Interview with IMMAF Gold Medallist Ben Forsyth

ben-forsyth-john-kavanagh

In November of 2015, Ireland’s Ben Forsyth took part in the 2015 IMMAF European Championships of Amateur MMA competing in the light heavyweight division. After fighting his way to the final, he finished Hungary’s Balaze Kiss via TKO little over half-way into the second round to claim a gold medal. I had the chance to discuss this and more with him recently.

His IMMAF gold medal win had to be the starting point and I opened by congratulating him and asking about the whole experience. “Thank you so much. I really appreciate that,” he began. “It was a great moment for myself and my team. A phenomenal experience that I believe I will relish for the rest of my life.

Aside from the euphoria of winning, there are often moments that stand out in the minds of competitors and Forsyth is no different. “If I had to recall a certain moment that stood out to me most from the championships, apart from getting the gold of course, I would say the 1st fight of the tournament and the feeling I had after getting through it,” he reminisced. “I’m not used to competing at light heavyweight and in fact I was still under the weight class by 2+ kilos so these guys looked massive to me. The first guy especially. Myself and John (Kavanagh) knew I’d have to play matador and fight intelligently. After getting out of a solid guillotine attempt in the second round I got the TKO finish and just the feeling I had afterwards was that of reassurance. I have a big belief in my hard work and skill in any case, but after that fight I knew I could take gold.

The IMMAF are most certainly leading the charge in the development of amateur MMA, something which is absolutely vital for the future of the sport. Forsyth believes that tournaments like the European Championships can only be beneficial for young, upcoming fighters. “I am actually quite envious of all the amateur fighters coming up now, as this style of tournament is phenomenal for development and experience,” he stated. “I think the sport at an amateur level should lean away from big ticketed shows which puts an un-necessary amount of pressure and expectation on fighters. The focus at this level should be development of skills and cage experience. If there was an IMMAF style tournament once every say, 2 months, the fighters that come out at the end will be the real deal and would know they are in it for the right reasons.

In Forsyth’s case, the next step in his career is to turn professional and he now has a date and opponent for that occasion. He will be fighting Luke Taylor for ICE Fighting Championship on February 20th. “He looks like a warrior,” Forsyth said. “But I am also a warrior. We will do battle and the better man will prevail on the night. That’s all that matters.”

Something that is synonymous with MMA, and combat sports in general, are nicknames. Forsyth is known as “The Spider Monkey”, a nickname which I asked the origins of. “I got that nickname from my mate Gary,” he told me. “I think it suits me as I’m very long limbed and monkey like. I don’t know, I’m open to a change but I haven’t gotten a better suggestion yet.

In the MMA world at the moment, Straight Blast Gym (SBG) in Dublin, Ireland is one of the most talked about and highly thought of gyms. UFC stars such as Paddy Holohan, Cathal Pendred, Aisling Daly and Conor McGregor fight out of that gym under the tutelage of John Kavanagh and Forsyth is another who represents that gym. “It feels like home,” Forsyth said. “I’ve often said in the past how much of a privilege it is to train with these guys, and it is of course, but after being there for so long now, it just feels normal to me. They are my family and we’re all learning and evolving together.  It’s something really, really special that I’m grateful to be a part of.

Having a UFC champion in the gym can only be a positive thing for upcoming fighters. I asked Forsyth about any advice he might have received from the UFC featherweight champion and he responded by saying “The only advice I’ve ever gotten from Conor is probably the most valuable piece of advice you could get, no matter what you’re pursuing in life, and that is simply ‘Just keep going’.

Something else that has become evident from MMA in Ireland is the passion that the fans have for the sport and how vociferously the Irish support their own. UFC president Dana White once famously called the Irish fans ‘pound for pound the best fans in the world’. Something that Forsyth has experienced himself in his young career to date. “I have had a huge amount of support throughout my entire time competing,” he started. “It has definitely snowballed since the Europeans and people are starting to take notice. My close circle have kept their belief in me through the losses as well as the wins and I will be forever grateful to them for that. I got a tweet from one person saying that the whole of Ireland is behind me for the European finals. I couldn’t help but feel a huge sense of pride and honour when I read that and I will do my absolute best to represent the country and all of my supporters now on the professional circuit.

