Tuesday 21 November 2017

'I fought a 21-year-old when I was 13 and I beat him' - Meet rising MMA star James Gallagher

Cormac Byrne and Mark McConville

James Gallagher is hoping to the next big name in Irish Mixed Martial Arts but is not taking the UFC route to the top.

Gallagher, nicknamed 'The Strabanimal', after his hometown Strabane in Co Tyrone - has signed with the UFC’s biggest rivals, US promotion Bellator.

He is part of the Straight Blast Gym team headed by John Kavanagh and is a team mate to UFC featherweight champion Conor McGregor.

Gallagher is expected to feature in his first Bellator event in August this year but an announcement has yet to be made.

On how he began down a path to getting involved in MMA, he told Independent.ie: "I started off when I was six years-old, doing karate with my uncle. I studied that for two years then I kind of got fed up with that and drifted off. I started doing a lot of hunting and fishing for a while. Then when I got to around twelve years-old I started hearing about the UFC, so I joined a local club.

"There were just a few guys there, a couple of blue belts, some Jiu-jitsu - good karate strikers and that was about it. We kind of just went in and figured it out and when I was 13 I had my first MMA fight.

"I was fighting on the local scene and then my second fight I was fighting a guy who was 21 years-old, when I was 13 and I went in and I beat the guy.

"That’s when I first met John (Kavanagh). He was judging the show, and when he seen the guy I was meant to fight with an 8 year age gap he said he wouldn’t judge it. He said that it would ruin the sport of MMA, that it should be illegal. At that age I didn’t realise how bad it was because all I wanted to do was fight and win, so it didn’t cross my mind. But looking back he was right.

James Gallagher fighting at BAMMA, (inset) with Coach John Kavanagh
James Gallagher fighting at BAMMA, (inset) with Coach John Kavanagh

"John refused to judge the fight, but he watched me win and from then I got to know John and became good friends. He welcomed me down anytime to train and then he let me move in with him. I haven’t looked back. I love it. Training harder and getting better all because of John."

James has credited his speedy evolution to the tutelage of Kavanagh.

"I have always said when I was fighting back in the day, I had a stubbornness that got me through a lot of fights, bad technique but still find a way," he added.

"But then when I met John he wouldn’t let me fight for two years, until I was 17. And I was just training and practising striking and learning how to hit and not get hit. John’s coaching has just brought me to the next level and without everyone here under SBG I wouldn’t be where I am now - I probably wouldn’t even be training."

Analysts looking from the outside may think that Bellator is a step below the UFC but Gallagher doesn't see it that way.

"No, definitely not. I’m going for the world title and they’re paying me way better than any UFC would pay. I’m happy and looking forward to my first fight but I’m looking to go there and take everyone out and get that belt and take all their money. That’s the way it is. If someone is going to pay me more to fight well then I’ll go there, but Bellator are paying me more money at the minute than the UFC are paying their fighters so I’m happy."

He expects to be out of the business in five years, so he is keen to get into the cage as soon as possible.

"I’m dying to get my first Bellator fight, it’s going to be nice to get there and put my mark down. As soon as I have one fight the whole division is going to know, they’re going to be like ‘who’s this guy’. They already have their eye on me, the champion has already been tweeting me - so they know I’m coming for them.

"I guarantee that within 3-4 fights I’ll be challenging for that belt.

"Five years from now I’d say I’ll be a happy rich man; I’ll have got all the belts and retired."

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