Unlike UFC, BAMMA is embracing local talent ahead of its Belfast bow

Local fighters are proving to be a huge draw for the home fans

James Gallagher, Ireland, MMA, BAMMA

Image: ©INPHO/Gary Carr

The Northern Irish fighters voiced their discontent at the fact that UFC had no local draws on their Belfast card last November.

Furthermore, there were complaints from the Irish fans that UFC had put on an underwhelming card for the second time in a row on the Emerald Isle, following the cursed October effort in 2015 in Dublin.

Although BAMMA and Bellator’s first co-promoted event in Dublin was largely a success, a number of fans leaving the 3 Arena following James Gallagher’s victory over Anthony Taylor - and during King Mo’s headline fight with Satoshi Ishii - was noted in post-fight reports.

The media clearly weren’t the only ones keeping an eye on the event as Bellator scheduled an Irish fighter, Chris Fields, as the headline attraction for their portion of February 24’s event from the SSE Arena against former champion Liam McGeary.

BAMMA have packed out their portion of the event with Northern Irish draws. Thus far, Norman Parke will take on Dublin’s Paul Redmond in the main event for the promotion’s lightweight title. In the co-main event, multiple regional flyweight titleholder, Andy Young, takes on exciting British prospect Dominique Wooding. To add to that, surging unbeaten lightweight prospect Rhys McKee is set to defend his Lonsdale title against former Irish champion, ‘Magic’ Myles Price.

For BAMMA, the reaction to the absence of a local fighter at UFC Belfast has nothing to do with the way they have put their card together. As Jude Samuel, matchmaker for BAMMA, highlighted, getting local talent on every fight card is a necessity for all of the UFC’s competitors.

“It’s not only BAMMA but any promotion outside of the UFC that look to put on a show on in any country are nearly required to look for local fighters to stimulate interest in an event,” explained Samuel.

“BAMMA is a strong brand, but it’s still not on that UFC level where you can come in and announce a show and everybody will buy tickets based on the promotion’s brand. It’s a bit of a no-brainer that we put in a bit more ground work compared to them.”

Samuel underlined that putting on an event isn’t as easy making fights and then canvassing a city with adverts, but he did notice the effect the hometown heavy cards had on the buzz surrounding events during their first trips to Dublin over the last two years.

“I noticed the buzz around the card as soon as we landed in Dublin for the first time. To have all these local fighters competing creates an atmosphere around the event and the city that it takes place in. We’re confident that we will have that same buzz again in Belfast.

“It isn’t quite as simple as making the fights and sticking up a few posters. There is still a lot of work to be done before this event to give it the proper exposure we want to, but luckily we know some great people in Belfast and in Dublin how are always willing to help us do that.” 

Norman Parke spoke about how much he wanted to compete in Belfast for a number of years during his UFC tenure. For the Next Generation front runner, it doesn’t matter which promotion hosted the event, but he praised BAMMA for tapping into the talent that exists in the area.

“BAMMA understood from the moment that they booked the Belfast event that they had to put the Northern Irish fighters on the card. There was never even a question about them doing that,” said Parke.

“Here we are now, I’m booked for the main event, and then we have a whole card packed with younger guys from the gym too.

Image: ©INPHO/Cathal Noonan

“Mark Andrew is a young talent, he’s looking to bounce back from a few losses. Andy Young is one of the most decorated fighters in Europe, and when he fought the champion Rany Saadeh in Dublin I thought he won the fight.

“Rhys McKee is one of the most exciting prospects in Europe. He’ll defend the Lonsdale title for the first time, and he’s got to that level so quickly because he constantly takes on the hardest fighters.

“The talent has always been here, and it’s nice to se BAMMA tapping into that.”

With Bellator involved, Parke also underlined the important platform that BAMMA will provide the Northern Irish fighters with that could possibly lead to opportunities on the international scene.

“I know Conor really got the crowd going when he turned up at UFC Belfast, and he could do that anywhere in the world. Without him, I doubt there would’ve been any atmosphere.

“There are a few Northern Irish guys that could’ve got a shout for that card. Some people might say they were too young, but look at the guys that get signed in the US. I think some of the younger guys are ready for that test.

“Bellator being attached to the BAMMA event gives a lot of the younger guys a chance to impress a big international promotion. And when they see the reception these fighters get in Belfast, they’re definitely going to be interested in signing them up.”