James Gallagher is set to be Ireland’s next UFC superstar

James Gallagher
James Gallagher

At just 18 years old, mixed martial artist James Gallagher, from Strabane, Co.Tyrone, is being tipped as the best young MMA prospect to come out of Ireland since Conor McGregor.

After an illustrious amateur career, his positive mind-set is a breath of fresh air, but it’s his fighting that does the talking and with 17 amateur fights, and a magnificent 1st round display at this year IMMAF World Championships, people have taken notice. 

James’s first professional fight at BAMMA 22 will take place in the 3Arena, September 19th.

At 15 years of age, James knew that he needed to dedicate all of his time to MMA if he was to fulfil his dreams of becoming one of the greatest in the sport.

The longevity of a fighter’s career is not very long, and James took complete advantage of that.

As every fighter has a limited lifespan in the octagon, James focused his attention on developing his craft from a young age and developed his life around it.  

 “School isn't for everyone, some people are smart at reading, writing, adding and subtracting and enjoy being in school and sitting writing in books all day," he says.

"You definitely need a level of education but once I got to 3rd year I wanted to finish school and follow my dreams. When I got to the end of 4th year I done just that.

“I was having a bit of a hard time with teachers one day and I got up and walked out and told all my friends I wasn't coming back. I came home and said to my parents I can't go into school anymore I'm done.”

When a parent hears their son’s unhappiness with school,  worry is an emotion that comes to mind, but seeing the drive, the passion, and the commitment that James was putting into mixed martial arts, they  supported him with his decision.

“They told me I can go to school at any age of my life but I can't fight at any age of my life so they let me quit.

“My father went to the school and spoke to my head teacher and explained and she was cool with it and understood as I was having a rough time at school because all I wanted to do was train and follow my dreams.”

“I had teachers who would slate me and say stuff like I'll get nowhere in life because I didn't work hard in school, but in my mind I knew I was working hard in the gym training before school and after.

“I had teachers who would encourage me and say well done and they could see that I had the drive to educate myself In a different aspect of life and not just in school books and I always learnt so much more in their classes because they understood me and to this day they message me congratulating me and I'm very grateful to have had teachers like that”

John Kavanagh, head coach at SBG, in Dublin saw the incredible potential in the James, and they came to the agreement that James could live in Johns house upon his arrival in Dublin. 

Kavanagh is one of the most innovative coaches in the world, and is finally getting the recognition he deserves through the success of Irish fighters in the UFC.

Originally seeing the rise of Irish stars like Owen Roddy, a pioneer of Irish MMA, and now regarded as one of the country’s top coaches at Primal MMA, in North Dublin.

Kavanagh began to reap rewards with Conor McGregor creating a wave of SBG fighters joining the UFC in Paddy Holohan, Cathal Pendred and Icelandic Gunnar Nelson.

James is at the forefront of the next wave as he says: “Summer 2016, I will be in the UFC. I'm going to own it, that's what I'm going to achieve,” he claims.

When I asked him about McGregor, possibly Ireland’s most popular sports-person, and his idea of not going into a fight with a game plan, James said:

 “Conor goes into contests completely free, focusing only on his own game as opposed to the opponent," he stated.

“I’d be the same on that. I have walked into fights not knowing who my opponent is or even looks like and that makes it more fun for me, I've got a task and had to complete but I've no idea how they move or work so it's really fun to me to try solve that puddle and shut them off as quick as possible.

 “If I see someone use and nice shot or move that I like and is effective I'll take it and use it. I think doing it this way gives you more of your own kind of style rather than copying someone just because it works for someone doesn't mean it will work for you.”

Looking at James Gallagher, his skill set, his strong Brazilian Jiu- Jitsu background, and his attitude towards the sport and life, the future of the ‘Strab-animal’ looks incredibly bright.

Humble Tyrone man James concluded the interview by saying how inspired he was by all the people around him:

“My coach John Kavanagh, my team at SBG, my mother, my father, my grandmother Doreen Carlin. They all inspire me.”

Ross Murphy