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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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Aldo vs. Lamas 2 and Ponzinibbio vs. Perry Added to UFC Winnipeg

Harry Davies

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The UFC has added Jose Aldo vs. Ricardo Lamas 2, and Santiago Ponzinibbio vs. Mike Perry to their UFC Winnipeg card on December 16th.

The two fights were announced as official today on the UFC’s Twitter account.

Aldo (26-3) last fought at UFC 212 in June, where he lost by third round TKO to Max Holloway. After being promoted to the undisputed 145-pound champion last November, he was looking to make the first defence of the title against Holloway.

Lamas first faced Aldo back in 2014 at UFC 169. Aldo, who was again featherweight champion at the time, defeated Lamas with ease winning by unanimous decision (49-46) on all scorecards. Lamas is on a two-fight winning streak after defeating both Charles Oliveira and Jason Knight with impressive finishes.

Since his last UFC loss to Lorenz Larkin back in 2015, Ponzinnibio (25-3) has won five consecutive fights. His most recent victory was a upset win over Gunnar Nelson in July at UFC Glasgow. There was some controversy after the fight, as replays seemed to show a short grab and several eyes pokes from Ponzinnibio before knocking out Nelson in the first round.

Mike Perry has taken the UFC by storm since making his debut for the promotion last August. Picking up four wins all by knockout, the only loss ‘Platinum’ suffered was too Alan Jouban by decision. Ranked at #9 in the welterweight division, a win over Ponzinnibio could definitely propel Perry into the top ten at 170-pounds.

With the additon of these two fantastic fights, the lineup for UFC Winnipeg is as follows:

  • Robbie Lawler vs. Rafael dos Anjos – Welterweight bout
  • Glover Teixeira vs. Misha Cirkunov – Light heavyweight bout
  • Antônio Rogério Nogueira vs. Jared Cannonier – Light heavyweight bout
  • Tim Elliott vs. Justin Scoggins – Flyweight bout
  • Chad Laprise vs. Galore Bafondo – Welterweight bout
  • Alessio Di Chirico vs. Oluwale Bamgbose – Middleweight bout
  • Vitor Miranda vs. Julian Marquez – Middleweight bout
  • John Makdessi vs. Abel Trujillo – Lightweight bout
  • Nordine Taleb vs. Sultan Aliev – Welterweight bout
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Why the UFC Needs to Introduce 165 and 175-pound Weight Divisions

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  • The debacle that were the UFC 216 weigh-in last Friday further highlighted current weight cutting problems in mixed martial arts.

More specifically in this case it was in the UFC’s lightweight division. A fight between Nik Lentz and Will Brooks was pulled due to Lentz having ‘medical issues’ according to a UFC statement, hours before he was due to weigh-in.

Title challenger Kevin Lee then took to the scale seconds before the deadline and was over the limit by a pound. Fortunately he made weight after being given an extra hour. But these are not isolated cases, especially at 155-pounds.

There isn’t necessarily a solution to this problem but there may be a short term fix in the form of new weight classes approved by the ABC (Association of Boxing Commissions and Combative Sports) in July 2017. These include 165 and 175-pound divisions.

While not specific to the lightweight division, the problems with weight commonly occur there. In March this year, Khabib Nurmagomedov was rushed to hospital during fight week when cutting down for his title contest with Tony Ferguson. Subsequently the UFC 209 main event was cancelled. Khabib has been regularly discussed as a title challenger but he’s often struggled to make weight and failed on numerous occasions.

With drastic dehydration it is still unknown what health implications may effect him and other mixed martial artists in the future.

Some top ranked fighters such as Donald Cerrone, Jorge Masvidal and Rafael Dos Anjos have moved up to the welterweight division to preserve their health from these strenuous cuts, and have all been relatively successful.

Former UFC lightweight Donald Cerrone has looked spectacular since making the move up to 170-pounds.

However, many fighters are still reluctant and insist on dropping 10-20% of their bodyweight in the hours and days leading up to a bout. For example, Kevin Lee was rumoured to be 19 pounds over the day before he stepped on the scales.

At 170 pounds, welterweight is fifteen pounds more than lightweight which is a noticeable difference between relatively low weight classes. Especially when you consider that the divisions increase ten pounds from as low as 115 up to 155. There are many fighters who find themselves too big to be a lightweight, yet too small to compete at welterweight.

