to stop Brimage with several uppercuts after spending the best part of a minute landing shots from several different angles, fighting in the same supreme confidence that he preached in the lead up to the fight. This was also McGregor’s 1oth first round stoppage victory in only 13 fights. Winning the ‘Knockout of the Night’ bonus was the cherry on the cake, and finally Ireland had an MMA hero on the grandest stage of them all.

His team mate at John Kavanagh’s SBG Ireland gym in Dublin, Cathal Pendred (12-2-1), is on the cusp of following in McGregor’s footsteps by making the transition from the summit of Cage Warriors Fighting Championship to the Ultimate Fighting Championship. Pendred is the current CWFC welterweight champion, having defeated former champion Gael Grimaud in London back in March via unanimous decision to bring SBG Ireland yet another Cage Warriors title.

25 year-old former rugby player Pendred is still a few years yet from his peak, but has shown a maturity inside the cage that belies his relative youth in the sport. His five-round unanimous decision win for the title in March was as professional as it comes, utilizing a great clinch offensive as well as an always dangerous and powerful stand-up game. His biggest test to date comes on June 1st however, as he defends his CWFC welterweight title against UFC veteran Che Mills in Dublin. A victory over Mills would almost certainly give Joe Silva and Sean Shelby little choice in the matter of bringing the best welterweight in Europe into the UFC to join McGregor.

While both McGregor and Pendred fly the SBG Ireland flag so proudly, there was already an Irishman in the UFC before McGregor. That man is the winner of The Ultimate Fighter: The Smashes, “Stormin” Norman Parke, who fights out of Next Gen NI. As a member of Team UK, the Northern Irishman (17-2) beat Colin Fletcher in the finale back in December via unanimous decision. A veteran of Irish MMA promotion Cage Contender, Parke has won 12 of his 17 wins via submission, and at only 26 years of age is at the perfect stage of his career to be making a charge in the UFC’s deep lightweight division.

Unfortunately for Parke, his fight with Jon Tuck that was scheduled for last weekend’s UFC on FOX 7 event had to be cancelled due to an undisclosed injury to Tuck, though Parke had to still weigh in as he was on stand-by in case anybody else dropped out. A potential fight with Conor McGregor has been touted by McGregor himself, who doesn’t like the idea that Parke flies the UK flag as opposed to the Irish one. Watch this space.

Another member of the SBG Ireland team, Paddy Holohan (9-0-1) is an unbeaten bantamweight who has fought mostly for the Cage Contender promotion. With 7 of those 9 wins coming via submission (and all but one inside the first round), Holohan, still only 24, is easily one of the hottest prospects coming out of Ireland. What remains to be seen however is how he handles it if/when he suffers a loss, though if you a look around the killers in the SBG Ireland camp there won’t a lack of motivation. Next up for Holohan is a potential spot on the new season of The Ultimate Fighter with the first ever unisex cast and female coaches Ronda Rousey and Cat Zingano. One thing’s for sure, if you’ve ever heard Paddy in an interview, you’d be quite excited to see him inside that TUF house causing chaos, but more importantly, winning matches.

With John Michael Sheil (8-1), also from SBG Ireland, coming off a loss at Cage Warriors 49 in October, the wheels have slightly come off the middleweight’s charge up the rankings, though that loss was a split decision. With all of his wins being stoppages (7 in the first round), Sheil is easily one of the better fighters on the circuit right now.

Others that continue to be in the elite of their divisions in Europe are former Cage Contender middleweight champion Chris “The Killing” Fields (10-5) and former Cage Contender featherweight champion Owen “Rowdy” Roddy (11-4). With both men coming off losses, and a few years older than the likes of McGregor, Pendred, Parke and Holohan, a future UFC move may seem unlikely, though they remain some of the most dangerous fighters on the European circuit. Neil “2 Tap” Seery (12-9) is another who continues to make an impression in the Cage Warriors promotion, though at 33 years old, it would appear the UFC isn’t on the horizon for the Team Ryano MMA stand-out. He does however fight for the Cage Warriors flyweight title in Dublin on June 1st.

Expect more and more fighters to emerge in the coming years as the UFC returns to Dublin and Ireland’s fighters fly the flag proud on the biggest stages of them all.

Photo thanks to UFC.com

Next I’ll focus on the camps and gyms that are responsible for so many of the great fighters I’ve mentioned above so stay tuned!