Off the Hook - By Joe Reilly

Irish MMA: Only getting better!

Up until this point in time the Irish MMA scene has been mainly about developing the home fighters. While it’s continuing to do that better and better each time, it’s now starting to get the attention of more international competitors and spectators. In attendance were UFC and PRIDE veteran “The Westside strangler” Chris Brennan, PRIDE veteran James “The Colossus” Thompson and the world’s number one welterweight BJ “The Prodigy” Penn. This past Saturday in the National Boxing Stadium, MMA Rings: Reborn showcased ten professional fights that definitely gave the fans their money’s worth…

The first bout was contested at 67 kg (147.4 lbs) and featured Andy O’Connor of Chris Brennan’s Next Generation against Kevin McMullen of Progressive Fighting Systems. Both combatants were making their professional debuts and they both came out looking to impress. However, this fight was all about McMullen, as he managed to land first with a quick knockdown. O’Connor recovered briefly, but McMullen scored a quick takedown landing in full mount. From here, the progressive fighter teed off on O’Connor with good punches, but the referee quickly jumped in to his rescue awarding the TKO victory to McMullen in the first round. The victor was definitely impressive, but one could argue that the referee stepped in a little early. However, the decision could be justified on the basis that both men were novices to the pro scene.

The next fight was at 70 kg (154 lbs) and had one similarity, but one big difference. It was action-packed from the get-go, but it went the whole nine yards. The first round saw Tomas Murnikas press forward trying to establish the clinch, but his opponent Owen Dempsey circled well picking his shots. Dempsey landed leg kicks outside the clinch and defended the takedown very well, for the most part, scoring with several knees to the body of Murnikas while inside the clinch. Murnikas did secure a couple of takedowns throughout the round via Judo throws.

On the ground, he had his moments, but his big chance came early in the round with a flurry of ground and pound from the top position, but both men got tangled in the ropes. The referee then restarted the fight on the feet. Later on in the round after another successful throw, Murnikas took Dempsey’s back and attempted an armbar, which Dempsey successfully escaped. Overall in the first round, Murnikas established more takedowns and ground control, but Dempsey scrambled back to the feet just as much and scored with constant strikes. Dempsey took the round in my opinion, as he scored more in way of effective attacks.

In the second round, Murnikas came out with the exact same game plan, but a combination of fatigue and telegraphing his throws led to a clearer margin of success between both fighters. There were moments in the round that Murnikas looked close to securing a headlock in the clinch, but each time Dempsey escaped without too much difficulty.

Towards the end of the round, two elements became very apparent. First, Dempsey had been winning the striking game and defending the takedown with ease. Murnikas showed desperation before the end of the fight by shooting in on Dempsey, but he sprawled rapidly stuffing the takedown and landed punches from the all-fours position until the closing bell. To me, it was crystal clear and to the judges also, Dempsey won an impressive judge’s decision against an already promising lightweight.

The third fight of the evening was at 75 kg (165 lbs) between Alan Seery of Shika and Clive Staunton of SBG (Straight Blast Gym). From the get-go both men came out slugging. Both landed shots, but Seery was throwing wild looking to land big and Staunton’s instincts kicked in when he reacted by clinching and securing the takedown. Staunton secured a high mount in no time and landed several hammer fists from there. Seery had nowhere to go and desperately threw up an arm to block the barrage allowing Staunton to take a slick armbar submission that forced Seery to tap out in the first round. This was an exciting fight and big props to both fighters. Staunton is a dangerous fighter, but ultimately it was his cool conservative approach that allowed him to exploit the holes in Seery’s attack.

Next up, Neil Seery of Shika took on SBG’s Mick “Sissy Boy” Leonard at 65 kg (143 lbs). Both fighters started off with a touch of gloves, but Leonard wasted no time by shooting in and scoring a textbook double leg takedown. On the way down, Seery tried to grab a guillotine choke, but Leonard avoided it by jumping to side control. From there Leonard switched to the mount and landed a couple of punches, but then very slickly transitioned to a triangle choke. Seery tapped out to give Leonard an impressive first-round victory. Leonard, who is also known as “King Of The Slam”, but after the fight he modestly said ‘I just haven’t been getting the big slams lately’. This man is quickly establishing himself as the Featherweight to beat in Ireland.

