The UFC is back in Dublin.
Only this time it won’t have Dublin’s poster boy Conor McGregor dismantling a lesser opponent inside of the cage. Much to his own dismay, he was never scheduled for this card to begin with.
Who was scheduled was Ireland’s second in command, Joseph Duffy. He was supposed to take on Dustin Poirier in the main event. Sad to say, but a mild concussion forced the Irishman out of the bout, leaving Poirier without a logical opponent to step in.
As if that weren’t bad enough, Dublin’s co-main event was scratched too. No longer will they be treated to a heavyweight matchup between Stipe Miocic and Ben Rothwell.
Still, Zuffa brings some of the (relatively) top-level talent Ireland’s produced of late, including Paddy Holohan and “Stormin” Norman Parke. Despite having those two as the primary local fighters of the night, it’ll be a team effort from every Irish fighter to ensure UFC Fight Night 76 doesn’t, as anticipated, go down in flames.
Predictions for the main card are as follows:
Neil Seery vs. Jon Delos Reyes
There’s something about watching the Irish crowd do their thing (even if it’s just on a screen). Unlike watching Chris Weidman compete to chants of “U-S-A!” inside of the MGM Grand, or seeing Jose Aldo swing kicks to “HOO – VAI MORRER!” inside of Rio de Janeiro’s HSCB Arena, the palpable excitement inside of the O2 Arena (now 3Arena) seems to have a lasting effect on any Irish fighter competing that night.
They’re not just loud and obnoxious. They’re effective.
A 36-year-old Neil Seery has every chance of bringing that out in them as he kicks off the main card — a moment where, presumably, the arena starts finding its fill.
But it won’t be easy, because, you know, Seery’s a 36-year-old fighter in arguably the most athletic division the UFC has to offer. He’s had some success against decent fighters inside the Octagon, going 2-2 since diving into Zuffa’s deep end in 2014. Despite being the older, more weathered fighter in this fight, he’s favored to win. Why? Well, he’s a grinder, and grinders don’t need to be faster or more athletic than their opponents.
That, and Delos Reyes’ isn’t quite technical enough of a fighter to combat his shortcomings in any of handful of areas set to be exposed in this fight.
Prediction: Seery def. Delos Reyes via decision
Nicolas Dalby vs. Darren Till
Neither man holds any bloodlines to the Irish inside the 3Arena, but that shouldn’t matter much in their attempt to excite the always excited Dublin crowd. A pair of European welterweights looking to make their sophomore appearance inside the Octagon, Denmark’s Nicolas Dalby and England’s Darren Till put their undefeated records on the line Saturday night (or afternoon for those of us in the states).
With nearly 70 percent of his 13 victories coming by way of (T)KO, the 22-year-old Till poses plenty of threats for his 30-year-old counterpart. One of the few non-Brazilians training out of Santa Catarina’s Astra Fight Team, Till’s stand-up — particularly his technically sound Muay Thai — is head and shoulders above the average UFC welterweight. He showcased as much during his UFC debut, stopping Wendell de Oliveira Marques via second-round knockout. He stopped Marques with elbows on the ground — brutal strikes that were set up by overwhelming body kicks earlier in the bout.
Dalby might just have the formula to stifle the young striker. A forward-moving fighter with a solid grappling base, “Sharpshooter” will need to put Till on his back early and often. He may possess impressive standup as a seasoned karate fighter, but Dalby’s power-heavy wrestling attack should be enough to complicate things for the striker in Till — just as it was for Elizeu Zaleski dos Santos and his 80 percent KO rate.
Prediction: Dalby def. Till via decision
Norman Parke vs. Reza Madadi
Norman Parke’s split-decision loss to Francisco Trinaldo doesn’t look so bad now, does it? Not after Trinaldo steamrolled through a highly touted Chad Laprise at UFC Fight Night 71 in August.
The Irishman — training out of Chula Vista, California’s Alliance MMA on a part-time basis — comes into this bout having lost his last two. His last five haven’t been quite as impressive, for that matter, as “Stormin” Norman’s gone 2-2-1 since mid 2013. A solid fighter from the top position on the canvas, Parke has the necessary skills to top any mid-level fighter at 155 pounds. He may not be the submission savant he was from 2006-10, but he’s also not fighting regional MMA fighters for lesser promotions, either.
Parke takes on Reza Madadi and his 13-3 record. Madadi’s defeated four of his last five opponents, two of which came in the UFC. On that list of two stands one of the rising talents of the lightweight division: Michael Johnson. Admittedly, this was 2013, just before Johnson became the fighter he is today. In other words, Madadi didn’t defeat the guy who went on to win four (arguably five) straight against top-level lightweights, including Melvin Guillard, Joe Lauzon and Edson Barboza. A purple belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu to go with his top-level wrestling accolades, Madadi has just as good of a chance to submit the Irish fighter as he does defending what choke or lock attempts that might come his way.
But Madadi’s coming off of a two-year layoff, and at 35 years old, that can’t be good.
Prediction: Parke def. Madadi via decision
Patrick Holohan vs. Louis Smolka
Irish fans may have a hometown hero salvaging the main event, but Paddy Holohan’s going to have a tough time delivering the sort of excitement or success Conor McGregor incited last year. That sort of pressure can’t be good for any fighter, especially one who’s taking his talents as a perennial preliminary fighter and straight into the main event.
Not only that, but he faces fellow unranked Louis Smolka, a young flyweight whose lone defeat came in a split decision to former title contender Chris Cariaso last May. Since then, the young Hawaiian’s reeled off back-to-back victories over Richie Vaculik and Neil Seery. A well-rounded fighter who’s good at everything but not yet great at anything, the former PXC flyweight champion possesses many of the same skills as his opponent.
An Irish fighter who prides himself on being part of the country’s working class who worked his way up from nothing, Holohan makes sure his fights bear all the markings of his hard work. Not quite a grinder, per se, Holohan’s lost quite a bit of the steam he brought with him as a serial submission artist consistently finishing his opponents before the end of the first round. Holohan is a former bantamweight, bringing what height would often stifle the shorter men at 125. His height won’t mean much against Smolka, however, as the two men only stand an inch apart.
Prediction: Smolka def. Holohan via decision