This Weekend’s Warriors: Bellator Dublin (McCourt vs Ruis)

Bellator MMA returns to Dublin for the fifth time this weekend where Northern Ireland’s Leah McCourt (3-1) will welcome Germany’s Judith Ruis (6-4) in the main event inside the 3Arena.

This Weekend’s Warriors is a column that highlights Irish pro MMA fighters in competition, and thus we have previewed every single Irish fight on the Bellator Dublin card! Let’s get started with the main event.

Leah McCourt (3-1) vs Judith Ruis (6-4)

Leah McCourt tore onto the Irish MMA scene in 2014 with a barrage of strikes, trips, and ground and pound en route to finishing Sarah Scott via 1st-round armbar. It was the first time a female MMA bout had taken place in Ulster Hall and the first occurrence under the Clan Wars promotional banner. From day one, McCourt was breaking down barriers.

After James Gallagher was forced out of his matchup with Cal Ellenor due to a back injury, McCourt vs Ruis was promoted to the main event of Bellator Dublin. The SBG Charlestown featherweight will set records once more on Saturday night when a female fight headlines a Bellator European Series event for the first time.

Riding a three-fight win streak, “Chaos” appears to be taking the added pressure of a main event slot in her stride. McCourt is undefeated in Dublin, and she will aim to continue that trend in spectacular fashion in what will be the biggest fight of her young career, facing her most experienced opponent to date. This is a massive opportunity for Leah, and it’s evident that Bellator place a lot of faith in the 27-year-old’s star power.

With Cris Cyborg recently claiming the women’s 145lbs crown from Julia Budd and former UFC vets Cat Zingano and Leslie Smith signing with Bellator, it is evident that the female featherweight division is on this rise. While it’s still early in her career, a win on a main event platform for the former IMMAF world champion should advance McCourt toward the division’s upper echelon and an increase in competition level.

While Ruis has some solid BJJ skills, I think we may see McCourt open the contest similar to her first amateur fight. I expect McCourt to get the better of Ruis on the feet, force a trip, and then finish on the ground. A finish in the main event would really put a bow on a massive opportunity.

Charlie Ward (7-4) vs Kyle Kurtz (10-7)

After an unsuccessful stint at welterweight in the UFC, Charlie Ward found new life in the Bellator 185lbs division. “Relentless” cruised to three consecutive first-round knockout finishes, followed by a second-round TKO of Justin Moore last Summer in London. Despite dropping a unanimous decision in his last outing under the Bellator banner, Ward has the opportunity to make a statement on Saturday night. As a result of injuries forcing both James Gallagher and Peter Queally out of their respective matchups, Ward has been elevated to a co-main event position. The heavy-handed Laois man has knockout power in his fists, and a big statement over Kurtz in front of a roaring Irish crowd will help to bounce back from the loss and increase his Bellator stock. You’d imagine Scott Coker and team will be keeping a seat reserved cageside for a notorious SBG teammate also.

Kiefer Crosbie (7-1) vs Iamik Furtado (6-1)

The undefeated (ish) Kiefer Crosbie looks to make a statement of his own in the 3Arena as he features in the co-main of the Bellator 240 Sky Sports portion of the card. “Big Daddy” has progressively been transitioning from welterweight down to the lightweight division, thus this matchup versus Iamik Furtado will be contested at a 160lbs catch weight. One of the most talked about prospects in Irish MMA, Crosbie has exhibited an exciting style, garnering 5 finishes to date in his professional career.

After a somewhat underwhelming—at least by Kiefer Crosbie standards—decision victory over Hugo Pereira the last time Bellator came to Dublin, Crosbie spoke to the media about fighting smart rather than always putting on bloody wars for the fans. However, in a recent video published to Crosbie’s Instagram, he spoke about the added motivation to put on a performance this time around.

“The win is always there…It’s about the performance! It’s about statements being made. It’s about history being made! It’s about being one of the baddest people to ever come out of this sport, and to come out of this country.”

With James Gallagher touted to eventually transition to fighting in front of an American market, the opportunity may present itself for other fighters to fill the gap left in his wake. While McCourt is the headliner this time, a knockout finish and a strong performance on the mic could open the door for Kiefer make the 3Arena his own.

Frans Mlambo (8-4) vs Ricky Bandejas (12-3)

What a fight we have on our hands! Frans Mlambo vs Ricky Bandejas has it all. Irish fans may remember Bandejas as the last (and only) man to defeat James Gallagher, having knocked “The Strabanimal” out in spectacular fashion at Bellator 204. Bandejas has gone 1-2 since that night, suffering a two-fight losing streak at the hands of Juan Archuleta and Patchy Mix. Mlambo will look to avenge his SBG Ireland teammate, and he has looked impressive en route to amassing a three-fight win streak, with notable wins over Nathan Greyson and Dominique Wooding.