The unrelenting action continued in the next match up at 75 kg (165 lbs) between Aidan Marron of Progressive and Árni Ísaksson of SBG. Both men exchanged strikes early on, but it wasn’t until Marron initiated a clinch that we got to see a definitive advantage.  Marron used the position well landing with knees and punches. Ísaksson didn’t stay on the receiving end for long however, as he managed to take Marron’s back. Marron then rolled for a kneebar.

Ísaksson stayed calm though by posturing up and raining down punches to the face of Marron. Marron then aborted his submission attempt to regain guard, but Ísaksson continued his barrage of heavy ground and pound. Both men then scrambled back to their feet. Marron then secured a takedown landing in Ísaksson’s guard. Then while attempting to pass Ísaksson’s guard, Marron rolled for another kneebar. Ísaksson then used the exact same defence by scrambling to his feet and landing more heavy strikes. Marron then released the submission and both men stood back up once again. From here, Ísaksson really went for the finish by landing several unanswered punches on the feet. Marron was helpless and the referee made a good stoppage awarding the victory to Árni Ísaksson by TKO in round one. This was Ísaksson’s pro debut and he demonstrated lethal strikes with good submission defence. We can expect some promising fights from Ísaksson in the future I’m sure.

The sixth fight of the evening featured “Tomahawk” Tom Haddock of PBS (Point Blank Submissions) and Adrian “Drago” Degorski of SBG at 80 kg (176 lbs). On paper, this was certainly one of the most eagerly awaited fights on the card. Both men met in the middle of the ring and clinched right away. Haddock tried for a takedown from there, but Degorski sprawled with ease. Haddock ended up on all fours with Degorski lying on top of him. There was a pause in the action from there and the referee stood both fighters up.

Haddock then followed up with two more shots to take the fight to the ground, but Degorski stuffed both attempts with great sprawls. Back on the feet, Degorski who is a Polish boxing champion finally connected with a big left hook. Haddock countered with a takedown attempt, which Degorski reversed landing in the top position. Haddock then quickly reversed Degorski to land in full mount. From there Haddock landed many unanswered punches. With nowhere to go, Degorski gave up his back, which proved disastrous allowing Haddock to go for a rear-naked choke.

Degorski defended the choke well at first, but Haddock switched to a gable grip, a move patented by Dan “The Beast” Severn in the early days of the UFC. Degorski finally succumbed to the choke tapping out in the first round. Haddock has been impressive lately and this was a very big win for him. Degorski had made his task difficult at the beginning, but Haddock persevered demonstrating heart and a good ground game.

The next fight also promised to be big. Greg Loughran of Progressive and Francis Heagney of SBG locked horns at 70 kg (154 lbs). Loughran had already established himself as the number one lightweight in Ireland, but Heagney had previously fought at 80 kg (176 lbs). Finally, Loughran would face a tough fighter, who had to cut more weight than his previous opponents.

Heagney came out and grabbed Loughran in a clinch at the beginning and secured a nice takedown. Loughran showed composure by pulling guard when the pair hit the mat. Heagney tried to pass, but he was only able to get to half guard, which allowed Loughran the space to wriggle his way back to guard again. Loughran did a good job at controlling Heagney’s upper body preventing the bigger man from posturing up to strike. Loughran was able to land bothersome punches from the bottom. Then Heagney managed to pass to side mount, but just as quickly Loughran regained his guard.

Loughran continued to frustrate Heagney with punches from the bottom, but Heagney finally managed to posture up and land some hard punches. Loughran didn’t hang about though and dodged the strikes and managed to isolate one of Heagney’s arms. It wasn’t long before Loughran secured the triangle choke. Heagney was forced to submit, which gave Loughran the victory in the first round. Loughran was impressive in this fight, as he was able to shut down all of Heagney’s offence and counter well from the bottom. Heagney is very tough though and I’m sure he will be back better than ever, but who is next in line for Loughran?

