No fighter ever wants to see that dreaded 'L' on their record. But losing out on your dream in a fight you believe you won? That's an even tougher pill to swallow.
So when a contentious split decision loss to eventual TUF 19 winner Eddie Gordon knocked Cathal Pendred out of last season's middleweight semifinals, the Irishman couldn't help but agonize over how a perfect situation had somehow slipped through his fingers.
There was no one more devastated than me, Pendred reflected on Monday's edition of The MMA Hour. I didn't sleep for two months afterwards.
Every night when I got into bed, I just played the fight over in my head and was thinking where I could've done things better, where I shouldn't have made certain mistakes.
Of course, at that point Pendred could never have guessed how much of a blessing in disguise his loss could be.
Not only did UFC President Dana White firmly believe that Pendred got robbed of the judges' nod, but by not being tied down to the season's July 6th finale, Pendred's fantasy scenario could actually become a reality. Just like it was meant to be, the UFC announced that it was returning to Dublin for the first time in five years, and Pendred found himself handed a chance to fulfill a lifelong dream.
I couldn't have asked for a better situation to make my debut, said Pendred, who now fights Mike King on Saturday at UFC Fight Night 46.
Being in the O2 in 2009 when the UFC first came to Dublin, I was there with my younger brother and I said to him, ‘The next time I come back here, I will 100-percent be fighting on the card.' I didn't want to miss out on that. That was a goal I set for myself, and thankfully it's come true.
Luckily for Pendred, a majority of the stink left behind by The Ultimate Fighter 19 was erased during the season's unexpectedly exciting finale, which tied the mark for most finishes on a UFC event this year. Still, throughout the show's three-month run, White left no doubt that he ranked the season among the worst in the series' lengthy history.
At least in regards to what footage was aired and the quality of the fights, Pendred agreed that any criticism lobbed by the UFC boss was fair. Although he also believed that the show's editors didn't do the cast many favors when it came to material that got left on the cutting room floor.
I think some of the fights were a bit lackluster, definitely you can say that. But I honestly think there was so much stuff that happened on the show outside of the fighting that they didn't put onto the show, and I can't understand it because it would have made the show so much more enjoyable, Pendred said. There were so many fun things that happened.
I convinced Mark Coleman halfway through the season that I was a Russian. I went into the house with a big massive beard, so obviously he had never seen me fresh-faced before. And then halfway through I shaved it off, and the night I did that he was coming over ... and I decided to play a prank on him and pretend I was this Russian guy who B.J. (Penn) had hired to be the wrestling coach, because [Coleman] was obviously very proud to be our wrestling coach. I put on a Russian accent, I even had to be the son of the guy who beat him in the World Championships.
This Russian guy beat him in the World Championships, I think it was in 1991 or something, and he just always talked about it. Obviously he has a chip on his shoulder about it, and he always just talked about how he should've beaten that guy. So I got his name and I said I was his son and talked in a Russian accent, and actually had one of the guys tell me when he came into the house, so I got one of my teammates and pretended to be showing them a double leg as he walked in. The producers said it was one of the funniest things they've ever seen in 19 seasons.
Household antics aside, while Pendred wouldn't say that he particularly enjoyed his time on TUF 19, the 25-year-old did acknowledge that he was more than glad for the experience as a whole, and that ultimately, the show made him a much stronger fighter.
It was one of the hardest things I've ever done, said Pendred.
Any interview I've had, I always mention the distractions as the worst part. You don't have anything to take yourself away from the situation and you can't watch a bit of TV or read a book, listen to an iPod, so you're constantly just with your thoughts. And obviously, as a fighter, [fighting is] all you think about, so when you don't have that, it's pretty tough. You're locked into a house. It's like jail.
It's a pretty tough spot, but I'm glad I did it because it's just easier after that. Any fight situation I'm in now is going to be easier than that one.
Now that TUF 19 is behind him, Pendred's excitement towards the future was obvious. He, alongside his SBG Ireland teammates Conor McGregor and Patrick Holohan, have the chance to introduce the new generation of Irish fighters to the global stage, and all signs point to his countrymen being ready to accept mixed martial arts into the mainstream. UFC Fight Night 46 sold out as soon as tickets were made available to the general public, while McGregor is already approaching superstar status just two fights into his UFC career.
The Irish MMA boom is approaching a tipping point, and Pendred believes Saturday night could be the final nudge his country needs.
I always knew this was going to happen, he said. I've seen Irish fans support their boxers. I remember when I was a kid, I think it was the Olympics in Barcelona in '92, and I remember seeing my family and my mother specifically watching a boxer.
I can't remember which fight it was, but he won a medal in the Olympics and everyone cried, the whole country was behind him. That's always the way it's been in Ireland. The country gets behind their fighters, and I knew once the country became educated on what MMA was and understood it, and it got rid of the bad stigma attached to it, that that's what was going to happen to the fighters.
I thought it would be more gradual that it would get to this point, but it was almost overnight and it's been amazing. It's been a trip.