As an Irishman with a new UFC deal, Joseph Duffy is an endangered species

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As is befitting of the man, news that Irish lightweight Joseph Duffy had signed a new seven-fight UFC deal following a brief spell as a free agent was accompanied by minimal fanfare.

There was no bombast, nor were multiple members of the 155-pound division subjected to impromptu challenges on Twitter, in some transparent attempt to hog a little more of the spotlight while his name was in circulation.

That’s just not Duffy’s way, and it never will be. But, if it were, the UFC may not have allowed the Donegal native to fight out his old contract with a routine win over Reza Madadi at UFC Fight Night 107 in March, and then entertain offers from other promotions before finally tabling the sort of deal he felt deserving of.

Timing also played a significant role in the relatively subdued response to the UFC retaining the services of one of Europe’s most potent combatants.

In the hours after Pete Carroll of MMAFighting.com broke the story of Duffy (19-2 MMA, 4-1 UFC) committing his longterm future to the world’s biggest promotion, another Irishman, Conor McGregor, took to the stage of Barclays Center in Brooklyn to trade insults with Floyd Mayweather. There’s just no competing with that.

Had Duffy not signed on the dotted line, McGregor would have been left as the sole Irish-born fighter established on the UFC roster.

Just two years ago, when Duffy announced himself to the wider MMA audience with a first-round TKO of Jake Lindsey on his promotional debut at UFC 185, that scenario would have been unthinkable.

Irish fighters were ubiquitous among the ranks of the UFC as the first generation from the island bounded in behind McGregor. But now, after a slew of retirements and pink slips, they’re an endangered species.

On reflection, Duffy is somewhat taken aback by the brevity of the Celtic culling, but he’s confident the status quo will be temporary. In typically modest fashion, he also doubted whether his absence would have been keenly felt.

“To be honest, it was strange the way it happened, and it all seemed to happen very quick,” Duffy told MMAjunkie. “You had (Cathal Pendred, Paddy Holohan and Aisling Daly) retiring, and it was just so quick how it all thinned out.

“I’m not sure me leaving would have been too much of a loss because there’s always going to be a lot of talent coming through in Ireland. We love our combat sports, so I’m sure the future is going to be bright for the country.”

Veteran flyweight and Irish MMA icon Neil Seery hung up his gloves following a submission loss to Alexandre Pantoja just under a fortnight ago at UFC Fight Night 113, leaving McGregor as the lone survivor from that famous night at Dublin’s 3Arena in 2014 when Ireland was briefly the epicenter of the MMA universe.

Of course, Russian-born featherweight Artem Lobov, who grew up in Ireland, proudly flies the flag of both countries when he competes, while SBG Ireland team member Gunnar Nelson is a beloved adopted son of the Emerald Isle.

Another SBG man, Charlie Ward, has fought and lost twice under the UFC’s banner, but his UFC stint only materialized due to his connection with McGregor.

Given he has not lived in Ireland since childhood, Duffy was always somewhat of an outlier as an Irish fighting entity, but his connection to home has never waned. In fact, he draws strength from it daily.

“From day one, right back to my Cage Warriors days,” Duffy said, “that’s what my inspiration and drive was. I remember hearing about the bars being full at home with people who were watching the Cage Warriors live streams. That spurred me on even more.

“Every training camp, I remember the thoughts of people sitting in the bar watching the fight and everyone who traveled over, and that’s always been one of my inspirations. And that’s not to even mention all the fans from Wales and England who have followed me. It all means a lot to me.”

The son of a fisherman, Duffy was born close to the fishing village of Burtonport on the untamed but beautiful northwest coast of Ireland.

When the fishing industry began to dry up there, his father followed his uncle to work as tunneller in Wales. When Duffy was nine months old, the entire family made the move.

The Duffys returned to Ireland for a time when Joseph was small child, before returning to Wales, while family vacations to Donegal were frequent.

As such, Duffy was, in some people’s eyes, neither quite Irish or Welsh. But he knew exactly who he was.

“Since I was a kid, I was never one to follow the click or the bubble,” Duffy said.” Living in Wales and being Irish, I didn’t fit in there. Then coming home after living in Wales, there were people who wouldn’t consider me Irish.

“But if you let that all bother you, you’ll get nothing done. I was always proud of being Irish, right the way through school, and all my friends knew it very well. I’ve still got all my friends from Donegal, the ones I grew up with.”

In total, beginning with Tom Egan at UFC 93, and concluding with Ward’s loss at the hands of Galore Bofando, also at UFC Fight 133 in Glasgow, a total of 10 Irish-born fighters have fought in the UFC.

And every one of them has been supported with a manic fervor by their compatriots, which is a hallmark of the Irish sports fan; they rarely do half measures. In that respect, Duffy is proud to be native athlete they can rally around.

“No matter what sport it is, the Irish fans have always proved themselves and their support is always incredible,” he said. “The Irish fans will always get behind the likes of Gunnar Nelson and Artem Lobov, so it’s almost like there are more of us.

“You see it when Conor fights, with the amount of them that turn up. It would have been a bit of shame for the Irish fans to have nobody to get behind if Conor did decide to knock it on the head.”

Although McGregor has said he will return to MMA to defend his UFC lightweight title in December, his projected windfall for the boxing match with Mayweather next month is such that might he think otherwise.

Should that be the case, Duffy will be, for the time being at least, the last Irishman standing in the UFC, while over in Bellator, James Gallaghershould continue to make waves.

Training at the Tristar gym under Firas Zahabi and Eric O’Keefe, Duffy has been a resident of Montreal for more than two years. And while his skills are being honed in Canada, it’s Ireland where Duffy finds the fuel to compete.

“Before a camp, I try to get home,” Duffy said. “Because, when I go home and speak to people, and hear how much it means to them, it reminds me of that. That’s the difficult part, because when you’re away from it, sometimes you can forget.

“Some of the things people say to me is such a motivation, and I remember those words all through camp. If you’re having a bad session or things aren’t going your way, it those words you think of to push you on. And they were some of the people who really motivated me to do well.”

After defeating Ivan Gorge via first-round submission in his sophomore promotional appearance at UFC Fight Night 72 in Glasgow, Duffy took a trip back to Donegal to catch up with friends and family. What awaited him was a gesture he’ll never forget.

“I remember going home just after the Glasgow fight, and my cousins surprised me up the town, and lot of people from the town came out to welcome me home,” he said. “Then my best friend organized something for me after a festival that was going on, so home has always meant a great deal to me.”

At 29 and with his professional future secure, Duffy feels a sense of urgency about getting back in the cage and resuming his ascent through arguably the most exacting division in the sport.

And, just on the off-chance a reminder to do was required, he’s had plenty of prompting from the green hoards.

“The Irish fans on social media have been nagging me to get more active, and I haven’t been able to because I’ve been working on my game, but now I want to start putting on shows for those guys,” Duffy said.

For more on the UFC’s upcoming schedule, check out the UFC Rumors section of the site.

Filed under: News, UFC
Source: MMA Junkie