Young Portarlington MMA star Dara Ward to represent Ireland at World Cup in Prague this week
A young fighter from Portarlington is aiming for gold this week in Prague. Dara Ward, 19, will represent Ireland at the International Mixed Martial Arts Federation’s Amateur MMA World Cup – and the rising Midlands star is aiming for top spot in the junior middleweight division.
An Irish contingent of 36 men and women will travel to the Czech capital for the four-day tournament which kicks off on Wednesday 8 September.
Dara trains at SBG Portarlington under the guidance of pro MMA fighter and trainer Philip Mulpeter, and teenager Laois has ambitions for a professional career in the sport.
Dara Ward training with coach Philip Mulpeter of SBG Portarlington. Photo: Sharon Coyne / Lenohephotography
He started training at the gym – which recently moved from its location on Edenderry Road to a new facility at the gates of Emo Court – four and a half years ago.
Having started because he wanted “to find something to do”, the talented youngster quickly discovered an aptitude for Muay Thai boxing, hitting, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and MMA.
This skill has already seen him compete internationally, when he was selected to travel to Rome with the Irish squad for the Cadet MMA World Championships in 2019.
This week’s competition, however, will be Dara’s biggest challenge yet – but the Port fighter isn’t edgy about stepping onto the big stage.
Dara Ward, right, with SBG Portarlington teammate Matiss Zaharovs, and coach Philip Mulpeter at Cage Conflict in 2019. Photo: Sharon Coyne / Lenohephotography
“Can’t wait, it doesn’t look real,” he said ahead of the competition, noting that he had not competed in a while due to Covid-19 restrictions but “I can’t wait to enter the cage “.
Dara faces three other competitors from the junior division (19-20 years old) 84kg – a Czech and two Ukrainians – and, putting her cards on the table, says “the gold medal is all I want”.
“I don’t really like to do a lot of research on my opponents, I try to be the best at myself,” he said. “If you start looking at other guys you start to obsess over them, I go out there and I fight.”
The Midlands prospect, who has fought in some amateur shows before, has a well-rounded martial arts style incorporating grappling and hitting. “I use all of my attributes when I go there,” he said.
Dara has the ambition to turn professional within two years, once he has a few more amateur fights under his belt. “I already know what level I am at and it’s just about getting my name out there as well.
“I feel very experienced on the mats, it’s just about having more time in the cage. Hope I have a busy second half this year.
Dara intends to compete in the upcoming Irish National Mixed Martial Arts Association MMA Championships later in September, which will also serve as a tryout to represent Ireland at the World Championships in Kazakhstan in late November. He is also in talks to fight over the next amateur show cards later in the year, if Covid-19 restrictions allow.
The former Colaiste student Iosagain works with Fastway, while training almost every day a week in his favorite sport.
Because MMA is still not officially recognized as a sport in Ireland, its dedicated young competitors are not eligible for any government funding or assistance to travel to international events. Many depend on sponsors or donations when traveling to represent Ireland.
The Portarlington community and friends, family and SBG Portarlington teammates from Dara came together over the summer to help raise funds to cover the costs of her trip to Prague, including flights, the accommodation and medical authorizations. “I’m so grateful that I don’t have to worry about travel expenses,” he said, thanking everyone who donated to the fundraiser.
Also firmly in Dara’s corner as he aims for the heights of a UFC career in the near future are mum Emer and dad Damian, along with brothers Ciaran, 20, Cathal, 13, and his sister Ella, 6 years old.
Home fans can stream Dara’s bouts of the IMMAF World Cup in Prague, starting Wednesday, live on www.immaf.tv.
SBG Portarlington’s Dara Ward is aiming for gold in Prague this week.
Photo: Sharon Coyne / Lenohephotography