Home town hero Conor McGregor crowned UFC's hugely successful return to Dublin with an explosive TKO victory over Brazil's Diego Brandao at the O2 last night.
Fighting for the first time since suffering an ACL injury last August, McGregor delivered on his promise of a first round stoppage to complete a clean sweep of Irish wins - five out of five on the night.
Roared on by a deafening 9,500 sell-out crowd, the Dubliner connected with an immediate spinning kick before Brandao succeeded in getting on the inside and pushing his opponent to the fence.
Both fighters scrambled for the upper hand on the mat before McGregor, using his elbows well, held the centre of the octagon with Brandao forced on the defensive as he was hit with another high kick.
The former Ultimate Fighter winner threw a series of punches in response, but McGregor's growing confidence was evident when he connected with a hard body punch and Brandao hit the canvas after a straight left hand to the face.
McGregor duly took top position unloading a barrage of right-handed punches to Brandao's head and referee Leon Roberts intervened with 4:05 gone in the first round.
What an event! Incredible atmosphere! Brilliant exhibition from conor mcgregor, he's some athlete..— Katie Taylor (@KatieTaylor) July 19, 2014
Reacting to his third successive UFC triumph, the 26-year-old said: “It's a clean sweep for the Irish. I've said this before, we're not here to take part - we're here to take over!
“I had a feeling if I had a chance to drop him, I'd try to pass his guard and advance position. I said I was going to put him away in the first round, and I put him away in the first round. There's not a man alive who can come on this soil and beat me.”
The featherweight star is clearly eager to get a UFC title shot, adding: “I'm going to go backstage with Mr. Lorenzo Fertitta, have a little whiskey and talk about (filling) football stadiums and world titles.”
Gunnar Nelson, who has been training alongside McGregor at John Kavanagh's Straight Blast Gym in Dublin, secured a tap-out victory over American welterweight Zak Cummings.
The Icelandic ace scored his fourth UFC win on the trot - and third by submission - with a rear naked choke in the second round, his efficient style and ground skills eventually wearing down the combative Cummings.
Antrim lightweight Norman Parke was a composed TKO winner over Japan's Naoyuki Kotani, stopping his cornered opponent in the second round with a number of powerful punches.
Holy shit ! That was absolutely unbelievable ! @TheNotoriousMMA you are a monster!— Niall Horan (@NiallOfficial) July 19, 2014
Parke used his elbows and mat skills to good effect before unleashing a flurry of punches which forced the stoppage. Afterwards he admitted: “Fighting in front of a home crowd is so special. It was just unbelievable. It's great for me to be a part of it.
“I called out Diego Sanchez, I think that would be an interesting match-up. I want to test myself against him. I like someone who comes forward.”
Earlier on, Tallaght's Paddy Holohan kicked off the prelims with a stirring win by submission over American flyweight Josh Sampo. 'The Hooligan' caught Sampo with an uppercut in the first round and gained the submission via a rear naked choke.
Thrilled with an impressive UFC debut on home turf, Holohan said afterwards: “That was just amazing. It felt like home in there. When I go out there 'the hooligan' just consumes my body. I just put my head down and swing at people.
“I'm pretty buzzing right now. Thanks to everyone who has supported me. I've had loads of message of support, it's been crazy. We're gonna have a street party tomorrow!”
In one of the fights of the night, fellow Dubliner Cathal Pendred showed brilliant battling qualities to submit Mike King who had initial control of their middleweight bout.
— Diego Brandao #UFC #RIZIN #RCC_MMA #FNG (@DiegoBrandaoMMA) July 19, 2014
The UFC debutant had an opening round to forget - King, also a Series 19 contestant in 'The Ultimate Fighter', floored him with an early takedown and a second one saw him struck with a series of hard punches.
Pendred managed to survive King's purple patch, which included a full mount and rear naked choke, and regained his feet by the end of the round as the partizan fans roared their encouragement.
King, the less experienced and older fighter by four years, tired noticeably in the second round and his rejuvenated 26-year-old opponent took full advantage with two crisp uppercuts and a slam to the ground.
It was a real slug-fest as fatigue became an issue for both men but Pendred got the decisive hold to choke King out and a gritty victory was his.
@DiegoBrandaoMMA Thank you for the fight Diego!! All the best with your career in the future my friend!!— Conor McGregor (@TheNotoriousMMA) July 20, 2014
A delighted Pendred told the crowd: “I was sitting out there as a fan five-and-a-half years ago, and I said, ‘I’m going to fight in there one day, and I’m going to fight in there the next time they come back to Dublin'.
“Mike came out really strong but even when things aren’t going my way, I can never count myself out. The crowd was amazing...it kept feeding my energy.
“I've shown that I'm an exciting fighter and that you can never count me out. I couldn't believe how excited (UFC President) Dana (White) was about the fight. This is the fairytale start to my UFC career.”
Irish eyes were also smiling after Neil '2Tap' Seery got the better of Phil Harris - avenging a 2010 defeat - with their flyweight clash going the decision.
The 34-year-old warehouse manager from Finglas earned a unanimous decision from the judges (30-27 on all scorecards), dedicating the win to his nephew who recently passed away.
“Not a lot of people know this...on Monday morning I buried my nephew. It's been hard for the family. That's for you Jamie, rest in peace,” said Seery.
UFC FIGHT NIGHT DUBLIN RESULTS:
Conor McGregor (Ire) defeated Diego Brandao by TKO (punches): round 1, 4:05
Gunnar Nelson defeated Zak Cummings by submission (rear naked choke): round 2, 4:48
Ian McCall defeated Brad Pickett by unanimous decision: 30-27, 30-27, 29-28
Norman Parke (NI) defeated Naoyuki Kotani by TKO (punches): round 2, 3:41
Ilir Latifi defeated Chris Dempsey by TKO (punches): round 1, 2:07
Neil Seery (Ire) defeated Phil Harris by unanimous decision: 30-27, 30-27, 30-27
Cathal Pendred (Ire) defeated Mike King by submission (rear naked choke): round 2, 3:33
Trevor Smith defeated Tor Troeng by unanimous decision: 29-28, 29-28, 29-28
Nikita Krylov defeated Cody Donovan by TKO (punches): round 1, 4:57
Patrick Holohan (Ire) defeated Josh Sampo by submission (rear naked choke): round 1, 3:06