In a week of headlines dominated by hard borders and hakas, Belfast’s Ulster Hall got ready to stage Clan Wars 33. A marquee event in the Irish MMA Calendar.
As I drove the 220 km to attend the event, I had two objectives in mind. Firstly, try to take everything in. Secondly, try not to get in anyone’s way.
I had never been to an MMA fight before and had only caught bits and snatches on TV. I had not succumbed to McGregor Mania, and without a dog in the hunt, there was little to tempt me from bed at 5am on a ‘Notorious’ Saturday night.
I arrived at the Ulster Hall a couple of hours after the event began (sadly missing Paul Kelly’s fight) and as I hung my press credentials around my neck, I tried to quash the feeling of being an interloper.
A stranger in a strange land. I tiptoed up the stairs fully expecting someone to say, “Excuse me miss, where are you going?”
As I took my place on the balcony, I wondered for a moment if I had stumbled onto the set of Peaky Blinders
Row upon row of immaculately dressed men, all transfixed by the unfolding events.
As I stood against the wall, the first thing I noticed was the temperature. The hall seemed to shimmer with a heat haze, which rose from the competition floor.
The air was thick with smells of after shave and alcohol and the heady combination made me grateful for the support the wall provided.
As I gathered my wits, a fight began. Almost before I could grasp what was happening, it was all over, and the winner was being announced. The next couple of bouts passed in a similar fashion and I thought I might never catch my breath.
Eventually a fight did go the distance, and while I was glad of the opportunity to release the breath I had been holding, it was a struggle to resist the urge to ask other spectators who was winning.
Even I was savvy enough to know that isn’t the done thing. That particular fight between Douglas and Toman was declared a draw, so I felt a little better about not being able to call it.
All day the atmosphere was electric. The music pumped, and nervous energy fizzed through the crowd. I was so absorbed that I found myself trying to time my bathroom breaks to avoid missing anything.
The notebook I had brought languished up-open, as I dared not take my eyes off the cage.
I am not writing this piece to talk about the technical aspects of the day, because let’s face it, plenty more qualified people will be doing that. As the day passed, I do think I got to witness a good sampling of what the sport of MMA has to offer.
I saw knock outs, technical knock outs, judges’ decisions, (both unanimous and split,) submissions and holds. I don’t think it could have been more comprehensive if it had been scripted specifically for my education.
There were a few special highlights for me and my untrained eye. The first of which was Andreeas Binder’s knock out in a mere 22 seconds.
As soon as his opponent was on the canvas, Andreeas seemed to mime looking at his watch, nodding and smiling as if to say
“yeah I guess 22 seconds ain’t bad!”
I couldn’t help wondering what happens now? How does a fighter deal with all the pent-up energy and aggression, if their fight comes to an early end?
Another amazing moment for me was watching Mikey Doran’s walk to the cage.
The iconic song “Zombie” blared as he made his way down the stairs. As he reached his destination, the organisers lowered the music and hundreds of voices joined together to blast out the chorus.
As they reached their collective crescendo, the sense of shared experience was indescribable and something which will stay with me.
The main event saw Oktawain Olenjicak defeat Makindea Adeyemi in the second round.
This was the single professional fight of the day and the increase in round length was so noticeable I wondered if the judge had misplaced his clapper.
At one stage, one of the venue’s staff came and stood beside me. She seemed so nervous and I asked her if she knew the fighters.
She said no but
“My nerves do be away during these.”
I was glad to know I wasn’t the only one!
Overall the event was fantastic. It was entertaining and exhilarating. It had a more profound effect on me than I ever would have anticipated. I was struck by all the little nuances that I had never picked up on when watching on TV. The intimacy and trust between the coach and his fighter.
The genuine respect the fighters show towards each other, each one gracious in victory or dignified in defeat. The professionalism of everyone involved, the medical staff, the referee, the announcer and the ring girl, all conducted themselves flawlessly.
If it is not obvious by now, let me assure you that I have been converted. It was 3am and several drinks later before the adrenaline had subsided enough to allow me to sleep.
I cannot wait for the next one. I still won’t be an expert in the mechanics, but I have been shown that it doesn’t matter.
For anyone out there that is yet to make their way to a fight, I urge you to give it a chance.
There are hundreds of people working tirelessly to elevate the sport at a national level, but they need local support.
So, buy a ticket and go along to what is truly a great day out.
I want to thank Clan Wars and the guys and girls at IFS Belfast for putting on such a wonderful show. I am sure there was no shortage of stress behind the scenes, but from where I was standing it all came together perfectly.
You have a fan for life, so please keep doing what you’re doing.
Article by: Arwen Sheridan
Feature Photo Courtesy of William Strain Photography
Post photos Courtesy of Nicky Johnston