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'The Irish Takeover Part 2': Paul Hughes On Taking Back The 'McGregor Belt'

'The Irish Takeover Part 2': Paul Hughes On Taking Back The 'McGregor Belt'
By Michael Bolton Updated
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On Friday night, Ireland had another MMA champion, as Paul Hughes unified the Cage Warriors featherweight division with a dominant victory over Jordan Vucenic, becoming the first Irish fighter since Conor McGregor to win the featherweight title in the organisation.

The Derry fighter claimed the interim title last year, and this fight was originally set to take place in May, but an injury suffered by Hughes postponed the fight until last Friday.

The stakes could not have been higher going into the bout, as Hughes took on the only fighter to defeat him so far in his career, as he came out the wrong side of a split-decision defeat to Vucenic in 2020.

However, Paul Hughes avenged the defeat in style as he put on a dominant display over five rounds to become the champion at 145 pounds.

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Three days after the biggest win of his career, Paul Hughes spoke to Balls.ie on how what the feeling has been since the victory.

“It’s indescribable mate, it honestly is indescribable. I’m not sure if it’s still sunk in, it’s starting to. The magnitude of what I’ve done on Friday night is starting to sink in just a little bit.

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It’s been very fast paced since then and a lot going on with celebrations, but I’m home now here in Derry and I’m literally just going through some of the footage and it’s starting to sink in.”

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In the biggest moment of his career with so much on the line, Hughes revealed the amount of pressure he felt going into Friday.

“The pressure was definitely increased, that was the most I ever felt pressure, the most I’ve ever felt fear in my life for a fight for sure. Absolutely everything was on the line there, everything was on the line for both fighters, and I felt that pressure.

It was difficult, but I used that fear, I utilised it to my advantage throughout camp and I showed that on Friday night. I showed that I levelled up and I showed that I am on another level.

It makes it all the more sweeter, as they say pressure makes diamonds and I was shining on Friday night.”

By winning the title on Friday, Paul Hughes joined some special names in MMA, including Conor McGregor, who was the last Irish fighter to win the Cage Warriors featherweight title.

The 25-year-old admitted how special it is to win the title McGregor once held, and receive so much support in his career so far.

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“It’s pretty special to hold the belt Conor McGregor had before he came into the game, to be the first Irish man to do that is a good sign.

Not only that, having the nation behind me already is another amazing sign so I’m very, very fortunate. I love where I'm from, I love my country, I love my nation, and to represent them is special to me, it truly, truly is.

As I said on Friday night after the fight, there ain't no man that will beat me when I walk out there with that flag draped over me."

Future In The UFC?

The future is looking bright for Hughes. Following his victory, the Derry fighter has made it clear he wants to join the UFC, which would make him the third fighter from Ireland in MMA’s biggest organisation alongside Ian Garry and Conor McGregor. 

While he confirmed there has been no contact from the UFC as of yet, Paul Hughes wants to be part of the next generation of Irish fighters in the organisation.

“We’re opening the floodgates now, we’ve got some more horses in the race again and it’s about time to be honest. Ian has of course been leading that new charge in the UFC, he’s been doing absolutely incredibly, he’s 3-0, he’s a superstar.

There’s myself now, opening the floodgates even more for the rest of the boys coming through, Irish MMA is in a good position. As Ian Garry said, the takeover part two is here.
It would mean everything and that's why I'm doing this for, this is what I'm sacrificing everything for is, is to be great.”

Had it not been for injuries, it’s likely we would be talking about Hughes for sometime as a successful athlete in the UFC, but injuries have been the one part of his career that have held him back, while also adding more pressure to his camp.

While he may have enjoyed celebrations at the weekend, Paul Hughes has shown his elite mentality as he plans to resume training tomorrow, just five days after becoming champion.

“At the end of the day, it’s adversity that’s what makes you, incredibly difficult things to deal with at the time and this camp, there’s always things to deal with. But at the end of the day, it’s how you overcome those things that make you into the person you are.

They’ve made me who I am, into the champion I am, that’s the mindset I have, I see these things as a blessing and they do make it extra sweet when you get there."

SEE ALSO: Why Cork's Callum Walsh Is The Next Big Thing In Irish Boxing 

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