Check out this trilogy of fights for the ages between 'The Notorious' Conor McGregor and 'The Notable' Conan O' Brien!
On Wednesday afternoon, with hundreds of MMA fans and a small army of the sport's reporters packed in, it feels very intimate. John Kavanagh, however, wouldn't agree. He has known many exceedingly more confined locations that played host to the sport of combat. He's standing back from both crowds. For now, he's happy to survey.
One of his fighters is up there on the stage, busily going through a series of striking, grappling and movement workouts with other members of the support team. He's just one of many who call Kavanagh coach. But none of the rest - roughly 20 pros in all - are quite like him. No-one who has ever opted to mix martial arts for a living is quite like this one.
Conor McGregor's every flex, every shadow punch is cheered as though it's a devastating decider. Kavanagh, however, looks to be studying each one a whole lot more intently. This is the most relaxed fight week of the Notorious team's wild journey to the top of the Ultimate Fighting Championship, but it's no time to get lazy.
McGregor will again break with logic and precedent and move up two weight divisions to take on Nate Diaz in a welterweight showdown that is the headline act of UFC 196 in Las Vegas tonight. He's topping the bill in Sin City for the third time in eight months. This whole circus is in danger of becoming a bit, well, routine. Spending so much time on the Strip, the threat of Vegas fatigue kicking in is a real one.
"Emmmm, yeah. Yeah, there is a bit of (Vegas fatigue)," Kavanagh tells the Irish Independent. "But then you know, it's nice today. You can feel it starting, the ball is rolling again. We're here getting some nice energy off the fans. You know, it balances out.
A third visit in short succession. But the previous two make it a whole lot easier to come running back. They were nights for the ages. Chaotic, kaleidoscopic occasions when this neon metropolis shone bright on McGregor and his coach, the only one he's ever had.
First there was the watershed night in July when Chad Mendes was downed and an interim featherweight title claimed. It was summed up by the image of McGregor and Kavanagh - 11 years into their partnership - savouring the realisation of a dream atop the octagon.
Outright world championship status was then confirmed in just 13 seconds when McGregor again made good on his promises in December and downed Jose Aldo Jr.
"You do pinch yourself now and again to be part of this," Kavanagh says as he looks at the sea of smartphones raised to capture McGregor's workout. "To be part of this history, this story. Maybe I'll have my grandkids on my knee some day and we'll put on a video of a crazy night and a crazy fight and say 'oh, this is what your grandfather used to do'."
Or maybe he won't have to put on a video. He could read the grandkids a book instead. Amid all of this madness and night after night spent honing the rest of the brigade at his Straight Blast Gym in Bluebell, Kavanagh is putting the finishing touches to an autobiography. He's just 39, so putting his life story to page wasn't something he'd yet considered. Penguin Ireland had some convincing to do.
"I just had so many people saying it to me, (to do it). My natural reaction was like 'What! Why?' But when word got out then, I got a massive response from football players and rugby players and entrepreneurs," says the Rathfarnham native.
"They were all interested to see how this, all of this was built. How did I go from 14 years ago being in a shed with a couple of lads to standing here in Las Vegas with the most popular fighter on the planet?
"I'm getting my mother to proof-read it and she's as surprised as me. She thought it was going to just be an MMA story but it's actually not. It's a tale of coming from nothing to something, overcoming obstacles and finding success in business and in sport."
It's been some journey. Truly. While McGregor's voyage from reluctant plumber to multi-millionaire has been pored over, his coach's has rarely got the same treatment. Never an enthusiastic sportsman in his youth, Kavanagh all but fell into this life while on a very different path. His mind if not his heart was set on becoming a maths teacher.
While studying mechanical engineering in DIT, he saw a video of UFC 1 and was intrigued. He took up MMA and jiu-jitsu and was hooked. He never made it near a blackboard. His first gym was the very definition of intimate, a tiny place in Phibsboro. Nonetheless, at 24, it was a place to call his own.
Read more: 'He's an injured gazelle, hoping he gets spared ... he'll be eaten alive'
"I'm coming towards the end of (the book) now and looking back over some of the fights and gym incidents, going from one gym to another. All these places have stories, have lives of their own," says Kavanagh.
"Going back over it makes me smile. It was fun writing it. It forced me to take a half second to stop and be proud of things. And also realise that Conor is my first big fighter but you know, I'm 39. And now I have a bunch of guys coming up. He is phase one. How many of them will I add?"
While he has always been vociferous in his assertion that it is McGregor's maniacal work ethic that has been most pivotal on route to the top, Kavanagh has played a massive part. His achievements with the Notorious One, who first pitched up to his door as a squeaky 16-year-old, saw his name put forward alongside those of Cody, Schmidt and O'Neill for end-of-year coaching honours.
But what of the Irish coaches who inspired him?
"Two names jump out. And they came just at the right time, which has been a big part of my life," he says. "They would be Kieran McGeeney, GAA legend and all of that. He taught me a lot, so bloody much, about competitive mindset.
"I came from academics, I was going to be a maths teacher before all this. So I had never studied anything with sport, I'd never really achieved anything personally in sport. So I just didn't really know about high level sport and what it takes to win. McGeeney was a huge influence on me in that respect.
