Cage Warriors: Joe McColgan on closed doors, coronavirus and UFC dreams

By Michael MarkeyBBC Sport NI
Joe McColgan
Joe McColgan is targeting title success at Manchester BEC on Friday night

Sitting at home and checking the latest news updates on coronavirus can be stressful and worrying for most people.

Now imagine hearing these constant updates while trying to prepare for the biggest fight of your life.

That's exactly what Joe McColgan has to do.

The Belfast Mixed Martial Artist is preparing to face unbeaten Welshman Mason Jones for the Cage Warriors lightweight title on Friday night in the most bizarre of circumstances.

Both McColgan and Jones began their training camps preparing to face different opponents, but late withdrawals pitched their respective fights in doubt. However, in somewhat of a surprise twist, Cage Warriors president Graham Boylan announced the duo would face each other.

The prospect of the pair fighting is a mouth watering contest in any event, but it now comes with the added reward of the Cage Warriors Lightweight world title.

"It's been the maddest week of my life, an emotional rollercoaster," said McColgan.

"This would be bad enough if my opponent was the same and it wasn't a world title fight, but when you add in the fact my opponents changed and it is now for a world title, its absolutely crazy."

Never-ending drama

The 33-year-old could be forgiven for thinking that would be the end of the drama, but due to the ever-changing landscape caused by the covid-19 virus, it was announced the fight would be behind closed doors, before being moved from London to Manchester after concerns the event would be called off altogether.

McColgan knows only too well of the complications and effort that is going on behind the scenes.

"At the moment there's so much uncertainty around the event but Graham Boylan seems determined to get it over the line," said the Northern Irishman.

"However what we know today might change and that could impact if the fight goes ahead or not. I can't control that.

"That's why it's so important, now more than ever, to remain focused and to have that tunnel vision to allow me to ignore the things that are out of my control and focus on the things that are in my control."

Joe McColgan
McColgan's fight with Mehdi Ben Lakhdar in September took place with a limited number of spectators

Although the event at the BEC Arena may lack the famed Cage Warriors atmosphere, McColgan admits the absence of spectators may make him more relaxed.

"It might feel more like a gym setting and when I am in the gym, I'm a killer," he said.

"I think it's going to play out in my favour not having fans there."

McColgan says he doesn't pay attention to the fans once inside the cage and expects something similar to his 2019 fight of the year against Mehdi Ben Lakhdar in BT Sport Studios, where there was only a select invite-only audience of around 200 present.

"It was very quiet and that didn't bother me. I expect something similar," he said.

"I was thinking it might never happen."

'Everything is paying off'

McColgan could be considered an Irish MMA veteran having made his professional debut in 2015 and his amateur debut in 2010.

A win against Peter Queally in September 2016 made the MMA world sit up and take notice of the Belfast lightweight but he recognises it has been a long and difficult road to get to this tile shot.

"While it was I dream of mine I was thinking it might never happen, but I was determined to get there" added the Cage Warriors fighter.

"I worked hard for 10 years. I've climbed through the amateur ranks, I've climbed through the pro ranks, I've beaten top guys, I've taken risks and I feel like its all paying off now."

Joe McColgan
McColgan is a Cage Warriors fan favourite

When the Belfast native got the call about the possibility of facing Mason for the title he couldn't believe it and joked he said yes "about a thousand times".

Many fighters would be forgiven for passing on the fight to allow for a full training camp to prepare for such a huge bout and new opponent, but that was something that was never going to cross McColgan's mind.

"The opponent change doesn't matter. My style is my style and it's up to my opponent to try and work that style out," he said.

"I don't change it for anybody and this isn't going to be any different."

Joe McColgan
McColgan knows victory on Friday night could open up doors to the UFC

To further complicate matters McColgan has had balance a full-time job and adapt his training with countless gyms being forced to close their doors due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

This new fight also isn't made any easier with the fact it will now be a five round contest rather than three, which is custom for title fights in Mixed Martial Arts.

"I am ready for five rounds. I train hard all the time and my cardio is through the roof," he said.

"I am ready to have a war for five rounds."

The stars are aligning for UFC dream

McColgan has made no secret of his dream to one day fight in the UFC and in the midst of the madness this past two weeks, the 33-year-old realises that opportunities are presenting themselves which could make the UFC dream a reality.

Successful Cage Warriors fighters have a track record of being signed by the UFC. The lightweight title being contested by McColgan on Friday was last held by Jai Herbert, who was signed by MMA's premier division earlier this year.

"I think it's a real possibility. If I go out here, put Mason away and walk away with that Cage Warriors title, then I am the number one guy outside of the UFC" said the Belfast man on his UFC prospects.

With sporting events around the world being called off due to the coronavirus pandemic, McColgan's fight is set to attract even more attention than usual.

Joe McColgan
McColgan believes reaching UFC "is a real possibility"

Contracted UFC fights will be a part of this Cage Warriors bill after Saturday's scheduled UFC London event was cancelled, and UFC president Dana White has been promoting McColgan's fight to his millions of followers on social media.

That should lead to countless more UFC fans and officials watching the Manchester event on Friday, and McColgan is hoping to take full advantage to become the first Irish fighter since Conor McGregor to hold the Cage Warriors lightweight belt and, all being well, follow in his footsteps to UFC stardom.

"If I win the belt the logical next step is to compete in the UFC, especially with event coming to Ireland in August" said McColgan, who was keen to point out that he would be more than happy to have another dream fight in Belfast when Cage Warriors return to the SSE Arena.

"While I would love for the UFC to be my next fight, I would be more than happy to fight in Belfast and then the UFC in Dublin.

"That's the dream and I feel like that's going to happen. the stars are aligning."

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