The former IMMAF world champion’s stock has never been higher as he takes on the most experienced opponent of his career to date in Bandejas. The storyline writes itself. A win for Mlambo, and he holds a win over the only man to beat James Gallagher. A win for Bandejas, and he’ll hold wins over two SBG fighters, with Brian Moore waiting in the wings as an option for SBG opponent number 3. Alternatively, a Gallagher vs Bandejas rematch could be on the cards to headline the next Dublin event.

Two well-rounded athletes, Bandejas and “The Black Mamba” both possess skill sets that pose danger to their counterpart, whether it be on the feet or in the grappling department. Bellator matchmaker Jude Samuel deserves a lot of credit for this one, as it has all the makings of a potential Fight of the Night.

Richard Kiely (3-2) vs George Hardwick (4-1)

Richard Kiely is a promoter’s dream. He can talk. He can self-promote. He has a flashy kickboxing style and knockout power in his hands. In just the space of 5 fights of Kiely’s short career, “The Face” has propelled himself into a BAMMA title fight and a high-profile contest against the inimitable Michael “Venom” Page. However, those traits are nothing without a consistent winning record.

After suffering a highlight reel flying knee KO to MVP, the Tallaght man needs to rebound with an impressive performance in front of a Dublin crowd, but a win is most important for him to retain his ability to call his shots. Few have garnered this much attention so soon in a young MMA career, yet Kiely made it happen through his mouth and his performances, knocking out Keith McCabe, Daniel Olejniczak, and Mickael Bucher in impressive fashion along the way. It is that type of performance that can see Kiely rebound and that MVP loss fade into history.

Yet again, this is no easy fight. George Hardwick is a solid, well-rounded fighter who has never been finished. Kiely will have his hands full on Saturday, but I think we will see a rejuvenated Kiely that lets his hands do the talking rather than his mouth this time.

Paul Redmond (15-7) vs Georgi Karakhanyan (28-10-1)

With 61 professional fights between Redmond and Karakhanyan, it’s somewhat surprising that this fight is on the prelims portion of Bellator Dublin. “Redser” was unlucky to miss out on Bellator return to Ireland’s capital last September due to a fractured tibia he sustained during wrestling practice. An ex-UFC veteran and one of the best fighters in Ireland, Redmond looked impressive entering his second stint under the promotional banner, claiming victory over a game Charlie Leary.

Karakhanyan was sent crashing out of the Bellator featherweight grand prix via an 8-second KO at the hands of AJ McKee in his most recent fight. This fight against Paul will mark the lightweight debut of “Insane,” and the Russian veteran will serve as far and away the most experienced opponent Redmond has faced to date.

I think this is one of a few fights on the card that has true meaning as far as the bigger picture in Bellator goes. A win for either man would surely see their name elevated to the upper tier of the lightweight division. Redmond has never been one to take the easy road, and Saturday night will be no different. Karakhanyan poses real danger to the Team Ryano man, and Redmond will need to execute an intelligent game plan to overcome the former WSOF champion when the cage doors close inside the 3Arena.

Philip Mulpeter (10-6) vs Daniel Crawford (10-3)

One of the OGs of Irish MMA, Philip Mulpeter was hotly tipped to join the likes of Conor McGregor and Cathal Pendred when the initial wave of Irish UFC fighters were signed, but it wasn’t to be. “Honey Badger” fell out of love with MMA for a period. Returning to the sport in 2017, Mulpeter appeared rejuvenated after the time off, winning 3 of his next 4 fights. After losing a tough fought contest to current (and former) UFC welterweight Nicholas Dalby, Philip signed with Bellator and battled to a tight decision win over Team Ryano’s Keith McCabe in Dublin. That win was enough to secure Mulpeter with the multi-fight Bellator contract he had been calling for in the media.

Mulpeter is no stranger to a tough fight, and Bellator have thrown him straight into the fire to kick off this multi-fight deal by matching the SBG man against heavy-handed Englishman Daniel Crawford. Despite dropping his last two fights, Crawford is a proven knockout artist. Like Karakhanyan, Crawford will be looking to break the losing streak and reinvent himself at the higher weight of 155lbs. Another potential contender for Fight of the Night, this one is not to be missed!

Richie Smullen (5-1-1) vs Alberth Dias (4-2)

Richie Smullen emerged from his 1st-round submission victory over Sean Tobin with a statement to make and a point to prove. Smullen promised finishes from now on in his post-fight speech, and elaborated to the media afterwards: “them motherfuckers called me boring the last time, so I’m going to show them motherfuckers what boring is!”

In a crowded Bellator space with many of SBG’s finest vying for the spotlight and a chance to progress up the ranks, it will be interesting to see if Smullen can forge a path to the top through his relentless grappling style. If the Arklow man can make good on his promise to continue finishing his opponents, he may be able to command a more prominent placement on subsequent Bellator Dublin events.

