The UFC's Fight Night in Dublin ended, as expected, with UFC president Dana White telling the Irish fans: "I've travelled the world putting on these events and Dublin is without doubt the best fight town on the planet."
White had good reason to be feeling grateful to the Irish fans. They’d just packed out the 3Arena for his event, even though a series of withdrawals and cancellations had left the original card in tatters.
Fighters are always getting injured and fights are always getting cancelled, but seldom do both main events get scrapped without any replacement fights being organised.
On Thursday, White had given typically brusque responses to several fans who complained about the lack of quality remaining on the card. He tweeted to one: “return ur ticket and get ur money back. Nobody rippin u off dummy.” Another angry fan received the more succinct response: “douche”.
In the event there were only a few hundred returns, most of which were quickly resold, which is testament to the growing strength of the UFC brand, and, perhaps, to Irish fans’ world-leading eagerness to hop aboard sporting bandwagons.
The stadium shook to Ole Ole and the Fields of Athenry. There's no doubt that Irish fans love being part of a big crowd in which they can collectively enact the familiar ritual of being the best fans in the world. But is their support any use to the competitors?
Judging by the experience of the home town fighters on the night, vocal support doesn’t help you win a fight. If anything, the desire to impress the fans might lead you to take too many risks.
The one thing a noisy home crowd definitely does do is massively raise the emotional stakes, making victory more exhilarating and defeat more mortifying. Saturday night was memorable mainly for the contrast between the elation of the victorious Dublin fighters,
, and the desolation of the defeated ones,
Holohan's bout against Louis Smolka had been promoted to main event status following the withdrawal on Wednesday of the Donegal lightweight Joseph Duffy.
Holohan’s desire to repay the crowd with a victory had been plain throughout the frantic opening round, but in the second round he was inexorably overpowered by Smolka, who eventually forced him to submit with a rear-naked choke.
Holohan stood with his left eye swollen shut and gazed sadly at the slopes of the 3Arena with his one good eye.
“I never said I was the best. I never said I was born gifted. But when I do come out, I give yis everything,” he told the crowd, who responded by singing his name, as though to reassure him that he had at least given a good account of himself.
There was no such consolation for Pendred, who was brutally outclassed by his English opponent, Tom Breese. By the second minute, both fighters' upper bodies were smeared with blood – Pendred's blood, which was pouring profusely from his damaged nose. Breese finished the contest inside the first round by TKO.
Things went better for Daly, who appeared to be having an out-of-body experience as more than nine thousand fans sang along to her ring-walk song,
. From the outset Daly took the fight to her Brazilian opponent,
, and she was rewarded with a win by unanimous decision.
Seery looked more reserved as he came into the octagon, as befits a 36-year-old veteran of 26 previous fights, but even he later admitted: “I got caught up by the crowd a little bit – the crowd start screaming so I start swinging.”
Seery kept his head after taking a couple of early shots and submitted Jon Delos Reyes in the second round with a guillotine choke.
“The only reason I keep doing it is because of these [fans],” he declared. Seery also took home a $50,000 (€45,382) Performance of the Night bonus as a more tangible memento of his night’s work.
Conor McGregor did not feature on the card, but he was a highly visible presence at ringside, cheering on the Irish fighters and generally playing the same kind of role Diego Maradona played for Argentina during the Rugby World Cup.
His stamp was all over the event. It’s clear that many of the fighters have started to adopt elements of the McGregor formula in an attempt to emulate his success.
Breese, for instance, followed up his victory against Pendred by demanding a knockout bonus in the post-fight interview: “Dana White, that’s gotta be fifty G’s man, come on.”
The line wasn’t delivered with quite the same elan as the “Sixty G’s, baby!” with which McGregor famously hailed his own first win in UFC, but it was obvious whose example Breese had in mind.
McGregor has also popularised the practice of wrapping yourself in your national flag on the walk to the Octagon. On Saturday night the flags seemed to have become as much a part of the fighters' uniform as the standardised Reebok kits the UFC compels them to wear.
The first winner of the night was Garreth McLellan, a flag-toting South African with a bushy McGregor beard.
The second fight featured a Scottish McGregor clone, Robert Whiteford. Beard: check; tattoos: check; portentous talk about historic battles that only ever happened in movies: check; pre-fight posturing enlivened by lots of crazy-eyed grinning: check. Unfortunately the act failed to intimidate his opponent, Darren Elkins, who won by unanimous decision.
Sticking faithfully to the playbook, Whiteford later criticised Elkins for winning in a boring way.
Whiteford and other would-be McGregors will find that the hardest bit of the impersonation to carry off is the bit where you win all your fights.