Peter Carroll spent a week at the Mac Mansion in the lead up to Conor McGregor UFC 189 title shot against Jose Aldo
James Gallagher is without a doubt the most touted amateur prospect Ireland has ever had when it comes to MMA. In the week leading up to Conor McGregor’s title shot at UFC 189, ‘The Strabanimal’ will take up residence in the Flamingo casino where he will compete throughout the week in an effort to claim the IMMAF amateur world championship.
As a young teen Gallagher was already competing against grown men in MMA. His grasp of jiu jitsu saw him clear out the adult ranks at Irish Open when he was just 15 years of age. There’s undoubtedly a prodigious flair to the SBG youngster who knows that winning a world championship at 18 years of age would provide him with the perfect platform to transition to the professional ranks.
“I haven’t thought about being the world champion too much,” he says in the living room of McGregor’s Nevada residence. “It’s something that I’m gearing myself towards but really this is all about getting some hard training in and having some fun. I’m going to go in and fight at the end of it, but it’s nothing new to me, really.
“Obviously going into the professional landscape after just winning an amateur world championship would be great for my momentum. This is the biggest thing you can win as an amateur mixed martial artist. We’ll have to see how it plays out, but I’m in no rush to do anything.
“I’ve got 17 fights and I’m 18 years old, so that’s quite a lot of fights. I’m taking everything as it comes. I train, I fight and I just keep going. What’s the big difference with going pro? You get money. It would be nice to get paid to fight, but that’s literally the only difference between the way I’m preparing now and how I would prepare if I went professional.”
John Kavanagh’s proponents have always focused on their own game rather than getting caught up in their opponent’s traits and techniques. The common recital of “there is no opponent” will really be put to the test with Gallagher during the IMMAF tournament as the 18 year old only knows one of the other athletes that will compete in his lightweight bracket – Northern Ireland’s Steven Moore.
“I literally have no idea about anyone that is going to be competing in my bracket out here. I haven’t got a clue. To be honest, the application was so complicated to fill in, I feel I had enough on my plate with that,” he laughs.
“I know that Northern Ireland have a team going over. I think Steven Moore is going to be in my division. I was meant to fight him a few times already so if we end up meeting over here, so be it. I want to show everyone what I’m all about over here, so the opponent really doesn’t come into it.”
Gallagher claims that he despised school before he left the system at just 15 years of age. Although it’s quite rare to see a young teenager geared so exclusively towards one pursuit, he explains that his parents could see the dedication he had for martial arts and the fact that he was really just wasting his time by going to school everyday.
“I quit school when I was around 15. I absolutely hated it. I used to literally sit in my math class looking at highlight reels of Gunnar and Conor. I was in fourth year, we had just started studying for our GCSEs and I hadn’t even looked at a book.
“Every morning I was getting up at six to go training before school. Then as soon as school finished I was going back to the gym to get more training in. Sometimes my father would take me to Dublin to go to SBG straight after school. We would get back home at about two in the morning and then I would be up again at six to go training again.
“My parents could see that I was dedicated. Fighting was all that I wanted to do, it was all that I cared about. I can remember the exams were coming up, I did one and I failed. It was math. My mam would ask me if I had been studying, I’d say I was but I really hadn’t done anything. I started to skip classes and go down to the PE teachers – they all liked me. They used to let me use the gym all the time.
“Because I had failed that exam and I wasn’t really putting the work in, the teachers used to give me a hard time. They were always on my back and I was training so hard at the time. They were telling me I was going nowhere, but I knew the work that I was doing in the gym was going to pay off.
“I remember we were coming up to some kind of a holiday. I was nice and relaxed because we were getting a half-day or something. I got to class a bit late because I had been training and the teacher start giving out to me. I can remember thinking ‘fuck this’, and I walked out of the class. I waved to everybody on my way out the door and I said ‘I’m not coming back’ – and I never did.
“It was snowing that day, it was around Christmas and by the time I got back to my house I was absolutely drenched. My mam asked me what I was doing back so early and I told her I wasn’t going back. You know, I had been threatening to do it for a long time, they could see I had no interest in school. It was a waste of time. In the end, they accepted it. Believe me, I know I’m very lucky to have such supportive parents.”
John Kavanagh took Gallagher under his wing when he left school. A standout prospect, the Strabane youngster’s dedication was so obvious to Kavanagh that he invited Gallagher up to live with him in Dublin. Gallagher claims that being invited to live with the world-renowned coach has allowed him to become the fighter he is today.
“100 percent, John has definitely played a big part in turning me into the guy I am today. I don’t know if I believe in luck, but I guess in this case I did get lucky. It’s hard for me to even think about what would’ve happened if I hadn’t of met John. I’d like to think I would’ve got here eventually, maybe not this quickly, but living with John definitely allowed me to immerse myself in the sport. There are no distractions, it’s just all about martial arts when I’m in Dublin.”
Although he trains with McGregor all the time in Ireland, Gallagher feels like the whole experience of preparing for this title fight will bring all of Mac Mansion’s inhabitants to the next level.
“Conor is paving the way for all of us guys over here with him obviously, but he’s paving the way for fighters in general too,” he tells me. “It’s still surreal, being in this giant mansion helping him prepare for one of the most anticipated MMA fights off all time. We’re all doing what we love, we love training and fighting, but to be able to live this lifestyle is pretty damn good. Being here has really added fuel to the fire. After being over here, every single one of us is going to move to a new level.”
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