Forsyth is one of a number of talented young Irish stars being tipped to be the next wave to take MMA by storm. With fighters like Dylan Tuke, Frans Mlambo, James Gallagher and Sinead Kavanagh to name but a few emerging recently, the future looks right for Irish MMA. “I can add a few more to that list that are huge prospects and are going to shine over the next year,” Forsyth enthused. “It’s really exciting to be a part of this. I think that this, right now, what’s happening with Conor, Paddy, Aisling and all of the Irish fighters is a huge part of history, not only in Irish martial arts, but martial arts in general and will be spoken about for a long, long time. To be a part of it and to be even mentioned alongside the fighters you outlined there is beyond amazing to me.

Nobody could argue that the degree of success for Irish MMA over the last few years, especially when you consider how small the country and its population is in comparison to most, is staggering. I asked Forsyth if there was one thing in particular he could attribute that to. “I think it all comes down to one man,” he replied. “The Irish takeover began the day that John Kavanagh decided to pursue teaching martial arts over an engineering career. Of course there are a lot of other contributing factors but if I were to put it down to one thing. It’s all because of John.

As far as 2016 goes, with one bout already scheduled, I then asked what goals he had set himself for the year ahead. “My goals for 2016 are to have at least 3 bouts and finish the year unbeaten,” Forsyth said. “I belive this will get me into the UFC. I also want to compete a lot in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and raise my level there. I have a few other non-fight related goals including growing a coffee brand I’m working on and learning how to backflip. There are a few others too. It’s good to have goals. It’s all about evolving and learning.

As Forsyth embarks on his professional career, everyone at MMA Latest would like to thank Ben for his time and wish him the best of luck in his future progression as a mixed martial artist. In concluding the interview, I asked him if he had any closing comments and I will leave the last word to him. “All I would like to add is just a thank you to MMA latest for approaching me for this interview and to everyone who supports me out there. If you want to follow my career, my twitter is @Spydermonkeymma or just add me on Facebook. I’m a nice guy, I’ll accept you!

Coach John wins 'Philips Manager of the Month'.

johnkavanagh-philips

Another big step forward for MMA in Ireland as Coach Kavanagh is recognised with the Philips 'Manager of the Month' award.

"Philips Ireland today 14th January 2016 named John Kavanagh, coach to Conor McGregor as Manager of the month for December 2015.

Coach Kavanagh runs the Straight Blast Gym and martial arts academy more commonly known as SBG.

On 12th December in Las Vegas, McGregor faced the highly rated Brazilian Jose Aldo in a re-fixed bout for the UFC Featherweight Title. Aldo, who held the title for ten years, was defeated in just 13 seconds of the first round. This was the fastest finish in UFC world title fight history."

John Kavanagh is pictured with Mark Kelly Philips Ireland receiving the Manager of the Month award for December.

Coach John nominated for MMA Coach of the Year!

johnkavanagh-coachoftheyear

We're incredibly proud to announce that SBG head coach John Kavanagh has been nominated for Fighters Only Magazine "Coach of the Year". 

If you feel John deserves your vote, head to Worldmmaawards.com to give him your support. (very quick registration required). Thanks!

To be the only European coach nominated and even mentioned in the same breadth as the other nominees is a huge honour.
— John Kavanagh

What Conor will do at UFC 197 will never happen again.

johnkavanagh

via the42.ie, by John Kavanagh

THIS PAST WEEKEND marked the beginning of Conor McGregor’s eight-week training camp for his next challenge.

Less than three months after taking just 13 seconds to take the featherweight belt from Jose Aldo, Conor will face lightweight champion Rafael dos Anjos at UFC 197 in Las Vegas on Saturday, 5 March.

