As UFC star Neil Seery retires, his Irish team-mates look to their next big star

Seery is preparing to hang up the gloves, and looks like the torch will be passed to Paul Redmond

Neil Seery, UFC,

Image: ©INPHO/Cathal Noonan

Team Ryano is usually a hive of activity, no matter what time you walk into the Finglas premises at, but just days after Christmas, the holiday season has inevitably taken its toll on the numbers.

As a poster of Neil Seery greets me at the bottom of the stairwell, the lack of music, chatter and the thudding of leather make me ponder whether there’s anyone in the building. Yet, when I make my way up the metal steps I see Paul Redmond and Seery catching their breath between rounds.

“We can only rely on ourselves, the rest of the lads are just slackers,” Redmond says with a smile on his face when I ask where the rest of the team are.

The two most recognizable fighters on the Ryano roster have two of the biggest fights of their lives on the horizon.

Seery, a 37-year-old cult icon of the Irish MMA scene, will fight for the last time on February 11 in Brooklyn against flyweight legend Ian McCall - a contest that was rescheduled after the American was hospitalized in Belfast the day before the official weigh-ins back in November.

Redmond, on the other hand, walks into a clash with Norman Parke, a fellow UFC veteran that is looking to reclaim his spot at the top tier of the sport. The winner of the BAMMA lightweight title contest should go some ways to securing another deal with one of the big international promotions.

When they finally bring pause to their frantic pace and start to stretch themselves out, the talk quickly turns to whether Redmond will be able to make the journey to New York with Seery for his clash at the Barclays Center.

“It’ll be a good break for you,” Seery tells him, while Redmond tries to add up how significant a toll the flights will have on his weight cut.

However, when he starts to make noises that suggest his presence isn’t guaranteed, Seery quickly moves on to tell me how proficient his teammate has become at cutting him just before he competes.

"Redser butchers me, that’s why I needed to bring Paddy (Wixted) last time," explains Seery. "It’s that mallet head on him. I was walking around Vegas with a patch on my eye at one stage before the Smolka fight because of him, and he nicked me again before the first scheduled McCall fight."

"I always cut him with head butts," Redmond reveals. "Last time it was the last round of his entire camp and I opened him up."

The duo cracks up at the thought of Seery’s series of lacerations. Laughter has always been a great healer for the gym, and even though both men recently lost out on bouts that could have a big impact on their wallets - and their careers - it’s evident that they aren’t spending time crying over spilled milk.

Seery was the most furious I had ever seen him when McCall pulled out of their November meeting in Belfast at the eleventh hour. Not only had a dream opponent withdrawn from the bout,leaving no time for a replacement to be found, UFC only paid Seery his show money with no added win capital, despite the fact that he was only one person out of the two that was ready to compete at the SSE Arena.

The chance to retire in front of a hometown crowd had also slipped through his grasp with McCall’s exit, but after his initial public disdain, Seery claims that he is completely unfazed by what happen up north last month.

Similarly ‘Redser’ had one of the greatest opportunities of his career taken off the table when his elbow was injured ahead of what would have been his debut for Bellator against Daniel Weichel. Such was the importance of the bout, Redmond even signed to fight at featherweight again, a lighter weight class that didn’t bring him much success during his time with the UFC.

“It was just myself, Roger Dardis and Patrick up here and we had been drilling for about 12 rounds,” he remembers. “It was the last round and I was trying to finish a takedown on Patrick and I jarred my elbow. Nobody really understood how I could’ve injured it, but later on that night we got it scanned and there was a break in the elbow.

“What can you do? Thinking about it isn’t gonna change what happened. I think the fight with Norman is a huge opportunity too, so I’d rather just worry about putting my energy into that than worrying about that could’ve happened.”

It’s as if Seery answered the question for him. Both men always have something interesting to say about any of the current affairs in the international or local sport, but they rarely give away anything too in depth about their preparation or mindset.

The Irish MMA community has celebrated the hard-nosed, honest approach of Seery as his star rose under the UFC banner. While Conor McGregor has captured the attention of the world with his flair for the extravagant, perfectly delivered comedic insults, his spectacular fighting style and his exuberant fashion choices, Seery has inspired the Irish masses with his honestly on the brutal realities of being a fighter.

Seery has become the personification of what it is to be a Team Ryano fighter. Despite him being so tied in with the identity of the club, Redmond doesn’t see Seery’s retirement having much of an impact on the Andy Ryan team.

“Nothing is going to change,” dismisses Redmond. “He’ll still be in the gym, but he won’t be doing the fight camps. He trains every day, he wouldn’t able to go from that to doing nothing even if he wanted to. He’ll always do my corner too.”

When you consider that Gunnar Nelson credits Seery as someone he “looks up to” in the sport, as a lifelong teammate of Seery’s, Redmond holds the flyweight in even higher regard than most.

‘Redser’ recalls looking on in disbelief the first time he saw Seery sparring much bigger men like John Donnelly and even heavyweight Karl Roche. He was matched with Seery on his first day of training and as he stood up to allow his pint-sized counterpart to rattle off some combinations to his body, he never expected to be hit with such venom.

“I can still feel it now when I think about it,” he says as Seery grins from ear to ear. “My whole body went hot. I tried to breath and I couldn’t breath. I couldn’t believe how hard he hit me!”

On February 11th, Seery will hand Redmond the status of being Ryano’s marquee name hen he makes his final walk from the Octagon. Two weeks later, Redmond will make his first walk as the team’s frontrunner to face Parke in Belfast, but it doesn’t seem to be something that’s sitting right for the lightweight.

“Redser will be the main man,” Seery agrees, before Redmond begins his protest.

“All the young fellas down here kick the back off me!” he replies. “I don’t think they’d be too happy with you saying I’m the main man when Seery goes.”

Seery claims that he never was conscious of being the man who a lot of the people in the gym looked up to. Lately, in every interview Seery does, he seems to hit the nail on the head when talking about the illusion of what it is to be a UFC fighter, or how disingenuous young fighters are when they talk about how much money they’re making.

Countless fighters have approached me of their own accord to talk about Seery’s refreshing outlook on the game, but the man himself is still not comfortable with being held aloft by his peers.

“I don’t ever think about what people are going to think when I’m saying things in interviews,” he says. “ These lads telling you they agree with me or anything like that are feeding you a load of b******s. They barely even train!”

Team Ryano will lose their only active UFC fighter when Seery hangs up his gloves. Although that status isn’t all encompassing in the sport, it does have a lot of weight for casual fans, who know that the UFC is the world’s flagship MMA promotion.

After getting back in the win column against Chris Stringer in his first fight since being cut from the UFC, a win over Parke will likely align Redmond with a contract from either Dana White & Co. again, or the UFC's main rival, Bellator.

He doesn’t want to say it out loud, but you can tell that Redmond needs no reminding of how important his February 24 meeting with Parke is, and to Team Ryano too.

Image: Paul Redmond in action against Chris Stringer. ©INPHO/Gary Carr

“I’m very aware of how important the fight is, and the ramifications that could come with either or a win or a loss. I’m heading up to his backyard too so it will be an extra feather in my cap if I pull off the win.

“The way I see it, as soon as he hits me, it will be the same as any other fight. The belt, the location and what could happen mean nothing then.”

Seery’s had enough of all the retirement talk and it wasn't long before he was calling for me to wrap up the session.

“You’d swear I’m dying or something! Next time you’re interviewing me there better be a few pints involved. You’re just talking b******s now.”

Redmond nods in agreement, and for some reason, you can’t help but think that he is the ideal candidate to take the mantle from Seery in 2017.