Pe op le
Having swapped scrums for
scraps, MMA ﬁghter Cathal
Pendred has no regrets on
leaving a promising rugby
career for life in the octagon,
writes Darragh Murphy
Strapping, buff and standing well over Portrait photography Hazel Coonagh
6ft, Cathal Pendred walks into a
central Dublin hotel looking like he’s relax with his girlfriend Michele McGrath in their new
just stepped off a sandy beach – Drumcondra house until re-entering the octagon in early
sandals, beige shorts, loose T-shirt – but sporting a cut 2016.
on his right fist. Having forgotten his usual gear, he wore
small gloves, without wrapping his hands underneath in He’ll have time to take stock of a tumultuous few
training this morning. “That never happens,” he smiles. years. It was in 2008 that he began an unlikely rise in the
“They were much worse, I had no skin there.” UFC, alongside his mentor Conor McGregor – aka ‘The
A few days after our first chat, he’s sporting more than Notorious’.
a few cut knuckles.
UFC Fight Night 76 at the 3Arena in Dublin on “We used to train together in this little industrial shed,
October 24 was meant to be Pendred’s triumphant with this dream that no one knew about, no one outside
return, 15 months after his stunning UFC debut victory at our little circle,” Pendred recalls. “We were struggling to
what was then the O2 Arena in July 2014 against Mike get petrol money to get to training and even show up.
King, who was later found to be on performance-
enhancing drugs. “We were fighting for a couple of hundred euro. And
This time, Pendred faced undefeated English fighter now he’s making millions, and we’re also all making a
Tom Breese. By the second minute of the recent fight, living from it, and we’ve made a name for ourselves.
both fighters were smeared in blood – Pendred’s blood.
Knocked out in the first round, Pendred managed to “It’s great to have been on that journey together, to
leave the arena on his feet to resounding applause, but see where we started out. The country didn’t know about
admits he felt “embarrassed” afterwards. us, didn’t even know what the sport was, and now we’re
Pendred’s sixth fight in a year - an unusually punishing fighting at the highest level with the country behind us.
schedule in the UFC - the Breese bout was maybe one It’s been a fantastic journey.”
fight too many for the 28-year-old. For now, he’s going to
But the UFC contract almost never happened for
6667 IRISH TATLER MAN Pendred. “The last six months before I made my UFC
debut were the hardest,” he admits. “I was 25, I was
FOCUS ON THE
THINGS YOU ARE
IN CONTROL OF.
WHEN YOU FOCUS
THAT’S OUT OF
IN LIFE, IT LEADS
I WOULDN’T SAY
IF IT TAKES
LOSING TO MAKE
THEN YOU’RE IN
GOT TO LIVE AND
6869 IRISH TATLER MAN
THE COUNTRY “I feel like what I’ve learned through MMA would make
DIDN’T KNOW me a better rugby player. I’d love to go back and play again,
ABOUT US, DIDN’T but the big worry would be getting injured.
EVEN KNOW WHAT
THE SPORT WAS, “I get asked all the time about the ‘brutal injuries’ in the
AND NOW WE’RE UFC. You never hear a rugby player get asked that. And
FIGHTING AT THE rugby is far more dangerous!
WITH THE COUNTRY “In the UFC, I’m always up against a guy who’s the same
BEHIND US weight as me, and my whole objective is not to get hurt by
that one other person. In rugby, you have to worry about 15
absolutely broke, I owed a couple of months’ rent, and was guys. If you’ve got the ball, you’re in trouble.
really struggling to get by.
“You see far more injuries and concussions in rugby –
“Conor had made it into the UFC at that stage, and he kept you could be a small back and you’ve got a 17-stone prop
spurring me on, kept saying, ‘It’ll pay off in the end.’ It was about to smash you to the turf. Cian Healy, for example,” he
invaluable because I was questioning whether the struggle says, laughing mischievously.
would be worth it. It definitely was, and I made my UFC debut
and it changed my life.” Pendred is, nevertheless, a little bruised, mentally and
physically, after his defeat to Breese.
Bloodied but unbowed, the teak-tough Pendred – who was
born in Boston, Massachusetts to Irish parents and moved to “I wouldn’t say losing makes me hungrier; if it takes
Dublin when he was four years old – retains a considerable losing to make you hungry then you’re in trouble. You’ve got
record, having won four out of six UFC fights. He became to live and learn.
attracted to Mixed Martial Arts at the age of 19, having won
rugby acclaim by winning the 2005 Leinster Schools Cup for “Focus on the things you are in control of. When you
Clontarf as a flanker, alongside a young Cian Healy. focus on something that’s out of your control in life, it leads
to stress. That’s what martial arts has taught me.”
“If you ever have to choose over two different things, go with
what you enjoy more,” he says. “In my case it was MMA over
“I love one-on-one competition. Even when I played rugby,
I’d pick someone on the opposite team and just make a horrible
day for them. I love the physical aspect of rugby, more than
Pendred limbers up
firstperson A gentle, thoughtful, speaker, Pendred’s Twitter slogan
is “attaining inner peace through fighting”, an ideal he
7071 IRISH TATLER MAN stresses is not contradictory.
“When I was 19, I had this unrealistic dream of making
a career out of it in the UFC, which nobody in Ireland had
done before. No one knew what the sport was. As soon
as I started training, I realised this was a possibility. It was
a great sense of satisfaction making my way up.”
The welterweight seems scarily ‘present’ and focused,
boring through your interviewer with a steady penetrating
“I feel like I was born to compete,” he adds. “The Irish
are born fighters, we’re a nation who have our
independence because we were fighters.
“When we competed thousands of years ago for food
or for a woman, we competed in hand-to-hand combat,
not by playing basketball. So MMA is, I think, the purest
form of competition. It’s in our nature.”
It’s also in Pendred’s nature to diversify. Although the
UFC hierarchy kiboshed his bid to concentrate on boxing,
he has become involved in various business ventures,
and also appears in Cardboard Gangsters, a new film
written by Love/Hate actor John Connors.
“I like to spread myself out, sometimes a bit too
much, so it can be good to have parameters.”
Parameters don’t come much harder than a Tom
Breese punch-kick combination. But Pendred has taken
bigger knocks. Just ask Cian Healy. ITM