Head coach of SBG Ireland and the “Grandfather of Irish MMA” John Kavanagh is adamant that the sport of mixed martial arts is only going to go from strength to strength in 2014.
Speaking to Niall McGrath on the Talking Brawls MMA podcast, Kavanagh spoke of how special it is to see how far the sport has come in the last 18 months.
“I still when I see a guy walking down the street with a Tapout t-shirt on give him a nod because I assume I must know him,” Kavanagh told Talking Brawls. “Even when I see other teams walking around with their jersey or a UFC top I get a little swell of pride when you think 10 years ago there was nothing of that.”
As for the sport’s massive surge in popularity in the last year or so, Kavanagh’s new mixed martial arts headquarters at SBG Concorde on the Naas Road will surely prove to be one of the major catalysts for elevating Irish MMA to another level again.
“We estimate about fifteen hundred people showed up,” said Kavanagh of the gym’s grand opening event a few week’s ago. “This is what I wanted when I was growing up … A full size cage, boxing ring, bags. A really well thought-out and designed strength and conditioning area … I’ve just designed a place where I want to hang out.”
World class facilities are only as good as the fighters that occupy it however, and Kavanagh looks forward to having a few familiar faces donning UFC posters when the big show returns to the capital city in September, as is expected.
“We reckon this summer in Dublin will have a kind of Italia ’90 feel to it, that kind of build up, obviously with the UFC coming to town,” he said, going on to declare that the Irish are to be taken seriously this time around. “Not only is it something we’re involved in as a country but it’s something we’re doing well in as a country, and that’s always nice.
“We’re not just in it to make up the numbers. We’re showing ourselves to be the best in the world,” he declared emphatically.
On some of the potential and current UFC fighters under his tutelage, Kavanagh spoke of how his first ever champion, Aisling “Ais the Bash” Daly, has come through difficult spells in her career to being on the cusp of becoming a UFC fighter. This, a day after Daly published a heart-felt and bravely honest blog about her struggles with depression as she prepares to enter the house on The Ultimate Fighter.
“I haven’t seen it yet but I believe it was brilliant to see such a brutal level of honesty,” he said of Daly’s blog. “I hope she hasn’t bad-mouthed me! I’ll assumed she hasn’t.
“She’s just one of those that’s been consistent … Last year she had some ups and downs with performances but she finished the year on a real high note with that excellent, complete demolition of a high level 115-er [Karla Benitez]. She showed she belonged in that conversation and now I believe she’s ranked number 10. There’s 16 girls in that [TUF] house so it will be a travesty if she’s not one of the 16. Again, who knows? That could be another face on the [UFC] poster come September. It’s exciting times.”
Regarding the two fighters he already has established in the UFC, Kavanagh spoke on the eery similarities between both Conor McGregor and Gunnar Nelson’s UFC journeys so far.
“It’s funny, I was talking to Conor and they both [McGregor and Nelson] had identical beginnings to their UFC careers,” he mused. “They both went in with a huge amount of hype. They both went in a finished somebody in the first round with how we thought they’d be finished, a choke and a knockout. They both went into their second fights and got a decision and both injured their knees. It’s pretty funny when you think how closely mirrored that was.”
Though while many would see many negatives in the time both McGregor and Nelson were and are being forced to sit on the sidelines, Kavanagh reckons this kind of “set back” could be beneficial in the long run.
“It’s the first time they’ve both taken so much time off,” said Kavanagh. “It’s been a blessing in disguise … And now they have a 10-year run at it.”
As for Gunnar Nelson’s upcoming fight against Omari Akhmedov at UFC Fight Night in London next month, Kavanagh scoffed at the idea of his fighters undergoing a “fight camp”.
“We don’t do camps,” he declared. “To be honest with you, I have not talked one word with Gunni about that guy. We’re just training for everything, and then it doesn’t matter. What if I get a phone call on Wednesday, he’s out, and there’s a new guy for Saturday, with three days to go? Do we pull out because everything in that training was about this southpaw and always leads with his left kick and so on? The reality is, you could get someone new, OR the guy you looked at three months ago has changed completely! We almost never have conversations about opponents.”
Such an outlook and mentality is not only quite out of the ordinary when you consider for years how some of the top level fighters would train so specifically for the style they’re set to encounter, but it is refreshing more so than anything and one of the reasons that people are really starting to sit up and take notice of John Kavanagh’s methods across the pond.
As for his number one student Conor McGregor, Kavanagh admitted he doesn’t mind all of the sponsorhip deals and outside interests that may distract certain fighters.
“Do you think that when he was doing that Heineken ad he wasn’t training before it, or during it?” he said bluntly. “This is the entertainment industry. There’s an element of Olympic sport and there’s an element of WWE. The guys that can ride that fine line, do the best. I don’t think there’s anybody in the UFC doing it better that Conor right now.
“In 2013 the most googled athlete in Ireland was an MMA fighter. Ahead of a rugby player, a tennis player, a soccer player. And you know what? We’re just getting started.”
Catch John Kavanagh’s interview with Talking Brawls MMA in full HERE.
Photo H/T JOE.ie