MMA providing a new kind of hero
The popularity of mixed martial arts is rocketing and its stars are inspiring scores to take to the gym, writes Joanna Kiernan
UFC star Conor McGregor may have fast hands and a faster mouth, but not even he could keep pace with the amount of would-be warriors flocking to follow in his footsteps.
McGregor fever is sweeping the country with his success inspiring a whole generation of Irish people to take up the sport of mixed martial arts (MMA).
Straight Blast Gym (SBG) gym, where McGregor trains, has tripled its membership since January and the number of newcomers continues to rise ahead of McGregor's battle at the O2 next month.
"It's gone through the roof and now in the build-up to July we're getting another flood of enthusiastic new people, which is great," McGregor's trainer, mentor and owner of SBG John Kavanagh told the Sunday Independent.
"There's a huge influx of kids and teenagers as well. Brian O'Driscoll has retired now, so they have a new hero for kids to look up to."
The gym, which moved to a 10,000 sq ft facility on the Naas Road in January, is now one of the top state-of-the-art mixed martial arts training facilities in Europe.
"If I had done this move two years ago I would be bankrupt, whereas now the person on the street knows about Conor McGregor and the UFC and about what we're doing," Kavanagh said.
"This next fight really is the culmination of 12 years of hard work and I couldn't ask for something better to put a cherry on the cake – between the new gym being a massive success and Conor as the main event in the UFC in Dublin. It's the stuff of dreams."
Kavanagh also coaches Cage Warriors elite Cathal Pendred, Chris Fields and Ais Daly, Icelandic UFC fighter Gunnar Nelson and a number other very promising up-and-coming stars.
Avril Murphy, 26, started training with Kavanagh two years ago and is looking forward to her first competitive fight in August.
"The last time the UFC were in Dublin I was working in a hotel and some of the fighters were staying there, so I got talking to them and that's what started my interest," she explained.
"I was into keeping fit and horse riding so I'm used to getting shoved around by big animals.
"Every time Conor does an ad or one of the other lads has a big fight, there are huge amounts more joining up," Murphy added.
Dylan Logan, 18, from Newbridge, Co Kildare, is one young MMA star at the gym inspired by 'The Notorious' McGregor's rise.
"I used to train in a club in Kildare and we got Conor down for a seminar two years ago and he was telling me that this was the place to train," Logan said.
"So the next summer I worked and saved up all of my money so I could train full time, so it's pretty much Conor that got me into it."
The mega gym, which has over a thousand members, offers classes in Brazilian jiu-jitsu, muay Thai, boxing, MMA, wrestling and strength-and-conditioning, for all ages and levels – "from beginner to winner".