There was another option on the table at lightweight but this is the fight we wanted because it will be the first time any fighter has held two UFC belts simultaneously. BJ Penn tried but was unable to manage it, but I suppose if there’s one thing Conor enjoys doing more than knocking people out, it’s breaking records.

Will a challenger ever beat a champion again in just 13 seconds? I sincerely doubt it. I also believe it’s very unlikely – as long as weight classes remain as they are — that any fighter will be able to replicate what Conor will achieve at UFC 197, by being in possession of two UFC belts at the same time.

The elephant in the room in this situation, of course, has been Frankie Edgar. If Conor’s next fight was announced as being against Frankie, there would be a lot of complaints about him cutting too much weight and being too big for the rest of the 145lbs guys. People would also claim that he was running from Rafael dos Anjos.

Instead, they’ll say he should be staying at featherweight and that he’s afraid of Frankie. But as I’ve said many times before, it’s great that questions are being asked because answering them is what sport is all about. The day there are no more questions being asked of you is the day you’re no longer relevant.

No matter who Conor’s next opponent was going to be, people would complain. There’s no getting away from that. There are boxes to be ticked and, by the time Conor retires, he’ll have addressed them all. But they can’t all be done at the drop of a hat. We can only take it one at a time. Rafael dos Anjos is next. After that, maybe Frankie Edgar will get his chance at UFC 200 on 9 July. We’ll see.

conormcgregor

I know Frankie is eager to get his shot, and he will. It’s not unusual for a champion to wait until the summertime to defend their belt — there are plenty of recent examples — so perhaps that’s when Frankie’s time will come. Look at this as a warm-up fight, albeit a dangerous one against the lightweight champion. Conor could fight Frankie in the summer, but in the meantime he’s taking another fight.

On average, Jose Aldo defended the featherweight title once every seven months. It would be a seven-month gap between Conor’s fight with Frankie, but I don’t recall Jose having to deal with the same amount of accusations of holding the division up. This might not be the case for other fighters, but due to Conor’s level of activity, he can afford to hold two belts and defend them regularly.

Conor has been cutting down to 145lbs since he was 16. He’s now 27 so it will be nice to take a break from that weight-cut. We’ve done it plenty of times before and we’ll do it again. Funnily enough, the last weight-cut — for the Aldo fight — was probably the best one yet thanks to the help of George Lockhart, who’s on board again for this fight. He’s part of the team now. You’ve seen Conor on salads… now watch what he’s like on steak.

It just allows us to focus even more on training and less on cutting weight. I think people will be surprised too when they see him standing beside these guys and they realise that even at lightweight, Conor is a pretty big guy.

And maybe the pursuit of belts won’t stop there either. I’ve said from the beginning that welterweight may not be out of the question. One of Conor’s main sparring partners, Gunnar Nelson, is a welterweight, so Conor is very used to that feel. I would not be at all surprised if we’re preparing to go for a third belt a year from now.

conorandjohn

Dos Anjos has looked more comfortable with his striking in his last few fights so I think he’ll have a level of comfort on his feet, which he’ll want to test against Conor. If so, he’ll end up leaning into shots and being hit hard and early.

I believe this will be another one that won’t see the end of the first round. If dos Anjos manages to survive the first exchange, he’ll become a panicked grappler. Should that happen, I’m looking forward to people getting an opportunity to see just how comfortable Conor is in that regard.

This is a huge fight because of the historical significance of what’s at stake and I expect Conor to add to his legacy of breaking records. What will happen on 5 March will never happen again. It’ll be something for the record books. To say I’m excited is to put it mildly.

- John Kavanagh

So you want to be a fighter?

So you want to be a fighter? A very well put together video by Ciaran Maher giving a small insight into the daily grind of an up and coming amateur at SBG. This is how 'Talent' is formed. I watch guys do this for years day in and day out, long before they get to fight as a professional. 