The incidents last Friday should hopefully be a wakeup call to the UFC, who can also set an example for other organisations such as Bellator, One FC, and Cage Warriors.

So far in 2017 the UFC has lost 14 fights in 48 hours or less before they were due to take place. That is one fight every two cards. While weight cutting is not always to blame, more often than not it plays a big role. These situations leave the UFC at a loss, fighters without opponents and a pay check, and fans disgruntled. Not to mention the health implications for the athlete involved.

The UFC must recognise these common patterns, remove the 170 pound welterweight division and create 165 and 175 pound rosters instead. Some may see an additional weight class as devaluing UFC titles even further but this would not be the case.

The UFC’s official website only lists four fighters in the women’s featherweight division.

Recently the women’s featherweight title was created without having a roster of women to fill it. However, the difference with lightweight and welterweight is that they are comfortably the two deepest, most talent stacked divisions in the organisation.

Admittedly, there is a lot of history attached to the welterweight title since Pat Miletich first won it back in 1998. The likes of Matt Hughes and Georges St Pierre have also added prestige to the belt over the years.

Even so, the sport has changed since then and it’s in a transitional phase. We are in the era of USADA, the era of banned IV drips and certain commissions tightening their regulations on how much they allow fighters to safely cut. Everyone is accountable and aware of the dangers, yet steps still need to be taken.

The athletic commissions and the UFC in particular must act by introducing super lightweight (165lbs) and super welterweight (175lbs) divisions. Perhaps from a fighter’s perspective it seems like a no-brainer that their health should be the main priority.

From a fans point of view there is plenty of talent that could be used in those two divisions. The novelty of fighters blending into these classes would also have the feeling of a superfight. The likes of Nurmagomedov, Lee, Masvidal, Cerrone and Dos Anjos would certainly fit well into a 165 pound division.

Similarly, at 175 pounds, Tyron Woodley could transition from welterweight champion to super welterweight champion. Top talents such as Robert Whittaker, Stephen Thompson, Demian Maia and Robbie Lawler would be perfect matches for this weight.

Could we see the current welterweight champion Tyron Woodley compete at 175-pounds in the future?

If this was a success then super middleweight (195lbs) and cruiserweight (225lbs) divisions could be an option in future too.

As previously mentioned this won’t necessarily fix the issues of weight cutting but it gives martial artists another option and is a positive step towards fighter’s safety. Currently there has been no mention by the UFC about introducing these new divisions.

However, with fighter safety being of upmost importance these new divisions must be given serious consideration.

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James Gallagher out of Bellator 187 in Dublin due to injury

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Irish fans will have to wait a little longer to see James Gallagher fighting on home soil after Gallagher suffered a knee injury in preparation for his main event fight with Jeremiah Labiano in Dublin next month. This bad news was first reported by MMAFighting.com.

The 20-year-old from Strabane co. Tyrone who trains in the famous SBG gym with Conor McGregor and Gunnar Nelson among others has set the featherweight division alight since joining Bellator in 2016.  James “The Strabanimal” Gallagher has gone 3-0 with all three of his wins coming by rear naked choke.

After submitting Chinzo Machida, the brother of former UFC light heavyweight champion, Lyoto Machida in Madison Square Garden Gallagher has become a budding star for Bellator.

Due to the youngster’s attitude and potential, many comparisons between Gallagher and UFC lightweight champion Conor McGregor have been made by the fans and media which has made Gallagher one of Bellator’s most recognizable names. This notoriety has ultimately led to the young Irishman getting a chance to headline in Dublin this November but this injury has delayed his rise for the time being.

Gallagher on social media Thursday stated that he has suffered an injury to his PCL and LCL in his knee and would be out for the remainder of the year. He has assured fans we would return next year and carry on where he started with “The Jimmy show.”

His longtime rival AJ McKee, who has engaged in a Twitter war with Gallagher after his last fight, will now headline Bellator 187 in the 3 Arena in Dublin on November 10th against Gallagher’s SBG teammate Brian Moore. Moore will be making his third appearance for Bellator in this featherweight clash.

 

 

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