HE WAS BROUGHT up in the Welsh town of Ebbw Vale, but there can be no mistaking the home that holds Joseph Duffy’s heart.
Duffy was born in Meenbanad, Burtonport, but the family left for Wales while he was still an infant.
Donegal was never far away, though.
Even now, although he’s based in Montreal, Canada, Duffy remains of Donegal.
Those distinctive black letters across the top of his back says it all.
The 27-year-old has ‘Dún na nGall’ tattooed between the blades of his shoulders and his walk-on music give us a glimpse of ‘Irish Joe’: Oró Sé Do Bheatha ‘Bhaile, which was used by Steve Collins for all of his WBO super-middleweight title defences.
Duffy fights Dustin Poirier on Saturday night at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas at UFC 195 in a bout that had been planned for October, only for Duffy to suffer concussion in sparring a week before the date in Dublin’s 3Arena.
“It was the last spar, a week out from the fight…just a shot that I didn’t see,” Duffy says now.
“As soon as we landed in Ireland, we informed the UFC and I underwent the medical tests.
“I was there with the intention of fighting, but the medical profession didn’t see me as fit to fight.
“So many people had planned to go to it so it was obviously a big let down for them. For me, it’s been a lifesaver to get it lined up again so quickly.
“The fact that it was to be in Dublin would have made it unbelievable. That was the really hard part about it. I was speaking to a load of lads from home and everyone was really up for it – then it all went pear shaped.”
Duffy-Poirier was to be the headline act in Dublin, but now they’re on the preliminary card of a show headlined by a welterweight title fight between Robbie Lawler and Carlos Condit.
Duffy was signed up by the UFC late last year and has beaten Jake Lindsey in Dallas and Ivan Jorge in Glasgow since taking up the contract offer.
As a mixed martial artist, Duffy is 14-1 and is based now in Montreal, at the Tristar Gym, under the likes of coaches Firas Zahabi, Eric O’Keefe and Bruno Fernandes.
His love for the sport was borne from watching The Karate Kid and The Power Rangers as a child in Wales.
“I was always running about the house doing kicks like the characters,” he says.
“I knew very early that MMA was what I wanted to do. I was in martial arts from early in my life. I waited until I was 16 to compete in the amateur MMA with no head shots.
“This is what I’ve wanted for me for so long. It was hard leaving the family to come over here, but I could never look back and regret not making the move. I just had to do it.
“It’s tough, but the reason I’m doing this is to be the best in the world. We’re all chasing the top. We all want to be the best.
“It’s fuel to the fire when you see Conor McGregor’s last fight, the excitement, the whole thing about it. Those tired days when you don’t want to get up, that’s what pushes you on.
“We’re all aiming for that world title. I’m just taking it one fight at a time for now. Touch wood, this one goes well and I’ll need a couple more. I’m feeling very good. I feel like I have made improvements everywhere and I’m feeling as good as ever since I made the move to Tristar.”
Duffy has almost become known as ‘the last man to defeat Conor McGregor’ but it’s clear that he wants to make other headlines.
There has been talk of a rematch in the future with the possibility that McGregor could move up to Duffy’s 155lbs lightweight division, but Saturday night in Vegas is all that occupies Duffy’s thoughts these days.
“Dustin is the big task for now,” he says.
“I never want to look past the task at hand. It is possible we could meet again, but if I start to look at things like that it’s not going to do me any favours. All that matters to me now is getting the improvements and beating Dustin.”
His professional debut came in March 2008 when he defeated Mick Broster (pictured below). All bar two of his 14 wins have come inside the opening round, though not all the time by design.
“It’s crazy to go in there and wish it all to be over so quickly,” Duffy says in an accent that is part-Donegal and part-Welsh.
“If the finish comes, the finish comes, but I like to enjoy every second when I’m in there. That’s where a lot of fighters come unstuck – they go in and they don’t enjoy it. When I came back from boxing, I promised myself that I’d enjoy it.”
After eleven fights, and following a defeat by Ivan Musardo in Cage Warriors 44 at the HMV Forum in London, Duffy went for a change of career and became a professional boxer.
Trainer John Tandy made him an offer he couldn’t refuse and, while sparring with men like James DeGale, Andy Lee, George Groves and Chris Eubank Junior, Duffy won all seven of his pro contests in 2013.
“I stumbled on things, really,” he says.
“I started working with John Tandy and he made me an offer to go to pro boxing. It was a chance to work with someone who has been at the elite level. I’d have been crazy to turn that down.
“When I moved to London, the intention was to get to America.”
The buzz just wasn’t the same. Duffy’s last time in the ring was win over Attila Tibor Nagy at the Camden Centre in London in November 2013. Just a couple of hundred people saw it and Duffy, who was having problems with his hands at the time, knew it wasn’t for him.
“You were going from the fights in Cage Warriors with a lot of media attention, live streams to…nothing really,” he says.
“You were stepping back into the small rooms with hardly any media. It was difficult.
“I was struggling with my hands at the time too. I spent more time not training than training. When I broke my hand in the last Cage Warriors, I could at least use the knee to take the man down. In boxing, there’s not a lot of options when you hurt the hands.
“I enjoyed the learning aspect of the pro boxing, but that’s me all over. I’ve always enjoyed the task of learning and getting the technique right. I didn’t get the same buzz from the fights though.
“It’s really helped me. Since I went back to MMA, I’ve been striking much better.
“It took a while to adjust again. It was tough on the body because I hadn’t grappled or wrestled for a while. I needed to adapt. I couldn’t train as often as I would have normally. It was about the second or third fight back before I got the groove again.”
Wins against Damien Lapilus and Julien Boussuge marked his return to the octagon. The UFC contract followed and, now, the world is his oyster again.Tags: