Interview with MMA coach John Kavanagh

It’s been a monumental few years for Straight Blast Gym and coach John Kavanagh. As Conor McGregor’s meteoric rise began in April 2013, so too did the celebrity of his entourage, including Kavanagh.

One of Kavanagh’s first fighters to make it to the UFC was Icelandic talent Gunnar Nelson. When The Liberty got the chance to catch up with the decorated coach in March at an event to promote Tayto Time, Gunnar was fresh off a second round submission victory in arguably one of his biggest UFC bouts against Alan Jouban at UFC London.

“The quality we saw [at UFC London] from Gunnar is really what I’ve seen since the beginning.

“I said he [Gunnar] was going to be the next big thing in the UFC Welterweight Division, and we’ve stumbled now twice, but we’ve learned a lot.”

Kavanagh’s catchphrase, and the title of his worldwide best-selling book, is ‘Win or Learn’, a philosophy he takes from Nelson’s UFC journey, which has seen the only two blemishes added to his previously pristine 16-win record.

“The [Rick] Story fight, we really learned a good amount from and then we learned an awful lot from the Damien Maia fight [his two UFC losses].

“But I feel in the last two, he’s really shown where he can go with this. [He’s had] massive improvement in cardio, stand-up, he outboxed Tumenov, a boxer, and he outstruck Jouban, who’s a striker. Then obviously on the ground he’s so impressive.”

Reporter Donagh Corby caught up with renowned UFC coach John Kavanagh //Donagh Corby

The Dubliner opened his first gym 8 years ago in Phibsoboro, just a stone’s throw away from The Liberties.

“I’m looking, this summer, to move from the Naas Road gym to a bigger space.

“We’ve only been there around three years and we’ve filled up where we are.”

The now-famous MMA coach has always put an emphasis on not just accomplished fighters, but average people who want to better themselves both physically and mentally.

“I’ve got fighters from all over the world, but more importantly than that is just the regular people who want to come in and they’re not interested in running on a treadmill or lifting weights, they want to use MMA as a vehicle to improve themselves.”

In recent weeks, it has been announced that John Kavanagh will be coaching again at the World famous Madison Square Garden, this time in the corner of a different Straight Blast Gym prospect; Bellator rising star James ‘The Strabanimal’ Gallagher.

“My main piece of advice for the people involved is to not get lost in the size of the event.

“At the end of the day, you’re going to be walking into a cage and there’ll be a referee in the middle and a guy on the other side and it’s a Mixed Martial Arts contest. You definitely can get a little caught up in fighting in the arena that Muhammad Ali fought in, and all these major events and that can swallow you up and people can lose their focus.”

However, for the legendary Irish coach, the size of the event won’t phase him any more than it did back at UFC 205 when his pupil Conor McGregor wrote his name into the combat sport history books.

“For me, the sport remains the same. It doesn’t matter where it’s on. The fight could be in front of 200 people in Cage Legacy in Drogheda [an event he attended last month], or it could be in front of 20,000 in Madison Square Garden. It’s all the same.”

The main event of the massive MMA showcase will be two bonafide Mixed Martial Arts legends in Chael Sonnen and Wanderlei Silva. The fight, which has been in the works since Chael began his rise in 2011, will be a massive pay-per-view draw for the company, whose booking of the event shows huge ambition.

However, neither man is at their physical peak any more. Chael recently lost to Tito Ortiz at Bellator 170, while Wanderlei hasn’t fought in over four years.

“I think the best thing about that fight will be the build-up. Fans love that sort of stuff, and Chael is so good on the microphone with his promos. There’ll be a lot of fun with that and I think for a huge amount of fans that’s the most important thing.

“I think the actual fight itself won’t be of huge interest to me because they’re not at the highest level any more. They’re legends, but I think the razzmatazz of that fight will be a lot bigger than the skill side of that fight.”

Coach Kavanagh was unable to comment on rumours of a boxing match between Conor McGregor and Floyd Mayweather, which at the time of going to print is as yet unconfirmed.

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