The SBG Ireland man—who had a brief stint in the UFC—welcomes Alberth Dias to Dublin on Saturday night. Dias may be in for a long night unless he can overcome Smullen’s grappling pressure, which is no easy feat for anyone on the roster. I have Smullen as a heavy favourite in this one.

Will Fleury (6-2) vs Justin Moore (9-4)

Will “Fuckin” Fleury returns to middlweight action this weekend off the back of a tough decision loss to the supremely talented Norbert Novenyi Jr. During an appearance on Off The Ball this morning, Fleury discussed the analysis that he and his coaching team carried out after the Novenyi JR fight, which ultimately identified a susceptibility to overhand rights, the specific shot that led to Fleury’s demise in both of his pro losses to date. 

The SBG Ireland man has looked impressive during his six professional victories, proving he is a dual threat with both knockout power and submission attacks. Fleury also revealed to OTB that he only has 7kg to cut this week, as opposed to the 11kg challenge ahead of his last fight, which may lead to a more energised overall display on Saturday night. 

With some minor defensive adjustments, Fleury can rebound to winning ways over Justin Moore, who leans towards a grapple-heavy style of fighting. The Tipperary native will be looking to channel his inner “raw bastard” and remind the Dublin crowd of what he is capable of with a better performance than the September show.

Dylan Logan (4-3) vs Calum Murrie (4-2)

After a rocky 2-3 start to his pro career, Dylan Logan has looked impressive since joining the Bellator ranks, securing back-to-back wins under the bright lights of the 3Arena in 2019. Most recently, Logan dispatched of Adam Gustab in the second round of their matchup via a beautifully-executed triangle choke.

The Newbridge man brings a boisterous army of support whenever he competes. For context, press row was almost upended at the last event as Logan’s supporters celebrated with in jubilation with the victor. With so many SBG fighters competing for the limelight on these Dublin shows, it’s that kind of support that will help individuals rise from the pack.

At just 4-2, Calum Murrie possesses the best record that Logan has faced to date. No stranger to a submission finish himself, this one may turn into a chess match once the fight hits the deck. If Logan can continue his Bellator winning streak with a submission over Murrie, it will certainly help his chances of commanding Dave Green and the Bellator brass’ attention, and it could see him positioned higher up on the card next time around.

Blaine O’Driscoll (7-3) vs. Ezzoubair Bouarsa (7-1)

Blaine O’Driscoll is another fighter looking to return to winning ways when he faces Ezzoubair Bouarsa this weekend. The former WWFC flyweight champion contested a highly-entertaining war against Jake Hadley in September, succumbing to a rear-naked choke in the third round. It’s out of the frying pan and into the fire for O’Driscoll though, as Bouarsa is currently riding a seven-fight win streak since his only loss, which came in his pro debut. This should be an exciting high-level exhibition for the crowd in attendance!

Ciaran Clarke (1-0) vs. Jamie Faulding (1-0)

It seems like Ciaran Clarke has been around forever, yet the Drogheda man only made his pro debut the last time Bellator came to Dublin. With an extensive amateur MMA career under his belt, Clarke (like all fighters) was afforded a fresh start and a clean record upon graduating to the professional circuit. Due to scheduling constraints, the SBG Ireland featherweight was posed with the unenviable task of fighting George Courtney on the postlims of Bellator 227. 

Despite the unexpected change of plans, Clarke grasped the opportunity with both hands. He completely dominated Courtney in every aspect of the fight and put a bow on the contest by sinking in a rear-naked choke to finish Courtney in the third round. Clarke now faces Jamie Faulding, who has competed just three times ever in MMA and has never been outside the first round of a fight. The SBG man will look to drag Faulding into uncharted waters and hand him the first loss of his career when the pair lock horns in Dublin.

Danni Neilan (1-0) vs. Chiara Penco (4-1)

Roscommon’s Danni Neilan got off to winning ways in the Bellator women’s flyweight division, cruising to a unanimous decision win over Camila Rivarola. A former IMMAF world championships silver medalist, it will be interesting to see how Neilan kicks on from her first pro win against a more experienced opponent in Chiara Penco. The Italian is a submission artist who will put Neilan’s skills to the test as the pair kick off the Bellator Dublin/240 prelims action inside Dublin’s 3Arena.

Well, there we have it folks. If you have made it to the end of this article, I sincerely salute you, and thank you for reading! There are SO MANY Irish fighters to keep an eye on this weekend. If you’ll be in attendance on Saturday evening, be sure to say hello to the Severe MMA team. Wherever you are watching from, enjoy the action!

Andy is a multimedia reporter, interviewer, writer, with a strong focus on Irish MMA. Co-host of The Auld Triangle podcast. Follow Andy on Twitter (@andyste123) and Instagram (@andystevensonMMA).

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