Forget the big shows, forget the fast cars and bright lights. Do you love it enough to do what Richie here is doing? All day every day? Potential sponsors can email [email protected], now is the time before he goes big!

- John Kavanagh

Coach Kavanagh: How to Train Like Conor McGregor

conor-training

via iaamf.org

Dublin’s famed SBG Ireland gym currently hosts a full generation of seasoned MMA athletes who have each found their feet on the sport’s grandest stage, with the likes of Aisling Daly,Gunnar Nelson, Paddy Holohan, and of course, UFC Featherweight Champion Conor McGregor. The eyebrow raising ability of McGregor has transcended the sport of mixed martial arts with his seemingly revolutionary approach to the game on a physical and mental level, supported by coach John Kavanagh.

IMMAF.org recently spoke with Kavanagh to discuss if the results of McGregor’s effective approach to technical development can be replicated in future generations of SBG up and comers.

Kavanagh suggested that the toughest and most influential aspect to develop is that of the mind and complete self confidence. On the other side, there is physical and technical development; and he believes that the physical ability of Conor McGregor can indeed be replicated within amateur athletes for future generations. (Continued below)

Click here to read the FULL article on IMMAF.org.

'Our journey to the biggest fight in UFC history started in a video shop on George’s Street in 1996'

via The42.ie

IT CAN BE difficult to stop yourself from being a little nostalgic at a time like this. The journey began in Laser video shop on George’s Street on a Friday afternoon in 1996. I picked up a copy of UFC 1, saw mixed martial arts for the first time when I went home that evening, and I’ve been in love with it ever since.

During those early years, it didn’t matter how much I felt I could, or could not, achieve. I knew that being involved in this sport was what I wanted to do with my life. The fact that things have turned out quite well is just an added bonus.

Over the next 48 hours, three of my fighters from Straight Blast Gym will compete for the Ultimate Fighting Championship on the biggest weekend in the organisation’s history. The man who’s at the top of the bill — which features a plethora of the very best fighters in the world — was a boy who had never set foot in a cage nine years ago when he first walked into my gym.

johnk

Conor McGregor, Gunnar Nelson, Artem Lobov and myself, we all started at the bottom. Novices. The men who’ll compete in sold-out Las Vegas arenas this weekend are the same men who fought in small GAA halls on many occasions along the way.

For the first 20 years of its existence, Irish MMA fans watched the UFC from a distance. They loved the fights but, with the exception of UFC 93 in Dublin, their own country played no part. That stage was for the Americans, the Brazilians, the Canadians and some of their European neighbours.

Nevertheless, this is the most important week the UFC has ever had and — 8,000 kilometres away from home — Ireland is at the very heart of it. Thousands of supporters have parted with thousands of euro to be here and show their support. Having waited so long to have their own horse in the race, this week is their reward.

But let’s not go too far down memory lane. There’s important business on the agenda to address first. We’re focused entirely on the task at hand and the importance of the completing it successfully.

We start tonight with Artem making his UFC debut in the finale of The Ultimate Fighter. It’s an interesting situation because his opponent, Ryan Hall, was training with us recently in Dublin before we even knew that he’d end up stepping in as a late replacement for Artem’s original opponent, Saul Rogers.

Either way, Artem was going to be facing someone he was very familiar with. Saul is a member of the SBG team in Manchester and they also fought each other in 2011. Back then, Saul was a member of another team and he won a very close fight by a split decision. Artem was initially disappointed because he chased that rematch for a long time and, with them both now being SBG fighters, that was absolutely the last opportunity for it ever to happen.

As for Ryan, he was initially due to fight a different opponent on tonight’s card before the reshuffle happened, so I was actually going to be in his corner. Instead, I’ll now obviously be on the opposite side. As soon as the fight is over, however, we’ll renew our good relationship and discuss the possibility of him cementing his connection with SBG.

