Sports

Strabane pride as Gallagher 'comes home' for Dublin fight night

Thursday, 15 December 2016

Strabane pride as Gallagher 'comes home' for Dublin fight night thumbnailStrabane mixed martial arts prospect, James Gallagher (left), will take on Anthony 'Pretty Boy' Taylor (right) at Bellator 169 at Dublin's 3 Arena this Friday night.

"IT MEANS everything to me, to walk out in the 3 Arena in front of a home crowd. I'm going to be so proud". Those were the words of Strabane mixed martial arts prospect, James Gallagher, who is relishing his 'homecoming' at Dublin's 3 Arena this Friday night as he co-headlines the Bellator 169 fight night.

Also billed on the night is a much-anticipated heavyweight fight between Muhammed "King Mo" Lawal, and Olympic judo gold medalist, Satoshi Ishii. Bellator 169 will run alongside another top production, BAMMA 27, in an combined event of which Ireland has never before seen the likes of.

BAMMA 27 will bring a number of up-and-coming Irish fighters to attention, including Ballymena man Alan Philpott, Dublin's Dylan Tuke and Limerick's Sean Tobin. Gallagher though will be the name most Irish fans will be excited to see in action.

"Bellator have shown a lot of faith in me that I can hold that spot, that's a nice feeling as well. I think I'm the perfect man for the job," said Gallagher.

While Gallagher has fought in front of huge crowds before, he will be realising a dream when he steps into the octagon to take on Anthony 'Pretty Boy' Taylor at the 9,500 capacity Dublin venue.

"It'll not phase me, I love that, the bigger the better. The difference is that it is a home crowd. It's what I want, what I asked for, what I've worked for and always dreamed of.

"At the end of the day when I walk in there and the doors are closed, it's all about the fight. Nothing else matters, that's all gone. You can talk, say you're doing this and that, but at the end of the day when that door closes, it's about what happens in the octagon."

Gallagher will have the support of his Strabane fans right there with him in the arena, and many more tuning in to watch the fight live on Spike TV. For Gallagher, it'll be a moment to savour.

"There's about three or four hundred people coming from Strabane. I've been talking to ones from home, and they're maybe not big fans of mixed martial arts (MMA) in general, but they're big fans of me. They're watching it to support me and that's just brilliant. No-one can take that kind of thing away, ever.

 

"These things don't come around every week."

 

Gallagher was only 12-years-old when he first got into MMA. "I got involved with a local club and I knew a few of the people that where there. I thought "this looks pretty good.

"I loved the idea of fighting. I had done karate before, but it wasn't enough for me. It was never a real fight. When I found MMA, it was all I wanted to do. Once I started, I never wanted to do anything else, and I never looked back."

From there, Gallagher began fighting at shows around the country, until he caught the eye of John Kavanagh, owner of Straight Blast Gym and coach to the one and only, Conor 'Notorious' McGregor.

"I met him at Warrenpoint at a show I was fighting at, I was only 13, but I was beating a guy who was 21. (John) wouldn't judge the show then. He said 'It's going to ruin MMA in Ireland'. After the fight I went in and had a talk, and became friends after a while. He invited me down to train at his gym anytime I wanted."

Gallagher was just 15 when he made the move to Dublin. He left school at Holy Cross College in Strabane to begin his MMA career full-time.

"I used to come down to Dublin and visit maybe once a month, then it started once a week. Then I decided, I'm bouncing, I'm going to train. This is what I love to do, and this is the best place to do it."

Gallagher, who has recently turned 20, prolifically rose through the amateur ranks before turning professional in October 2015, and has continued to ascend in the paid ranks. He praised his parents, dad Andy and mum Doreen, for their support as he scales the heights of MMA.

"Mum and Dad were behind me 100 per cent, every bit of the way, and they still are. Every step I take they're with me. Sometimes they mightn't agree with what I do, but if I do it, they'll help me. They'll back me all the way. That kind of support is what you need."

 

Rise in MMA

At the Straight Blast Gym stable in Dublin, Gallagher trains under the tutelage of Kavanagh alongside McGregor and a host of other upcoming fighters. Though only 20, he has witnessed first-hand the remarkable rise of MMA, with training partner McGregor going from a relative unknown to a global phenomenon in the last three years. A young Irish prospect with a chest tattoo and unerring self-belief, the similarities with McGregor are never far away, but Gallagher reflected on his own journey to date, and he feels it is his time to "make the break".

"It's been phenomenal. I've been there before Gunnar Nelson or Conor McGregor were in UFC, before UFC was even a thing here in Ireland. I've seen it rise and I've trained all the old school ways, and now the game is on a new level. It's something spectacular.

"I definitely could see it happening, I always believed it was going to happen, but to be truthfully honest I didn't think at this stage. But now, it just feels right. This is my time, and now I'm making the break.

"It's nice of Bellator to use my name and build that up. They believe I can be the draw for this show, and to be honest I think I can be as well. I'll make sure at the end of that night everyone's jaws will be dropped, thinking "Wow, did you see James Gallagher tonight?"

 

'Strabanimal'

You can hear the Strabane pride every time James Gallagher speaks, and that same affinity for his hometown is symbolised in his fighting moniker, 'The Strabanimal.' Gallagher revealed though he almost discarded his nick-name were it not for the intervention of his mother, Doreen.

"When I first moved to Dublin, someone heard I was from Strabane and said 'The Strabanaimal', and it just stuck with me. I was going to change it, but my mum said not to.

"I represent Strabane in every way I can. I grew up in Carlton Drive, I go back to Strabane pretty much every weekend. I love the place. Any chance I get, I'll represent Strabane."

With an unblemished professional record to date, Gallagher defeated Denis Ahern, Declan McAleenan and Gerard Gilmore by way of first round submissions before signing to American promotion company Bellator in April of this year. His maiden fight with the company was with Englishman Mike Cutting at London's O2 Arena, which went all the way to three rounds. Gallagher won on a unanimous decision to remain undefeated.

While the submission method seems to be a strong suit for the 'Strabanimal', he believes he possesses the skills to go about the fight in whatever style is required.

"I go out to do it all. I'm an all-rounder. When I go in there I'll figure out the easiest way to win. I'm in there for a quick payday. Every time I'm in there, I just get them down, and it's just so easy when I hit the ground and I can just finish them off. When I'm on the ground I'm on a new level compared to everyone else, and it just seems to play out that way."

Gallagher's opponent on the night, 27-year-old Californian Anthony 'Pretty Boy' Taylor, has been vocal in the lead-up to the fight, jibing the Strabane prospect on his young age. When confirmed to appear at Bellator 169, Taylor tweeted: "He's (Gallagher) going to wish he never fought a grown man with powers like mines (sic)."

"He keeps calling me a child, he's going to find out what a real man is," declared a defiant Gallagher. "I've been fighting men since I was 13-years-old. He is no different to any of the rest of them. I've fought many people like him. He's never fought anyone like me, not once."

Tickets for Bellator 169 are still available on www.ticketmaster.ie.

Full coverage of Bellator 169 in next week's Strabane Weekly News

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