An atmosphere of excitement had taken a firm grip on the Round Room of the Mansion House and the five hundred capacity audience were basking in the knowledge of John Kavanagh as he spoke at the launch of his autobiography, “Win or Learn.” The man himself had just walked up a stairs for the ten minute interlude, and by the stage a group of fans were huddled around Paddy Holohan and Cathal Pendred hoping for an autograph or a picture (none were left disappointed). Another group of fans had gathered around Tony and Margaret McGregor and spoke about their excitement at prospect of ‘the Notorious’ ones approaching rematch with Nate Diaz on the 20th of August. A small number of fans had noticed the Brazilian Jiu Jitsu black belt Dillon Danis on the VIP balcony above the bar and were attempting to entice him to the bar for a chat and a photo. As I looked back towards the stage a short figure moved towards the VIP stairway clutching a tall glass of water.
A grin spread across the face of James Gallagher as I approached him and asked if I could have a minute or two of his time. A quick compliment of the shirt later and he promptly agreed. Gallagher was polite and spoke candidly of his ‘tunnel vision’ as he prepared for his Bellator debut this coming Saturday, the 16th of July. I told him the Irish fans of the ‘Strabanimal’ were looking forward to an extended International Fight Week as we looked forward to the opening Irish interest in Joe Duffy’s bout against Mitch Clark and then the culmination of the week, in the Tyrone native’s first fight under the Bellator banner.
Upon meeting Gallagher, 3-0 in his professional career, the first characteristics a person may note are his enthusiasm and humility. I was delighted when he willingly engaged in a survey of his previous performance at BAMMA 24, a first round submission victory by Rear Naked Choke against Gerard Gilmore. His delight and genuine nature was evident as he used both changes in vocal tone and a variety in arm movement to describe the finish that cemented Bellator’s decision to sign the Strabane native. The 19 year old has received many negative comments regarding his social media content; but it is the enthusiasm of youth, rather than a wish to boast, that lies behind Gallagher’s posts. Talking to the young man for only a few minutes will leave you in no doubt that within the young man burns a desire to represent his town, gym, and country with pride and to fulfil a potential that would cause others to miss a step in their development.
Gallagher is on firm ground; a tutelage under Kavanagh since the age of 15 and the product of the SBG Ireland ethos of humility leaves you in no doubt that Gallagher has a maturity beyond his years. In the pre-event conference held in London on Thursday evening it was Gallagher that received the loudest ovation when introduced to the media and fans that were present, yet he looked dignified and showing his youthful exuberance when meeting the legendary Royce Gracie, Tito Ortiz and Lennox Lewis. Gallagher, sitting in between veterans Michael “Venom” Page and Alex Reid, looked at home and comfortable ahead of his fight against Mike Cutting.
Gallagher took his time answering the media’s questions and remained composed when asked about topics varying from his experience at SBG Ireland to the ‘similarity’ in his body art to his SBG team mate Conor McGregor. Gallagher used a sharp wit, which has become well known among his fans through interviews with SevereMMA and other media outlets, to wave away a remark that questioned his individuality. It is clear that Gallagher can be compared favourably, in both skillset and personality, to his Icelandic team-mate Gunnar Nelson. Both men possess an excellent Jiu Jitsu knowledge that has been enhanced by a calm personality that helps them remain composed in the chaos of a MMA event and to await for the precise opening when a finish may become available.
Gallagher politely excused himself and then signed my copy of Kavanagh’s “Win or Learn” and left with a handshake and a ‘Thank you.’ It was a snapshot of the young man and as I returned to my seat other’s around me asked ‘Who was that?’ I replied it was ‘James Gallagher and you’ll find out what he can do on the big stage soon enough.’ It is clear, from his previous amateur and professional performances and that brief conversation, that Gallagher has the personality, maturity, and ability to carve out his very own path to MMA gold, and to emerge as a star in his own right.