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True Grit: Behind Neil Seery’s Career Defining Win in Dublin

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  Neil “2 Tap” Seery meets me on a bicycle as I drive into his housing estate. “Hang on, I just have to check on the kids”, he tells me before cycling to the end of the road. Having thrown an eye over his two youngest children, Katie and Ryan, he leads the way to his home in the blue collar Dublin suburb of Finglas. It’s a large house and it’s kept very clean—it’s practically gleaming. Dotted around the living space are some indicators to what Seery’s “hobby” is – the gloves he wore in his UFC debut are framed by the front window and there is a picture of him of him holding the Cage Warriors flyweight belt at the foot of his fireplace—but there is nothing blatant about them, they’re as understated as the man himself. Seery explains that he had to take the week off to look after his kids because his partner is working and that usually he is back to his warehouse shift at 5.30 am the Monday after his fights. He directs me out to his garden, again it’s groomed immaculately, something the Irish flyweight puts down to him being “a bit OCD”. “If I’m not busy I’m usually in a bad humor, my missus will literally tell me to go and train,” Seery says. “I always find something to do, the Monday after the Dublin card I was out here painting fences at eight in the morning, cutting the grass—I’m just constantly moving.” You won’t meet many athletes who are two fights into their UFC careers with such a stable home setting. His own house, his own car, all paid for by his full-time job which he keeps on top of his training and coaching responsibilities, Seery definitely isn’t in the fight game for the pay check. He’s a quiet guy for the most part, very easy-going and he can appear quite stony faced. He’s not one for basking in his own glory and he gets awkward if people compliment him on a performance. Indeed, it is Seery’s animalistic competitive drive that has forced him to stay relevant in the sport. “I go home really pissed off if someone gets the better of me in training,” he admits, “I’m really bad like that. I’d be that pissed off that I’d have to go up and sleep in the attic by myself. I’m really competitive, too competitive.” Standing at 5’6’’, it’s hard to believe that the former Cage Warriors flyweight champion found his first home in the welterweight division and even then he would work endlessly to bulk out his frame for the purposes of competition. Even at that, Seery’s early training under Paul McEvoy at Shika MMA only sharpened his most powerful tool, his boxing ability that had been cultured in “nearly every boxing gym in Dublin”, which eventually brought him to his home away from home, Andy Ryan’s Team Ryano. “It got to the stage where I had to get some type of grappling training in so I went down to Andy’s. He asked me to move over to his team and as soon as I was asked I dived all over it. “I was getting beaten because of wrestling and jiu jitsu and the fact that I would fight anyone. It wouldn’t matter to me at all, there would be mad weight differences but it wouldn’t bother me. The heaviest I fought at was 75kg (165 pounds). “I used to do weight training during the week, we only trained MMA twice a week and I used to bench 140kg back then. I was really big, but I’m a midget, they were just so much taller than me. These lads were cutting weight and shit like that, I knew nothing about that. I just had breakfast and got in to fight. “Then, when the fight was over I’d go straight to the bar and start drinking. I was just losing all the time and when you’re as competitive as I am, losing is never an option,” he says. Seery seems detached from his career defining win on July 19 as we sit in his garden on a rare, sunny Dublin evening, it’s almost like it hasn’t happened. With his promotional career hanging in the balance, UFC Fight Night: McGregor vs Brandao had been the highlight of the Irish flyweight’s lifework as his hometown faithful sang for every punch, kick and takedown he landed en route to a one-sided victory over Phil Harris. Anyone who has seen the fight couldn’t help but sympathise with Seery as he dedicated the win to his nephew Jamie who passed away shortly after his birth the week before the fight. Son to Seery’s brother Alan, whom the Dubliner has an extremely close relationship with having begun his MMA training alongside him at Shika MMA, one could only imagine what impact the tragedy had on his performance. “When you’re in a hospital in that situation, nothing else matters,” he says “You’re looking at a kid, not just because it’s my brother’s kid, but anyone’s child and you realize that everything else is bullshit, this is real life, even MMA that’s just my hobby. “When you go in to a hospital to see a newborn child and one minute their eyes are open, then an hour later they’re dead—everybody else’s pain just seems trivial. “It switched me off completely, it was horrible and I’d wish it on no man. It was a horrible two weeks. My nephew died on the Wednesday the week before the fight, I was there in the hospital and I couldn’t even drive home. “I gave my missus the keys, went to the boot of my car, took out my running gear and I jogged home just to try and clear my head. Then I got home and I had no motivation—I had nothing after seeing shit like that. “I tried to get my head back in the game and then on the Monday before the fight we were at the child’s funeral. He had a tiny white coffin, I’ll never forget it. “Look, I’ve been at tons of funerals over the years, but I have never experienced something like that in my whole life. I hope I never experience it again. I was just standing there thinking what was the point in anything else, ya know?” Seery describes how the Dublin crowd’s energy helped him put his nephew’s passing to the back of his head when he first witnessed their now infamous roars. “My head wasn’t in the fight at all. I just remember that I was backstage at the weigh in and Paddy Holohan walked out and when I heard the crowd I was like ‘holy fuck’. “I just fed off their energy, I had nothing else. I was down, dehydrated, I was hungry and then everything that had happened was in my head. They pulled back that curtain and I saw 5000 people cheering for me. If that doesn’t lift you, nothing will. “I was so nervous going out in front of them the next day. I had my hands wrapped and I was buzzing watching the fights. Paddy went out and won, brilliant, then Cathal goes out and wins, brilliant. “Then it was my turn to go out. Everybody was talking about Irish clean sweeps the day before and I was saying ‘I don’t think it’s gonna be a clean sweep, someone has to lose’. “Then I walked out and I hit this wall of lunatics just screaming for me. What else could I do? I had to get out there and win.” While Seery dazzled the gathering with his hand speed and takedown defence, the Irish crowd chanted songs of past national heroes, a special moment for the avid sports fan. “I tried to shut them out but they just kept getting louder,” he smiles. “I was kicking Phil’s legs when he was down and I could hear them shouting ‘yay’.  So I kicked him again, ‘yay’, in my head I was thinking ‘are they really doing this?’ “I was trying to concentrate and I could hear the crowd. I was looking at Phil and debating in my head—‘will I give him one more and then let him up’. So I gave him one more and I realized they were doing it. It was like the whole arena was kicking him with me. “The fans were the reason that I didn’t rush it, I wanted to prolong the feeling for as long as I could, I didn’t want it to end. On weigh-in day when I went out it was great, but it was over so quick. I wanted to give them a show.” As for the tribute he gave Jamie after the win, Seery believes it was the only thing he could do…

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