Inside Mac Mansion with Tom Egan

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Peter Carroll spent a week at the Mac Mansion in the lead up to Conor McGregor UFC 189 title shot against Jose Aldo

The Republic of Ireland’s first ever UFC competitor and long time close friend of Conor McGregor, Tom ‘The Tank’ Egan, has been drafted in to help his old Scoil Cois Life classmate ahead of the biggest night in Irish MMA history.

Having trained alongside ‘The Notorious’ longer than anyone else, Egan gave some insights into his and McGregor’s fledgling years in the sport, how they found John Kavanagh, his own UFC debut back in 2009, his career, life at ‘Mac Mansion’ and how he thinks the Dubliner will fare on July 11.

Although McGregor finds it difficult to pinpoint the exact moment when he and Egan became friends, the Boston resident remembers it being early in fifth year when the now title contender initially moved to Lucan from Crumlin.

“It was fifth year, so we were about 15 or 16, and I noticed there was a new guy in the class,” recalled Egan. “Sure enough, it was Conor. I turned around and I saw him sitting there. He seemed very intense, he had a very intense look about him. I knew why he was being like that though. In Ireland, and I’m sure it’s the same around the world, when you move schools it can be a pretty hostile environment.

“We talked about martial arts and he was immediately interested in everything – he wanted to know it all. He had an interest in combat already, I think he had been boxing, and I was already involved with the martial arts scene in Ireland to a certain extent. I was training in sport karate, a variation of kickboxing. Maybe I was his first connection to that world. He was obviously interested and then he could see that I was already pursuing the martial arts.

“I know that before he met me he was constantly thinking about how to react in certain situations that occur on the street, so I can see why he was drawn to martial arts. I might have been the initial bridge for him that allowed him to explore his interest more.”

Egan recounted how the two had already been involved with different combat sports when they met. He also highlighted how it was around the time that the two met that they really began to pursue MMA as a sport. From a very young age it became clear to them that they would have to train in a multitude of styles.

“There was a little period there where we were constantly going back and forth about combat and fighting while we were in school. As the months went by he came to Leixlip where I had been doing my kickboxing training, but there was a little bit of trouble with him getting out there and getting back home. So he started to head back out to Crumlin for his boxing.

“At the time he really gravitated towards the grittiness of boxing, and that’s interesting because now I always hear him talking about how he wishes he had used his formative years to put emphasis on his kicks. He’s a complete martial artist now, and obviously his kicking is something he has become very well known for.

“I was very intrigued by this boxing training, both of us were always trying to test ourselves more and more. I wanted something grittier after listening to Conor talking about boxing, I kind of finished up competing in the sport karate and then I found jiu jitsu.”

Training in Brazilian jiu jitsu under Mick Aldridge in Newbridge after his fellow karateka Jay Daniels pointed him in the right direction, Egan was impressed by the fact that the Kildare man had travelled to California to train under the great Rickson Gracie. Moving to Newbridge around the same time as McGregor moved to Lucan, Egan recalled how his parents allowed him to convert a shed in his back garden into a training room. It was in that shed that both Egan and McGregor began their training for ‘Ultimate Fighting’.

“I had moved out to Kildare around the same time as Conor moved out to Lucan. When I started taking this jiu jitsu really seriously and he took his boxing really seriously, that’s when we decided we should start meeting up and going over some techniques. He would teach me boxing and I would teach him this new, weird jiu jitsu stuff.

“The house had a good amount of land around it, and because of that my parents decided to build me this little shed where I could train. It was about 10 by 20 meters and I got some mats off the jiu jitsu guys that I could put down on the ground. It turns out that they were actually cow mats, I bought them off a farmer in the end! So we cut up all these mats and laid them all out and it became this training centre. Extra workouts would go down there a lot with various different training partners. It was brilliant.

“I would have about eight guys showing up with their gis for rolling sessions in that little area. It was crazy. I would have guys coming out from Portlaoise, Athy and Newbridge. Conor would come at the weekends and I think he might have come to one or two classes. He would still wear all of his boxing gear when he was rolling around! The more we would learn, the more it made us want to pursue MMA – or ‘Ultimate Fighting’ as we called it back then,” he laughed.

John Kavanagh often taught seminars out in the Newbridge facility that Egan had been attending, and everyone had told him that if he wanted to be serious about MMA it was Kavanagh that he would to study under. Seeing the way Kavanagh could handle himself on the mats reinforced Egan’s belief that jiu jitsu was the way forward and it wasn’t long before he and McGregor joined ‘The Godfather of Irish MMA’ in his Harold’s Cross facility.

“Conor had been competing weekly as a boxer, he was a seasoned competitor and I had done a fair few tournaments in jiu jitsu. We had been trying to tie it all together in the shed too. I had met John a few times at different seminars out with the guys I trained with in Athy. To see a guy as good as John back then completely blew my mind. There was this big huge guy training with us in Athy and John would completely tool him. He was a brown belt at the time, and seeing him in action reiterated everything I had already thought about jiu jitsu.

