Northern Ireland is quickly becoming the newest hotbed for European talent. With names such as ex-UFC lightweight “Stormin” Norman Parke (now signed to the Bellator ranks), undefeated prospect James Gallacher and BAMMA’s Rhys McKee, it most certainly confirms Northern Ireland is breeding a certain style of surging MMA stardom.
Digging deeper into the amateur and semi-pro MMA circuits, it is easy to find a multitude of young fighters eager to kick-start their careers by grinding their way up the local ranks – none more so than Ciaran “The Dark Horse” Mulholland.
Mulholland is currently fighting under the Cage Warriors Academy banner and holds the Cage Warriors South East 125lb championship. For all of you that aren’t familiar, Cage Warriors Academy is the regional level of the main Cage Warriors promotion. Ingeniously, it develops young, talented fighters through the ranks of amateur, and then feeds them into the main Cage Warriors promotion and on to greener pastures. Top notch UK and Northern Irish talents such as Cory McKenna and Cage Warriors’ new signing Liam Gittins and all have paid their dues in the development program.
Mulholland, currently at the ripe age of 22, already has 13 amateur fights under his belt. Predominantly fighting at flyweight and bantamweight, he has shown skills that could propel him into the professional circuit. In the last year, he has finished three fights by submission. He snatched a perfect first-round armbar finish against Jack Eglin to cement him as the Cage Warriors South East 125lb champion, notched another beautifully taken first-round armbar on Jack Temple and a second-round guillotine choke against a dangerous SBG Ireland prospect, Dylan Ó Donovan.
In fact, not one of his seven wins has ended in a decision. All but one have been high-level submissions, confirming grappling is his predominant game (the other, his debut, was a first-round KO/TKO). Mulholland’s tricky bottom game was never so apparent against Mike McCoy in Akuma Fighting Championship X after he ended up on his back. From the bottom, he caught his opponent with a beautiful triangle choke, earning him another submission finish.
Mulholland hasn’t cruised his way to the top of the lower leagues. He has seen some adversity in his young career, partly because he has been so active in such a talent-rich pool of competition where he has fought 7 times in the last year. His current amateur record is 7-6-0, however, because of his maturity and attitude he feels this will help shape him into a more complete fighter.
I caught up with Ciaran for a full interview. Here’s what he had to say…
Brad Dalrymple: For people that are not familiar with you, can start by telling me about your beginnings and when and how you started training MMA?
Ciaran Mulholland: I started MMA 3 years ago, I had always watched MMA and had an interested in combat sports but I’d never tried one. One day I decided I would stop watching and started doing. Immediately I knew I had found the right place for me at PHK/Belfast martial arts academy. I loved the first class on the mats and could not wait to get back.
BD: So background-wise, I understand you are a Belfast native. Can you tell me a little about where you are from and your background?
CM: I live in a beautiful city called Belfast, from an area called New Barnsley. It is a working-class community that I love and I am surrounded by great people who have a great attitude, especially when it comes to tough times. As you can imagine my community has come through some dark times in my lifetime, coming out of the troubles and dealing with post-conflict along with social deprivation. I have chosen a life of sport over a life that could have been much different. West Belfast is a district affected by suicide, drugs and anti-social behaviour. I could have chosen a less productive life path, thankfully I have great parents, family and friends that support me. I am lucky to have chosen a sport I love, with people that help develop me and drive me towards my goals. I feel I found this sport at the perfect time in my life. MMA has its ups and downs, but it’s taught me so much about myself and has made me a better person for it. I have always strived to make something of myself. I believe I can do that with this sport.
BD: By the sounds of it MMA has had a great impact on your life in such a positive way. So, moving on to your career, how would you describe your fighting style for anyone that is yet to watch your fights?
CM: Exciting, but improving. At only three years in this sport, I’m always learning and getting better and better. Currently, all my wins come via stoppage or submission. And there’s still much more to come.
BD: At a ripe age of 22, I’m sure you have a lot to accomplish. Looking back over your career up to now, it seems like you fight at both flyweight and bantamweight. Whats happening with this? Are you still experimenting, or is this to simply to give you more fight options?
CM: I think this has been my eagerness to fight. I’ve never had a full camp for a bantamweight fight, they have all been short notice but it is to keep the door open. I think in the future you’ll see me complete a full camp at bantamweight and compete but the flyweight division is currently where I’m most comfortable and definitely the division I’ve got my eye on locking down first.
BD: I feel you could take your pick of either division. I personally think your best performance up to now was the Dylan Ó Donovan fight back in June where you finished him via Guillotine. Do you agree that this is a fight you feel you have found your stride especially in your grappling game?
CM: Yeah, I would probably agree. I feel every fight I’m getting better and this was a fight I just felt really comfortable. The fight against Renato Vidovic, I put on a good performance and my submission game in this fight was high level. It’s just unfortunate the opponent was always able to do enough to get through to the bell. This camp my hand game has improved the most – I can’t wait to show off my improvements in my hometown.
BD: So that brings us on to your next fight. You have a fight coming up in the Cage Warriors Academy Grand Prix on September 8th in your hometown of Belfast against Francis Breen, a hungry prospect out of Next Generation Liverpool. What do you know about your opponent and what preparations are you putting in place?
CM: Aww man I cannot wait for this, it’s been almost 2 years since I’ve fought at home – the place is going to be electric! I know Francis Breen is one of their upcoming young fighters and I expect him to be well drilled and well versed. I know he’s coming over in the hope to steal the show so I expect an exciting, high-paced fight. I will go out there and get the finish but I’m more than prepared for a 3 round war. The Grand Prix is something I wanted, and I have been in camp for this for a while now. Camp has been going great. I’ve great sparring and training partners around me at PHK, especially my main man Patrick McNally, who is also on the bill. I also go to Next Gen [Ballymena] to get in sparring and training with some of the top pros in Northern Ireland, names such as Andy Young and Arnaud dos Santos. I am in a great frame of mind being at home and when I am happy, I cannot be beaten! I will put on a show for my fans, friends and family who come out to watch me – this will not see the judges scorecards.
BD: We will certainly be looking forward to that and hopefully we can catch up post-fight. Last of all, should you win your next bout, where do you aim to be in the next 5 years?
CM: So, September is the semi-final of the Cage Warriors Grand Prix, with the final being in December. The ideal aim is to win both these fights and to be starting 2019 a pro under the Cage Warriors banner. This is something I want as I feel Cage Warriors is the European show to be on. You have seen a lot of good talent there, and there are no easy fights in Cage Warriors. This is why you see guys who go onto the UFC do so well because the standard on Cage Warriors is so high. That’s the dream – Cage Warriors world champion, then UFC world champion.
BD: That’s great, lets hope that comes to fruition and good luck for the fight. Thank you for your time and no doubt we will speak in September.
The semi-finals of the Cage Warriors Academy Grand Prix goes down on September 8th at the Devenish Complex, Finaghy Road North, Belfast. The event poster is below.
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