When Conor McGregor defeated Diego Brandao in front of a sell-out crowd in Dublin’s O2 arena in July 2014, it looked like the Irish were indeed taking over the UFC. That night five Irish MMA fighters (six if you include SBG fighter Gunnar Nelson) won their matchups.
This wave of Irish UFC fighters didn’t end up replicating the success they had on that night in Dublin. However, its leader, Conor McGregor, went on to become the first-ever "Champ Champ" and the biggest star the MMA world has ever seen.
While Conor’s legendary career continues, will there be another Irish MMA star to take over after he retires? Here are fve of the best up-and-coming Irish MMA fighters looking to be the next Conor McGregor.
5. Kiefer 'Big Daddy' Crosbie
Another Irish MMA prospect fighting out of Conor's famous SBG Gym in Dublin. Kiefer Crosbie is a Bellator welterweight with a professional MMA record of 8-2.
The 30-year-old may have lost his last fight but he is a respectable 4-2 so far in his Bellator career. The week of Bellator 240 in Dublin, Crosbie became a father for the first time and used his new-dad energy to secure a victory in front of his hometown fans.
After his last epic bout, it will be interesting to see who "Big Daddy" is matched up against in 2021.
4. Rhys 'Skeletor' McKee
Northern Ireland’s Rhys McKee is an up-and-coming welterweight fighter. He has a respectable professional MMA record of 10-4-1. After impressing in the BAMMA and Cage Warrior’s promotions, ‘Skeletor’ was signed by the UFC in 2020.
Unfortunately, he was matched against the then-unknown Russian fighter Khamzat Chimaev. After being dominated by Chimaev, he dropped a unanimous decision to Alex Morono.
While he was recently released by the UFC, he’s only 25 and has the opportunity to grow his skills on the regional scene before returning to the big show. McKee recently said he was stepping away from MMA due to the pandemic.
3. Leah ‘The Curse’ McCourt
Leah McCourt is a 28-year-old Bellator featherweight to keep an eye on. She is a former IMMAF World and European Amateur champion and International Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Federation gold medallist.
Since losing her professional MMA debut back in 2017, she has reeled off a four-fight win streak. The SBG Charlestown fighter is currently 3-0 at Bellator after an impressive unanimous decision win over the experienced Judith Ruis.
McCourt hasn’t set foot in the Bellator cage since headlining the event in Dublin in February 2020. Let’s hope Scott Coker can get her matched up sometime soon this year.
2. Ian 'The Future' Garry
The undefeated Cage Warriors welterweight has a professional MMA record of 5-0. The Irishman is currently on a four-fight finishing streak.
Garry is scheduled to face Rosteem Akman at Cage Warriors 121 on March 19, 2021. He has big goals and wants to emulate his countryman Conor McGregor by becoming a two-weight champion in Cage Warriors.
The 23-year-old fighter has also stated that he wants to be in the UFC before he turns 25. As his nickname suggests, "The Future" is bright for this fast-rising Irish MMA star.
1. James 'The Strabanimal' Gallagher
The top Irish MMA prospect in 2021 is Bellator bantamweight contender James Gallagher. Known as "The Strabanimal," he has an impressive 11-1 professional MMA record. With nine of his wins coming by submission, Gallagher is as dangerous as they come once the fight hits the ground.
After suffering his only professional loss in 2018, he’s bounced back with four straight victories inside the Bellator cage.
The next Conor McGregor?
At just 24 years of age, the SBG fighter has the potential to follow in his teammate Conor McGregor's footsteps as a world champion. He is scheduled to face former Bellator bantamweight title challenger Patchy Mix at Bellator 258 in May. A fight that promises to be an exciting clash of excellent grapplers.