“Arni Isaksson was the main guy out there at the time. John kind of knew me from these different seminars and things so I went out to him a few times at the old Harold’s Cross gym. Eventually when I was able to drive I started to bring Conor with me.”

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Discussing his debut at UFC 93, Egan talked about the impact that seeing one of his close friends compete on the Octagon may have had on Conor at a time when he was away from the sport:

“Seeing the UFC in Dublin with his own eyes and then seeing a guy so close to him competing in the event, I’ve heard him say that seeing that made him know that his dream would come true. I was in there, he trained with me everyday, maybe it did pull him back into the sport – I don’t know you’d have to ask him.

“There were a lot of factors though, he had to know he was able to it too, he had to have that hunger. When I look back on it now I see it as a pivotal time in both of our lives in many different ways,” said Egan.

Egan spoke about how being in McGregor’s training camp and living with the SBG team has made him realise that he too can get back to the biggest stages in MMA. Having been out of action for 18 months for various reasons, Egan maintained that he is in no rush to take a fight for the sake of it, but he is definitely feeling the itch being involved in such a high stakes training camp.

“If my past experiences have taught me anything it’s to be a patient individual, but at the same time you can’t allow your opportunities to run away from you. Success is when talent and hard work meet opportunity. I’m staying patient, I’m in no rush to just take a fight for the sake of it.

“I’ve been through a lot of personal issues in the last year and a half, and I had a few professional things going on too. I’m self employed now and I wanted to give myself a few months to acclimate to that new way of life, I’ve had some hiccups along the way but I’ve been quite busy.

“I was competing quite a lot for a long time, before Conor made his UFC debut I was usually competing around the same time as him every few months. The personal stuff kind of came up around the time of his debut, then I changed my job, but even though it’s been 18 months since I’ve competed – I’m still only 27.

“I’ve been around for a long time but I still feel like I’ve put very little mileage on my clock. My training has gotten a lot smarter and a lot of that is from going back and forth with Conor – we still do that to this day. As well as Conor you’ve got inspirational guys out here like John Kavanagh, Owen Roddy and Artem Lobov and they open your eyes to a whole new world of things when you’re training.

“Does being here make me want to fight? Of course it does. Being here in Vegas, in this house, it shows you how far a passion for something can bring you. I really feel like I will get an opportunity on this big stage again, and being around Conor and seeing how he handles the media and all of the attention makes me believe I can do it too.”

Being around a lot of his old teammates has forced Egan to be reminded of home and although he could definitely see himself coming home for fight camps in the future, a permanent move from Boston doesn’t seem to be on the cards just yet.

“It would be great to go back to Ireland. It’s hard though, I’ve set up a life for myself in Boston so I can’t just walkaway whenever I want to,” he stated. “I’m on my own clock, on my own dollar, so if I don’t show up to work I don’t get paid. If I don’t get going, ‘The Tank’ engine doesn’t even start!

“I love that I have no one to answer to, it’s very liberating and I don’t think I would be able to live any other way having done it for so long now. Of course though, if I could go back to Ireland, get a camp in and then fight it would be absolutely amazing. In the future I will make them trips.

“It’s such an honour for me to come out here and to be able to have the time to do it. If I had kept my old job there would be no way that I would’ve been able to do this. Without risk there are no rewards.

“Conor is one of my best friends, this is his preparation for a world title fight and a whole country are living for the night. At the end of the day I could go home to a house full of bills and struggles any day, but being a part of this world championship camp is something that will stay with me forever.

“It’s funny, Conor has said before about how UFC 93 inspired him and gave him this massive boost for his career, in turn, I look at him doing this stuff and now I know that I have everything it takes to get back to this level again. What he’s doing now lets me realise that I have the ability to do all of this, and that I’m deserving it,” said Egan.

Finally, ‘The Tank’ gave his thought on McGregor’s upcoming bout with Jose Aldo:

“Without a doubt, Conor is going to beat Jose Aldo. I don’t really see how, but I see Aldo struggling with Conor’s unorthodox style, particularly when Conor starts getting busy – he stays in your face, he’s always on you.

“Conor’s mastery of distance is something that Jose is going to find very hard to deal with too. Many of the guys that Aldo has beat up have never had any of the distance control Conor has had, so I can see him being in a lot of trouble on the feet.

“I just can’t see how Aldo will be able to handle Conor. He’s very strong, very athletic. I can see Conor completely dominating him on the feet and if they get into a scramble I wouldn’t be surprised if Conor took his back and finished him with a rear naked choke. It could be anything, but Conor will win this fight.”

@PetesyCarroll

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Peter Carroll is Severe MMA's lead feature writer. He has been featured in many top publications and some rubbish ones too. He also writes for the Irish Daily Mirror and Vice's Fightland.