Headliners keep the fans in their seats

The first headlining bout was contested at 93 kg (204.6 lbs) between Ireland’s Brandon Clifford and France’s Jerome Laulan. From the very start, both men exchanged heavy punches, but Jerome Laulan changed levels and scored a takedown. While both men were on the ground, it was evident that both men were bleeding. The referee stopped the action to allow the doctors to examine the cuts. It was determined that Laulan was okay, but Clifford was not as fortunate and the referee stopped the fight by the doctor’s recommendation, as he was bleeding over his eye. Initially, the fight was full of action, but ended on an anti-climatic note, but Laulan to his credit walked away delighted with his TKO victory in round one.

The penultimate fight of the night was between Petras Morkevicius of Lithuania and Christophe Gauthierot of France at 84 kg (184.8 lbs). Gauthierot came in with a big overhand right, but Morkevicius reacted well with a duck under double leg takedown. Morkevicius then immediately stood up gesturing for Gauthierot to follow him back to the feet. This really got the crowd pumped and Morkevicius then pursued the clinch and secured another takedown.

However, this time Morkevicius was more than happy to settle for the mount. From there, Morkevicius transitioned beautifully into an armbar submission victory in round one. Morkevicius showed great skill and showmanship in this fight and I believe the promoters of the event will be eager to have the Lithuanian back in the ring soon.

The main event of the evening matched up two Brazilian Jiu Jitsu black belts in the 66 kg (145.2 lbs) category. Brazil’s Renato Migliaccio came into the fight with a brief, but perfect 2 – 0 record. While French featherweight Emmanuel Fernandez brought a more experienced 5 -1 – 1 record to the table. I have seen Fernandez fight a few times in England and he is indeed very skilled, as he has defeated UFC veteran Leigh Remedios among others. His manager Darragh Creamer has always believed in his skills and welcomed the new challenge from the Pan American Bronze medallist. Migliaccio was also being cornered by PRIDE veteran James “The Colossus” Thompson.

Both men sought out a striking exchange early, but that ended when Fernandez connected with a flash punch that stunned the Brazilian forcing him to shoot in for the takedown, which he executed well, but he landed in a guillotine choke attempt from the French man. Migliaccio was able to posture out of the submission well and he then proceeded to land some good punches. Once Fernandez opened his guard from the bottom, Migliaccio scrambled to the feet. Both men then clinched on their feet. Fernandez was able to land effective dirty boxing from there with added knees to the body of Migliaccio.

Fernandez then broke away and swung a wild right hand, which Migliaccio successfully ducked under and countered with a takedown. Fernandez then attempted a triangle choke from the bottom, but Migliaccio postured out and landed some big punches. However, the combination allowed Fernandez to get back to his feet.

Migliaccio came at Fernandez with a punch to get inside the clinch and then followed up the attack with a takedown, but Fernandez showed another excellent example of scrambling, but Migliaccio was persistent and secured another takedown. From there, Migliaccio passed to full mount and went for an armbar, which Fernandez escaped, but Migliaccio was right back on his heels with a close Omoplata attempt which he used well to reverse Fernandez at the bell. The end of the first round earned a standing ovation from the crowd. It was certainly great to see learning fans appreciate such ground wizardry.

The second round opened with Fernandez throwing a nice leg kick to set up a clinch. Both fighters exchanged knees to the body, but Migliaccio caught Fernandez off guard with a nice Judo trip. Migliaccio landed in half guard and then passed fully to side mount. The Brazilian became quite active by switching to knee ride and then advanced to full mount. He followed up with punches to the head of Fernandez. The French man tried to buck up and roll, but Migliaccio demonstrated superior top control by taking his back.

Migliaccio tried to finish the fight with a rear-naked choke, but Fernandez stayed in there defending, but Migliaccio finished out the round by landing punches from the rear mount. Not surprisingly the Brazilian won a unanimous judge’s decision. This bout was very entertaining and both competitors can hold their heads up knowing that they impressed from start to finish. In terms of the ground I felt that Migliaccio would dictate if the fight went there, as he was a world-class calibre Jiu-Jitsu player, while Fernandez is still an improving black belt. I’m looking forward to see both of these men fight again soon and hopefully they will be welcomed back to Dublin in the near future.

Overall, this was a great show which was a testament to the ever-improving MMA scene in Ireland and it also proved that bigger stars are now watching the scene with eager interest. The next MMA Rings events is tentatively scheduled for December this year and also look out for the next Ring Of Truth also scheduled for December. Check out for news on the next event. For information on MMA training in Ireland please visit: