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SBG prospect James Gallagher on Conor McGregor comparisons, upcoming Bellator debut and how he first met John Kavanagh

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James Gallagher is a highly rated featherweight prospect fighting out of SBG gym in Dublin, Ireland. Gallagher makes his Bellator debut at the O2 Arena in London on July 16th at Bellator 158. We spoke about his upcoming bout, the McGregor comparisons, meeting John Kavanagh and making his MMA debut aged 13.


Both you and your Bellator 158 opponent Mike Cutting have finished all of your professional bouts via submission. What are the chances this fight takes place mainly in the grappling realm?

James Gallagher: Yeah definitely, I think I’m going to submit him in the first round the same as I have with the rest of my opponents, I don’t see him as being any different. I think I will choke him out in the first round.

Bellator 158 has been hit by a lot of changes, Josh Koscheck, Linton Vassell, Mark Godbeer and Michael Page’s original opponent all withdrawing from the card to name a few. Has this been a wild introduction to Bellator?

JG: Yeah well obviously it’s sad to see those sort of things for the promotion but that’s got nothing to do with me, I’m just working hard, working on me and working towards my dreams, I don’t pay attention too much to stuff online or read too much into these things, do you know what I mean?

So you’ve heard these comparisons a thousand times I’m sure, you’re an Irishman, you’ve got the tattoos, you train under John Kavanagh at SBG, you’ve got that karate stance and even the same sort of swagger that Conor McGregor displays as the ring announcer calls your name. Can you see where the comparisons come from and how do you feel about those comparisons, do they start to annoy you at all?

JG: Yeah, a little bit I think but when I’m around I see Conor every day and I don’t think I’m too much like him at all really, I would actually see myself more like Gunnar Nelson than Conor, to be honest but people can say what they want, I can’t control what other people say. I’m just being me, having fun and trying to be the best, that’s that.

It’s funny you mention that because I feel that so far in your career your trips and your flowing top pressure is much more akin to Gunnar Nelson’s style than anyone else’s at SBG, is that fair?

JG: Yeah definitely. I’ve spent a lot of time with Gunni, we’ve lived together for a while, both coached by John Kavanagh and we’re both kinda interested in the same kind of things. I would very much see myself much more like him personality-wise, I’ve probably been a bit more like Conor when I’m in public but I still see myself very much more like Gunni. I’m nowhere near as outgoing as Conor or anything like that, I don’t see myself like that at all. We’re just both Irish training under the same gym.

You had your first amateur fight way back in 2010 aged just 13, what was that like?

JG: It was a great experience, that was in my hometown, in Strabane and my opponent was a little bit older, he was like 15, 16 maybe. I walked out in front of my hometown, just 13 years of age do you know what I mean? I finished my opponent by first-round submission and the streak was on! [laughs]

Was this the fight that John Kavanagh was set to judge?

JG: No that was my second fight, I was 13 and I was fighting a 21-year-old man and John was judging it, someone told John about it and John was like ‘I’m not judging this, this is going to ruin MMA as a sport in Ireland, it’s a kid fighting a grown man, not going to happen,’ but the fight went ahead and I went out and beat the guy, just a 13-year-old kid and I manhandled him, the kid manhandled the man. I beat the guy and that’s how I met John.

You’ve previously said you’ll be retired before you turn 26-27, is that still the case?

JG: Yeah I can’t see why not, I believe that in the next two years I’ll get that belt, I’ll continue defending it and do what I can to become the greatest then leave within the next few years. That [age 27] would be 8 years away, do you know what I mean, that’s a long time in this sport.

There have been a few stories recently about the fighters that have been coming to SBG to help Conor prepare for his rematch with Nate Diaz, he’s brought in Dillon Danis, a jiu-jitsu world champion- I saw your tweet saying you’d been working with him, he’s brought in kickboxing world champions, national boxing champions, I saw Paul Felder stopped by last week. How has this affected things at SBG? And have you benefited from these arrivals?

JG: It’s been amazing these last few months or so, having these guys and knowing how good Dillon is, obviously it’s just training but I can gauge how my level is against these top guys, that’s what gives me confidence in my ability.

You stayed in the famous MacMansion before Conor’s UFC 189 fight as you were also preparing for the IMMAF amateur world championships, what was that experience like?

JG: Yeah I went out with Conor like 3 months before, my fight was like 1 week before he fought Chad Mendes, it was perfect because we got to do the training camp together, there were loads of us out there together, it was a great experience.

Even though you’re so young you’ve been in the game a long time, how have you seen Irish MMA grow in the last few years?

JG: It’s crazy, I remember like a few early fights that I fought in boxing rings, little rings in little halls in front of no one. I was just young and now a 13-year-old kid would never be able to go and fight MMA, a 15-year-old kid wouldn’t. It’s nice to see the sport growing in Ireland, the rules coming in and everyone evolving, it’s nice to see.

Did part of you feel like you were on the outside looking in during these huge homecoming events in Dublin over the last couple of years?

JG: Yeah definitely, that was around the time that I had started fighting MMA again, I might have had one fight soon before that but it gave me a feeling of what was ahead for me, it was nice to see.

Gallagher faces Mike Cutting at Bellator 158 on July 16th.

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Exclusive: Mike Ekundayo, “He could come with anything, I don’t care”

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In a little less than a week, Rise of Champions crowns its inaugural bantamweight champion. The crowning of the first 135 lb. champion marks the young promotions first champion. It makes sense why the promotion owned and operated by UK MMA star, Brad Pickett, and Team Titan head coach, Mickey Papas plan to crown the promotions first champion in the bantamweight division. Pickett competed in the division throughout his tenure with the WEC, and ultimately the entity which absorbed the light weight promotion, the UFC. Even more-so, two young and rising prospects of the division. One undefeated in his professional and amateur career, the other riding a seven consecutive victories, five by submission. The two meet February 17th, Mike Ekundayo puts his career unbeaten streak up against Jonas Magard’s at ROC 5, for the aforementioned, inaugural bantamweight championship.

Speaking to the undefeated Ekundayo before his fight, he believes this opportunity to be inevitable. Born in Hackney, (a borough of London) early in life, Ekundayo was no stranger to cramming his belongings into large cardboard boxes. At the age of 7, he moved from Hackney to Herne Hill, a district located in South London. Two years later he found himself in similar situation, moving from his vaguely new home in Herne Hill to Brixton. A road trip in the car to his new home, took approximately 5 minutes.

It is admittedly, not an easy life. In a harrowing article describing the horrors of gang life in London by the metro.uk, former gang member turned community activist, made the claim, “When you are from Brixton, from Peckham, west London, anywhere in London, you are seeing hardship where a lot of communities can’t reach their full potential”.

In his own words, Ekundayo describes his home as, “not the best start to have in your life. It’s not the best upbringing”. But that couldn’t matter any less for him. Not only does the London resident consistently work to grow his potential, he gets to see it every day. His coaches Brad Pickett and Mickey Papas hold the knowledge as well as first-hand experience, increasing his limits with every session. “We’re all close”, speaking of his coaches and team. “My head coach is Mickey Papas, he’s very knowable in the game. He’s been around for a very long time. He teaches me a lot, I can learn a lot of stuff from Mickey Papas. Sometimes I just think, how does he know all of this? Where did he get this information from?”

He continued, “While I was coming up through amateur, Brad (Pickett) was still an active fighter, but nowadays he’s taken a coaching approach. So he’s coaching us prospects getting us to where he got to and further… He’s been through it all, gotten to the top, and stayed at the top”.

Further discussing his coach, “For UK MMA, you could definitely call Brad a legend. He’s done a lot in his career, and someone who I rate highly as an MMA fighter is Demetrious Johnson, and of course Brad has got a win over (him). I feel like just being surrounded by someone like Brad, you’re working towards the right things. When he passes information onto you, you respect it that bit more because of far he got in his career. He’s definitely given me the right guidance, I trust his guidance”.

When it comes to the upcoming title fight, confidence poured out from where praise and respect had once been. “I just think it’s my time, to be honest. I really do believe it’s my time for all of this. The work I put in, certain things become inevitable”, he said. “I actually called this after I won my third fight, I called for belts and big shows. I spoke it to existence”. He continued, “It’s my time to finally to get a strap of some sort. All the straps is what we’re going for, all of them. We’re going for every one”.

“Rise of Champions is my show… That’s how I feel when I’m performing on ROC, it’s just my show, it’s my time to shine. Everyone knows who there here to see, there not really there to see the other guys. It’s my time, it’s my show and I’m going to put on a show on February 17th and I’m going to win that belt”.

The infectious nature of his positive attitude was palpable. Although we only spoke through small rectangular devices, I could feel his energy in the room. His attitude shined brightest when talking about what it would mean to be the first ever ROC Bantamweight champion. Ekundayo claimed, “It just means a lot to have my first belt in anything to be honest… Within myself, I call myself a champion, every day. But now, other people would have to call me a champion because I’ve got a belt… And one thing I really want to do is, which sounds a bit weird, I just want to take the belt home to my area, to Brixton.”

“I just want to take it to my area, and just show the people of that area what hard work can achieve… I want to just take it to my people and show them that not for nothing, we are from Brixton, it’s not the best start to have in your life. It’s not the best upbringing but you can rise above it and you can achieve your goals and that’s what the belt will mean”.

When the conversation shifted to the topic of his opponent, Ekundayo had less encouraging words rolling off his tongue. Jonas Magard, the second half of the ROC 5 main event, holds a record of 7-4. Currently he owns a seven fight win streak after starting his career 1-3. Ekundayo thought, “He did fight quite decent guys in his three loses… but in the seven fight win streak, none of his opponents have been of caliber”.

He elaborated further, “What’s in my thoughts is more me, then it is of him. So, he could come with anything, I don’t care. I’m just focused on how I’m going to be picture perfect. How I’m going to paint a masterpiece, how I’m going to make it a beautifully perfect performance. That’s what my primary focus is on, so what he does to me is irrelevant, I’m just going to focus on how I’m going to be perfect on the night of February 17th”.

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UFC 222 Re-Worked with Cris Cyborg vs. Yana Kunitskaya, and Frankie Edgar vs. Brian Ortega

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UFC 222 has been saved, and it didn’t take a superhero to lift the burning boulder which was Max Holloway’s injury and withdrawal. All it took was a female named Cyborg and a man with a demeanor so smooth, he could be mistaken for an alter-ego. Cris Cyborg now serves as the UFC 222 main event when she defends her featherweight belt against Yana Kunitskaya. Frankie Edgar bumped down to the co-main event to face Brian Ortega in what is likely a title eliminator. The news of the UFC 222 revival originally stemmed from a report by MMAFighting.com and confirmed later in the evening by the UFC.

Over the course of the week, reports surrounded the Las Vegas card and whether it would survive. Multiple options were reportedly being mulled over; cancelling the card outright, changing the pay-per-view (PPV) to a ‘Fight Night’ with an Edgar vs. Ortega main event, Dillashaw vs. Garbrandt 2 main event, among others. Ultimately, the promotion landed on Cyborg vs. Kunitskaya as the new main event, while also booking Brian Ortega.

This adjustment of the card places their women’s Featherweight champion in the second PPV main event in three months. Cris Cyborg recently put her undisputed Featherweight title on the line against Holly Holm at the year ending card, UFC 219. She successfully defended her belt by unanimous decision, in what was an amazing technical display from the Brazilian. In her octagon career, Cyborg is undefeated in her four appearances with three KO/TKO stoppages.

The second half of the new main event, Yana Kunitskaya, makes her UFC debut against the scariest women on the roster. If the 145 lb. champion was not enough of a challenge, Kunitskaya also makes her first appearance in the division since defeating Cindy Dandois in December of 2010. Of Russia descent, her most recent performances came inside the Invicta FC cage. At the female-only promotion, she posted a record of 1-1, with 1 No Contest. Her loss and no contest, both came at the hands of former UFC Featherweight title challenger, Tonya Evinger.

Turning to the co-main event, both fighters have been relatively inactive but, for good reason. Brian Ortega amazingly forced perennial men’s Featherweight contender, Cub Swanson, to tap in the second round of their ‘Fight Night: Fresno’ contest. Ortega fought twice in 2017, but more-so stayed inactive following his stoppage victory over Swanson. The Californian contender announced his desire to wait in line for the next title shot following the recent victory.

For Frankie Edgar, his last fight took place at UFC 211 when he absolutely demolished young and rising star, Yair Rodriguez. A card which took place last May. While Ortega holds an undefeated record, Edgar is undefeated in his previous 9 fights, excluding people named Jose Aldo.

UFC 222 takes place at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada on March 3rd.

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UFC Middleweight Champion, Robert Whittaker Announces Birth of Third Child

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Times seem dull and dreary for the UFC’s Middleweight Champion, Robert Whittaker. The New Zealand born fighter withdrew from the promotions event debut in the eastern region of his residence, Australia. UFC 221, which takes place this Saturday, booked Whittaker to defend his title for the first time against former division champion, Luke Rockhold. His withdrawal was due to mistreatment of a serious staph infection inside of the Australians stomach.

It couldn’t get much worse, having to disappoint fans, and missing the first UFC event in eastern Australia. As it turns out, it could not get worse for Whittaker. Life only got better, as he had the pleasure of announcing the birth of his third child.

His new child is the champions third and first girl. Information regarding his child is limited as this moment is a tender and special time for the Whittaker family.

UFC 221 takes place in Perth, Australia at Perth Arena on February 11th. The cards main event features Whittakers short notice replacement, Yoel Romero taking on Luke Rockhold. Much to the satiety of fans, an interim belt is not in the equation in this instance.

Thank God. Excuse me, thank Dana White.

UFC 221 also features the ‘Super Samoan’ Mark Hunt vs. Curtis Blaydes, Tai Tuivasa faces Cyril Asker, Alexander Volkanovski vs. Jeremy Kennedy and more.

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