"He just booked a private lesson with me. I had no idea who he was. But I worked out with him and I thought to myself pretty quickly, 'this guy's not normal'. He was just different. And he's just had a massive influence on everything I've done since."
"Then I would also credit Eoin Lacey and John Connor from the ISI (Irish Strength Institute). What I liked about ISI - and for that matter what I liked about Kieran McGeeney - was the attitude. It was not like what you get a lot. I didn't want to be the best in Ireland. I wasn't training my guys to be the best fighters in Ireland. We were training for, well, for this.
"I remember I was trying to get the MMA rules changed in Ireland about seven or eight years ago and I said to the other coaches that we have to change the rules to mimic UFC rules, and the reaction was 'why, sure we're never going to have someone there?' I said 'well you mightn't but I will'."
His fighter has wrapped up his workout and provided his latest media offerings. McGregor is now tottering along a divider that separated the stage from the throng of supporters. Security and minders are holding his ankles for fear anything happens to the fighter the UFC is banking on to be their billion-dollar baby.
McGregor teeters on determinedly, obliviously. He takes a memory card's worth of selfies and signs children's T-shirts, baseball caps, a lookalike's Tricolour.
One woman offers him a $5 bill to autograph and he scolds her. "Just a fiver - come on!"
For the first time all afternoon, Kavanagh, confident that things will be over before the end of the first round tonight, takes the stage. He walks towards the back, turns and again surveys, taking in the scene for a moment. Then he disappears behind the curtain.
IT’S BEEN AN interesting 24 hours and we’ve been here before.
Conor McGregor flew out to Los Angeles on Monday morning for his UFC lightweight title bout against Rafael dos Anjos at UFC 196 in Las Vegas on Saturday, 5 March.
However, on Monday evening I began to pick up on some rumours that claimed dos Anjos had picked up an injury. Later that night, Conor’s management team contacted me and confirmed that dos Anjos had broken his foot. He wouldn’t be able to fight.
Apparently he sustained the injury in training last Friday. I assume he gave himself the weekend to see if he could put weight on it, but obviously it didn’t heal. On Tuesday morning, a few other names were put forward as potential replacements. The response from Conor was as you’d expect: “It doesn’t matter, they’re all the same.”
I did find it somewhat interesting, however, that Jose Aldo and Frankie Edgar both turned it down. I seem to recall them insisting quite recently that they were willing to fight Conor “any time and any place”. Obviously they forgot to mention that 5 March in Las Vegas was an exception.
Back in September, Conor said something significant at the UFC’s ‘Go Big’ press conference. He told every contender from 145lbs to 170lbs to stay ready because it’s not uncommon for his opponents to pull out. There’s a pattern emerging that one fighter pulls out, another fighter steps in and then it’s passed off as being a short-notice fight. It’s not.
Six of Conor’s last 12 opponents have pulled out. Even if a certain fighter is not announced as Conor’s original opponent, every guy who’s in some way in the mix to face him in the future should be staying prepared, because there’s a 50% chance there’ll be an opening.
If you want to fight Conor McGregor, get ready — even when someone else has got the gig. There’s only a handful of names who could have received the call, so they should have been ready. There’s a lesson to be learned here for any guy who genuinely wants the opportunity.
In a time when so many fighters are unwilling to compete due to a wide variety of little issues — not enough notice, minor injuries etc. — Conor’s mindset is unique. He could have walked away from this without consequences but that never came into consideration.
In order to widen the search for an opponent, he committed to fight as high as 170lbs and that was it. That’s two weight classes up from his last fight, which only happened a couple of months ago. It’s a mindset that hasn’t been seen before and I doubt we’ll see it again.
I’m sure people have heard me saying this before, but we’ve never focused too heavily on opponents at Straight Blast Gym and this situation is yet another justification of that philosophy. When this happened previously, we went from fighting a kickboxer to a wrestler. Now, the switch is from a stocky grappler with some hard kicks to a tall boxer. You must be ready for every type of opponent.
As for Nate, if you look at his last fight — when he beat Michael Johnson by decision — Michael comes from a great team but he is quite new to striking, yet he still managed to land a lot of shots. Josh Thomson badly lit Nate up when they fought in 2013.
The Diaz brothers are known for walking through shots but Nate doesn’t quite have Nick’s ability to absorb punishment. It’s a different ball-game when you face somebody who has been striking for their entire life, as opposed to a wrestler who’s still trying to develop their striking. I think it will be an early night for Nate.
We don’t know just yet what will come after next week’s fight but I personally think the fight against Rafael dos Anjos still makes sense for the summer. Having said that, things can change very quickly between now and then — as we’ve seen since the Aldo fight — so who knows what will happen in the meantime?
It’s a crazy game and it’s becoming more and more difficult to predict. But I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t a lot of fun.
Everyone at SBG would like to congratulate young Nate 'The Great' Kelly after beyond presented an award by the Lord Mayor in recognition for sporting achievement in Mixed Martial Arts. Well done Nate!
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!”
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.
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.
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.
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
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)