SHANE O’NEILL was confident that Cage Warriors’ return to Cork would be a success.
There were initial fears from the promotion’s President Graham Boylan — who is also a Cork native — about whether there was a genuine demand for it to come back to Leeside.
O’Neill knew there was and in the end, he was proven to be right.
“The event went amazingly well,” said O’Neill.
“It sold out completely and even with the amateur card I’d say there was about 600 people there an hour after the doors opened and it just grew from there.
“By the time the pro card started, it was looking pretty full and then when the main card started the place was electric, it was buzzing.
“We are very happy with how it went, it looked great as well the venue looked amazing.”
The event returned to the Rebel County for the first time since May 2011 and Neptune Stadium played host to the Mixed Martial Arts spectacle for the first time since it witnessed Joseph Duffy defeat Conor McGregor in the first round.
“The Cage Warriors production team did a fantastic job,” added O’Neill.
“Neptune is a basketball arena that’s not exactly brand new and it’s not what they are used to dealing with but the production team did an amazing job.
“It didn’t look like Neptune it looked like a venue specifically for a Cage Warriors event.
“Graham Boylan put it really well in the pre-fight talk he was giving to the fighters.
“He said ‘they were trying to put lipstick on a pig but they made the pig look very pretty” so it was good.
“But Cork is in need of a venue and Neptune is the best they have at the moment for these kinds of things but going forward, if Cork wants to attract big productions they will need a medium between the likes of Neptune and the Marquee.”
The ticket sales went so well that in the immediate aftermath of that fight night on the 9th of November, by the 11th they announced they will again be heading to Cork next July.
After eight and a half years without a show here, there will now be two in eight and a half months.
And O’Neill, who works in the MMA clinic in London believes it is great news for the sport in Ireland.
“I think Graham had decided prior to the event that he would go back to Cork anyway and that was on the back of how the tickets sales went,” he confirmed.
“The pre-sales were phenomenal for Cork, it was pretty much 80% sold out leading up to the show.
“Having Cage Warriors back in Ireland for the Irish MMA scene is amazing. The Irish MMA is buzzing with talent but it is in need of some industry experts to grow it.
“A company like Cage Warriors do it very well where they will get a talent and they will build around that talent to try and get him known by the local people and get big support for them.
“They have done that plenty of times in the past with people like Paddy Pimblett in Liverpool and Nathaniel Wood in London, those kids were grown by Cage Warriors to become local heroes with massive followings which has enabled them to make some good money and maybe progress to the UFC.
“That’s what Cage Warriors is hoping to do back in Ireland, in Belfast, in Dublin and in Cork. They have already announced three dates for next year so it is an exciting time for Irish MMA.
“One of the things that Cage Warriors coming back to Ireland and to Cork will do is — for the young kids that were there at the event — it allows them to see a production like that with some Irish fighters with that much hype and buzz around them.
“That is going to motivate the next generation and push them towards the sport.” It will also give the current generation another chance to showcase their skills.
The recent event saw Patrick Lehane secure a win on the amateur card while John Mitchell marked his professional debut with a significant victory although there was disappointment for his sparring partner Jack Maguire who was beaten on the night.
“John Mitchell had a good win against a tough opponent,” insisted O’Neill.
“He performed really well on his pro debut, he kept his composure really well.
“Jack Maguire was unfortunate, he had a bit of a bad show on the night but that is the way it goes.
“It was a first pro fight for both of them but I was speaking to Jack himself and he felt that he didn’t react the best to it and his energy wasn’t there.
“But Jack will be back and just because he lost his first fight it doesn’t mean that that they won’t build him as well.
“But John obviously after his big win — both had an amazing following— in front of a lot of his supporters, he was on the main card, it was on UFC fight pass in his first pro fight and it looked like he belonged in there.
“Definitely they will try to build around those two lads and also, the lads coming through from the amateurs.
“We are looking to get a pool of talent, it’s great to build around one superstar but it is much better when there is five or six lads competing to be that main Cork guy and the name on everyone’s lips.
“But in general we are just looking to build the whole scene in Cork and to get the spotlight upon it.
“Everyone in Cork who is interested in MMA, whether they are a fan or a fighter, it is an extremely exciting time to be involved.”