On March 9th of this year, DCU graduate, Cathal Pendred, usurped Gael Grimaud as the Cage Warriors Welterweight Champion after a compelling five round battle in front of a sold out crown in London’s HMV Forum.
Pendred – unbeaten in over two years prior to the bout – cheered on by a considerable Irish contingent, won by unanimous decision, cementing his status as Europe’s best welterweight (77.11kg/170lbs). Now, with his first title defence to come on June 1 st in the Helix, poignantly enough, he is on the precipice of fighting in the UFC, the ultimate proving ground for Mixed Martial Artists.
He will meet Che Mills, a former UFC fighter, recently released by the company, at Cage Warriors 55, and believes a win will be sufficient to earn him a much coveted UFC contract.
“I’m not planning on defending the belt again after this one on the June 1 st. I want to beat this guy and then get signed by the UFC; I’ve beaten everyone around Europe at my weight, I’m the No 1 guy and I’m pretty sure this is going to be my last one.”
This is not to say that the former Analytical Science student is looking past Mills, a dangerous striker in his own right, but a place on the UFC roster, among the sport’s elite, is where he feels he belongs.
“Every fight is a must win fight for me, this fight is with a guy that couldn’t cut it there (UFC) but I know I can. I’ve trained with guys that are top five in the world and I can compete at that level, it’s just a matter of proving that against Che Mills, and everyone else will know that.”
As it stands the UFC’s welterweight division is arguably the most competitive in the world, and as the company is currently thinning their fighter numbers the margin for error is close to non-existent, however, Pendred welcomes the challenge.
“That’s why I want to be in the UFC; because the best guys in the world are there, and it makes it even better that my weight class is one of the most active in the UFC. I’m a competitive guy and I want to be among the best.”
Pendred is one the shining lights in a cadre of Irish fighters making waves in the MMA circuit in the UK and Europe, many of whom come from the Straight Blast Gym where he trains. One of those is featherweight Connor Mc Gregor, who will make his UFC debut in Stockholm on Saturday night against Marcus Brimage, becoming only the second Irishman to fight in the organisation.
The Straight Blast Gym, which also has a facility in Iceland, is quickly becoming known as one of the elite gyms in Europe thanks to Pendred and McGregor, as well as their Icelandic teammate Gunnar Nelson, who is at present unbeaten in the UFC. All three are under the tutelage of John Kavanagh, of whom Pendred could not speak more highly of.
“My coach John Kavanagh is hands down the best coach I’ve trained with, I’ve been to top gyms over in America and no one compares to him. He’s a great tactician and I’ve never encountered someone who can break something down and teach it as well as him.”
In terms of training for this level of competition no stone can be left unturned and, Pendred adheres to Stakhanovite regime when preparing for fights. His schedule involves training twice a day, six days a week, and encompasses sparring, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, boxing, kick- boxing, wrestling and strength and conditioning. But, as the old adage goes; hard work pays off.
“It’s just my life at this stage. I’m making sacrifices in terms of my friends; I never really get to see them, but it’s 100% worth it and I can see it unfolding in front of my eyes. I’m 25 now and I’ll probably fight for another 10 or 11 years, afterwards I’ll have been to the top and I’ll have made my money, and I can enjoy the rest of my life.”
With the fight a little under eight weeks away the new champion’s training is in full flight, and with more than just title retention at stake, there must be extra pangs of pressure to contend with?
“There is always pressure on me in a fight that is put on by myself; I’m my biggest critic and also push myself the most. When it comes to the fight I know I’ve done all the training and hard work and I always remind myself that I do this because I enjoy it.”
The fight will be somewhat of a homecoming; an unlikely return to DCU. Although,this is not his first time fighting in the Helix – the last time out was quite a surreal experience.
“I was actually doing my final exam in the Helix the week before. I fought on a Saturday and the Saturday before I was sitting in the Helix doing my final exam ever for college. I was sitting there trying to concentrate, and thinking I’m going to be fighting here next week against a UFC veteran (David Bielkhaden), it was a pretty weird one.”