Nine years ago this week, the Irish took over the UFC.
Conor McGregor. Neil Seery. Norman Parke. Cathal Pendred. Paddy Holohan.
They all represented for their people in a packed O2 Arena in Dublin on a magical night where headliner McGregor halted Diego Brandao in a little over four minutes and blurted out, “We’re not here to take part; we’re here to take over.”
The crowd roared…and Shauna Bannon wasn’t overly concerned or interested.
“I'm literally so tunnel vision,” she laughed. “When I have my hands on something, I'm all-in for that and I don't actually see what else is going on in the world. So, at that stage in my life, I was still kickboxing and kickboxing was my everything. So, I actually was oblivious to everything else that was going on.”
Bannon knows about that night now. In fact, she got quite the reminder when her coach, the aforementioned Holohan, told her that the day they leave Ireland for this Saturday’s UFC London show is the day before the anniversary of UFC Dublin in 2014. That’s a full circle moment for “The Hooligan,” who will be in Bannon’s corner as she makes her Octagon debut against Bruna Brasil.
“He is going with his student to coach, for the first time, a fighter in the UFC from his gym,” said Bannon, as proud of her coach as he is of her. “It's amazing. It's literally full circle. And I think Paddy's the first person that was in the UFC and is now coaching an athlete in the UFC from Ireland. So that's pretty cool to be able to go back.”
It’s not Dublin, but London is close enough, and no matter where it was, getting to the big show is a big deal for “Mama B,” who is as decorated as they get in kickboxing, with status as a seven-time WAKO champion, six-time WAKO European champ, and Sport Accord World Combat Games champ just scratching the surface of what she did in the family business. But while her dad and sister remain on that side of the combat sports fence, Bannon needed to branch out if she wanted to make a living with her fists and feet.
“Kickboxing, there isn't money in it,” she admits. “The style of kickboxing that I'd done was point fighting, and so it's WAKO tournaments, and maybe the international ones you'd get paid if you won Grand Champion and stuff. But it's nothing that you can live off. I’d just done it for so long because I literally had passion for it. It was a family business. My dad owns kickboxing gyms, so we were reared in that environment, and I loved it. And I enjoyed every second. And I remember my goal was always that I wanted to go to the Olympics and kickboxing was never in the Olympics. We kept getting told we'd be in the next one, we'd be in the next one, we'd be in the next one. And it's a four-year gap, so you're waiting four years and you're hoping, and then it doesn't get in again and again and again. And I had won everything there was to win. I had won the WAKO world championships, which is the pinnacle of the sport, seven times. And I won the European six times and it was just like, what more can I do now? So then I switched over to Olympic style taekwondo and I'd done that for about a year-and-a-half in 2017. And I missed punching. It’s very, very traditional. I actually just didn't like it. I liked kicking, but it was just everything that came with it, I really tried for a year-and-a-half to make myself like it because I wanted to go to the Olympics, but it just wasn't for me.”
What was for Bannon was mixed martial arts. She met Holohan while he was coaching in the same facility she was doing taekwondo in. She watched a jiu-jitsu class and was intrigued. Not intrigued enough to make a living at it, but just for fun. Yet while Holohan was out of town, the teacher running things asked her about jumping into the MMA class.
“I was like, ‘No, no, no, I'm here to just do jiu-jitsu, I'm going to have a mellow life, not be competitive,’” she laughs.
He persisted. She acquiesced.
“And then I never looked back. I was like, ‘I want to go to the UFC. I'm all-in. Let's go.’ And here we are now.”
She makes it sound like a quick trip, but that’s never the case, is it? And after getting her bearings in MMA, Bannon embarked on a long 12-fight amateur career from 2019 to 2021. The 29-year-old doesn’t think it was that long, citing several extenuating circumstances that kept her from the punch-for-pay ranks.
“Well, it was during a pandemic, and I had a baby in the middle of that, as well,” she said. “So I started MMA five years ago and I had my first amateur fight in 2019. Then I was really active and then I got pregnant. So I was planning on going pro before I got pregnant and that put a delay on it and I wanted to get a few more fights after having Jace. And I ended up having five fights that just kind of came back-to-back-to back. I'd done another IMMAF and then I had a few more fights on shows and I got five fights in, and then I made the call to go pro. I didn't want to go pro straight away after having Jace. I was still training when I was pregnant, but I obviously wasn’t competing and sparring, and so I just wanted to get that back up to scratch before going pro.”
Bannon made her pro debut in April of 2022, and she’s stayed busy, going 5-0 with two wins in Invicta FC heading into Saturday’s bout. Mr. Jace is two-and-a-half and the apple of mama’s eye, and while some will look at the strawweight hopeful and wonder is a kickboxer with five pro MMA fights is ready for the UFC, Bannon has some surprises in store.
“One of my amateur fights, for three three-minute rounds, the girl sat on me,” she said. “And I came back and I worked my guard like nothing else. And now, you take me down, you're getting armbarred. I have an armbar from any angle off my back or I'll transition to a triangle. I'm comfortable wherever the fight goes. I've spent whole fights in the clinch, I've spent fights on the ground and on the feet. It starts on the feet and I do have flashy kicks and flashy style striking. I have all that. But I am comfortable wherever the fight goes, whether it be wrestling, whether it be grappling or whether it be striking. I'm comfortable. I've trained all aspects of my game. I don't want to be just a striker. I am a mixed martial artist.”
Here to take part? No, Shauna Bannon is here to take over.