In terms of natural grappling talents within the featherweight ranks of Bellator’s hotly contested featherweight division, Wicklow native, Richie Smullen has certainly made his presence known right off the bat. The 28-year-old has appeared twice under the promotion’s banner and this Saturday makes his third appearance at the 3Arena – as he takes on short-notice replacement, Alberth Dias.
The Arklow born submission specialist has been so far flawless, and attempts to springboard himself toward a dream appearance at Madison Square Garden off the back of a victory over organizational debutante, Dias. The Straight Blast Gym staple has managed victories over both Adam Gustab, and Sean Tobin during his year with the promotion – and has steadily established himself as a legitimate prospect among his 145-pound peers.
In a recent interview with Markey Martial Arts, Smullen spoke of his return to winning ways back in February of last year, a possible switch to lightweight or bantamweight, his quest for a “big name opponent“, a busy 2020 schedule, and his storming of the featherweight division.
“I’d like to think I’m making big-waves in the division,” Smullen explained. “I’m 2-0 now on Irish soil. I’d like after this fight to be 3-0 and then maybe look at Madison Square Garden or somewhere then. It would be a dream to fight somewhere like MSG.“
Originally penned to face-off against Ranjeet Baria, Smullen faces a slight reshuffle, as he meets with Brazil’s Alberth Dias. The goal remains the same for Smullen; secure the takedown, and force the tap. As for activity, Smullen has also outlined a three-fight plan for the year ahead.
“I take on Alberth Dias next weekend and he looks to be fairly solid everywhere but I do believe I’d beat him wherever it goes,” Smullen said. “I believe I’m going to take him down and I’m going to submit him. I haven’t looked at anymore else bar Dias at the minute. All my eyes are fixed on him and getting the win and beating him. For who I fight after that, I don’t mind. I don’t really mind who I fight I just want to go straight away again. I want to beat Dias and then getting to go before the summer again. I’m sure Bellator will be back [in Dublin] in September, so I’d like to go here, abroad somewhere, and then Dublin again. That would be a great year. Definitely, after this, I do want to get a big-name opponent.
In his last appearance at the 3Arena, Smullen managed a timely submission of Sean Tobin – securing an opening-frame rear-naked choke triumph – something he explained is always in his arsenal of offensive weaponry.
“I always have that – it’s just, I went for it more,” Smullen told. “I think against Adam Gustab, in my first fight back since my first loss, I was maybe a bit too cautious. Normally I fight fast and I fight to finish. That’s what happened against Sean, I fought hard and I fought to finish.“
With SBG Ireland teammate and long-time training partner, Pedro Carvalho challenging Patrício Freire for featherweight gold in March – Smullen revealed his delight at Carvalho’s continued success, and explained how a move to lightweight or bantamweight may be on the horizon if Carvalho dethrones ‘Pitbull’.
“I’m really happy for Pedro (Carvalho),” Smullen said. “Pedro’s one of my main training partners. I think he’s gonna beat ‘Pitbull’ as well. So, Pedro wins the title – and that title’s pretty much gone for me. We’ll see what happens then. Maybe I’ll move up, maybe I might move down, who knows? We’ll see what happens in the future.“
Smullen also commented on the success of Straight Blast Gym on both the regional circuit and within Bellator – highlighting the different generational talent which has honed their craft at the Dublin facility.
“It definitely is the next wave,” Smullen explained. “Through our gym now, there’s the Conor’s (McGregor) and the Artem’s (Lobov), then there’s the likes of me and us guys coming through – and even the generation below us who are coming through. Some special talents are coming through, especially from our gym.“
Stylistically, Smullen explained how he believes he poses a significant threat and causes concern for any featherweight currently on the promotion’s books – not just Saturday’s opponent, Alberth Dias.
“I think we’re pretty much similar in fight experience,” Smullen told. “I think, stylistically I’m a bad matchup for everybody. I show up, I’m in your face, I don’t get tired, I’m trying to make it fast and dirty and take it to the ground and punish you, and try to submit you. I’m a hard fight for anybody. I do believe in my short career I’ve done a lot. I’ve done a lot more than people with twice as many fights have done previously. I’m not too worried about the experience thing, I just need to focus on myself and get the win next Saturday night.“
Despite offering three invites to a party – Smullen only chose one option; the decorated former heavyweight boxing champion, ‘Iron’ Mike Tyson.
“There’s only one,” Smullen said. “There’s pretty much only one person I’d ask to a dinner party and that would be Mike Tyson. If I had to have an ideal party guest, I’m gonna go with Mike Tyson. I think Mike Tyson is the right person.“