It’s going to be a very satisfying moment to walk out with Artem for the first time in the UFC. People may look at the numbers on his record and say he shouldn’t be there, but anyone who has followed the regional circuit closely will be wise enough to read between the lines and see that there’s nobody more deserving of the opportunity.

While doing his utmost to grab the UFC’s attention, he constantly fought the best guys around instead of following the lead of other fighters by padding his record. Sure, he had a stroke of good luck by getting a second chance on The Ultimate Fighter, but for the first time in a five-year professional career, he finally got a break. And with three knockout wins in the meantime, he certainly made the most of it.

Tomorrow night, Gunnar Nelson goes into a fight I’ve been looking forward to for a long time — against Demian Maia on the main card at UFC 194. Gunni hit a stumbling block last year when he lost to Rick Story but he’s been reinvigorated this year and has really gotten into his stride. Seeing Conor’s success has been a major incentive for him.

Don’t be fooled by his laid-back demeanour either, because he is incredibly competitive and is just as keen as Conor to show that he’s the best. Gunni wants to get that welterweight belt and he wants to keep it. Tomorrow night he has a really good opportunity to move closer to that by showing that he represents the new wave of MMA grappling, as opposed to Brazilian jiu-jitsu in a gi transferred to MMA.

gunni and conor

If he can get that victory, a spot on the UFC London card in February would be a nice next step for Gunni. Beyond that, my dream card for UFC 200 next July would have Conor McGregor in a lightweight title bout and Gunnar Nelson fighting for the welterweight strap.

For now, however, we’ll keep our attention fixed on this weekend, which culminates with Conor’s meeting with Jose Aldo for top spot in the featherweight division. In my last column I mentioned how I think the fight will unfold and that hasn’t changed.

My belief is that Aldo has never really fought someone who has pressured him the way Conor will. The guys he has faced have mainly been small wrestlers who are learning to strike: Urijah Faber, Chad Mendes, Frankie Edgar… the list goes on. For a blueprint on how to beat a very good wrestler by staying on your feet, Aldo is your guy to study. He has done that brilliantly for 10 years.

But he hasn’t fought a top striker. Mark Hominick almost stopped him in the final round but now he’s taking on someone who’s much bigger than Hominick and with twice the power. Maybe I’m deluded, we’ll see, but I genuinely believe this will be a very one-sided fight.

After the first exchange, for the first time in his career, you’ll see Jose Aldo putting weight on his heels and walking backwards. He has never felt the power he’ll feel tomorrow night. Mendes managed to put Aldo on his ass. Conor will do the same, but the difference this time will be that he won’t get back up.

As for what’s next, even though this cut to 145lbs has been very smooth, my preference would be for Conor to make that move up to lightweight right away. The ideal scenario, from my perspective, would be for that to happen next summer at UFC 200, as I alluded to earlier. That would give Conor the scope for some rest and time off, but there’s no way he will sit on the sidelines for six or seven months.

To that end, perhaps a fight at 155lbs in March or April would be nice. Unless Frankie Edgar does something extraordinary tonight against Chad Mendes — and I think that fight will be very close — then I’m not sure there’ll be any reason to stick around at featherweight.

Nevertheless, we’re one win away from an undisputed UFC world championship. That’s the biggest prize in the sport. The ultimate goal. Yet somehow, the journey still feels like it’s only just beginning.

Cathal Pendred puts his support behind important MAN UP Campaign

MAN UP is a SAFE Ireland campaign.Launched in 2012 and has been growing in support for four years now. MAN UP is a campaign with a simple but powerful focus. It’s about men showing leadership, pride and courage to stand against domestic violence. To challenge the abuse of women and children.

Straight Blast Gym fighter Cathal Pendred is helping SAFE Ireland this year to promote the positive role that men can play in raising awareness about, and stopping, domestic violence. Please take a look at the campaigns new video below. For more information visit www.manup.ie & www.safeireland.ie.