By Caoilte de Barra
Bellator MMA returns to Dublin on Friday the 5th of November with a stacked card. The event will mark the first MMA event with full capacity, something that has not been seen since February 2020. The card is rich in high-level Irish MMA talent that includes four former IMMAA representatives that have since turned pro.
The most highly renowned of the group is James Gallagher, who fights in the Co-Main Event of the evening in a highly anticipated clash with Patchy Mix. Where the winner will likely earn the next shot at the Bellator MMA Bantamweight belt. This would see Gallagher become the second member of the 2015 Irish team to earn a title shot in the promotion, joining Sinead Kavanagh who is slated to fight Cris Cyborg the following week.
Gallagher had a sole bout at the 2015 IMMAF World Championships, one that saw him beat Sam Agushi via Rear-Naked Choke to progress to the next round. Unfortunately, he was forced to withdraw due to injury and opted to turn pro three months later. Since then his meteoric rise began that saw him headline sold-out events in front of packed crowds while still in his early twenties.
IMMAA Coach and 2017 World Silver Medalist Danni Neilan will also grace the card. Neilan has been at both of the most recent IMMAF events where Ireland have featured, assisting with the coaching of the Irish Youth and Senior team. Now the undefeated strawweight fighter is going to be swapping sides and putting on the gloves once again as she continues her prolific rise through the pro ranks. Looking at her transition from amateur to pro, she believes her World Championship run gave her the boost she needed to go go pro.
“I need those IMMAF fights to really reassure myself I was as good as he [John Kavanagh] was saying I was.”
“It gave me so much confidence. The minute I finished that tournament I remember saying to John [Kavanagh], “I’m ready to go pro now, I believe what you’ve been saying.””
Ciaran Clarke and Stephen Costello are the other two alumni and will join Neilan on the preliminary portion of the card of the event. Clarke had an extensive amateur career which saw him feature at five IMMAF competitions, racking up ten fights. Since going pro he has been untouchable, going on a three-fight tear in Bellator MMA. Including a win over Jean N’Doye in the Frenchman’s backyard. Ahead of his fight with Jordan Barton in Dublin, Clarke praised IMMAF for helping with his development and despite not winning a medal, gained valuable experience
“My goal for a long long time was to have the Irish flag around my shoulders, hear the national anthem and to be on top of that podium, unfortunately, I didn’t reach it but the experience gained was literally invaluable.”
Lastly, Stephen Costello will be the latest fighter from the Irish conveyor belt of talent to turn pro. Costello is second on the billing as he takes on fellow debutant Yusuf Nazokatov. Costello has featured at two IMMAF competitions, the World Cup being his most recent appearance. He has looked well-rounded in all of his performances to date, his striking in particular standing out. After winning his first two fights at the 2019 World Championships, Costello suffered back to back losses, however, each one was to the eventual competition winner.
A mention must be given to Darragh Kelly too, who makes his pro debut on the card. He was chosen to represent Ireland at the 2021 IMMAF World Championships, however, the opportunity to earn pay for punch in front of a home crowd came knocking.
The event itself highlights the continued rise of Irish fighters as we see the different waves of former IMMAA representatives thrive as pros.