SBG Ireland's Highlights of 2016


"It has been one hell of a year for SBG Ireland. The gym which started in a damp garage with barely enough room to execute a takedown, has graduated into one of the most respected fight camps on the planet. Its patriarch, John Kavanagh, is now one of the most respected coaches and fight strategists in the sport and, hell, he’s even a best-selling author now.

Not so long ago it seemed almost impossible that the level of incredible success that Kavanagh’s fight team experienced this year could happen but now SBG Ireland has one of the most high-tech facilities in the world and guides the fight careers of numerous high level professionals and amateurs.

With new SBG facilities opening up regularly throughout Ireland, it seems that there’s going to be even more to come in 2017 but what follows are a few highlights from another incredibly successful year inside SBG Ireland."

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Ryan Tubridy takes a tour of SBG with Coach Kavanagh

We were delighted to be able to host 'The Late Late Show's' Ryan Tubridy earlier this week at SBG Concorde. Coach John gave him the full tour and some insight into the world of MMA. John will also be appearing on the show tonight to discuss SBG, the success of Conor McGregor and the upcoming BAMMA Show at the 3 Arena, featuring no fewer than 9 SBG fighters!

Coach John earns 3rd Stripe as Black Belt

Everyone at SBG would like to congratulate our very own Coach John Kavanagh for recently earning his 3rd Stripe Black Belt under SBG founder Matt Thornton, who had these words to say on his Facebook Page.

"One of the best indications of a healthy lineage is that each generation becomes better than the one before.

John Kavanagh is proof of that.

Having cornered more than a thousand fights, and then applying a thoughtful intelligence to that wealth of experience, John has reached the highest levels a coach can reach.

All of us within SBG are so proud of his success, and the success of his team.

As a coach it was an honor and a privilege this weekend to award John his 3rd stripe as a black belt. He understand Jiu-Jitsu on a level well beyond where I've gone, and our young students who follow, will take it even further.


Matt Thornton, SBG Founder

WIN or LEARN - An Evening with John Kavanagh


Join John Kavanagh, the godfather of Irish MMA, for this special event to be hosted in The Round Room at The Mansion House, Dublin. In this exclusive evening, John will give guests an insight into his successful philosophy and approach that helped a small, unfunded and unsupported club in Dublin, make an impact within the world's fastest growing sport. His story is at the very heart of the explosion of MMA in Ireland.

At the event, attendees will be some of the first fans worldwide to receive a signed copy of Coach Kavanagh's eagerly anticipated autobiography; Win Or Learn. Guests will have the opportunity to learn firsthand about John's truly inspirational approach to life and his take on being the man behind the most talked about fighter in combat sport. John will be joined in conversation with Mike Sheridan, senior editor of

This event is a must for anyone who wants to understand how to follow a dream and realise a vision.

The event will take the following format:
Doors will open at 5pm one hour in advance of the show beginning. The talk will be broken into two parts with a brief intermission in between. After the talk guests will be invited to ask questions. Those who have purchased VIP tickets will meet with John Kavanagh following this.

Following the event attendees will be invited to join John us in 37 Dawson Street for afters.

ROAR under 18s must be accompanied by an adult.
For all event and PR queries please contact:

John Kavanagh heads up new Irish MMA body


THE IRISH AMATEUR Pankration Association (IAPA) last night announced that it will establish a national governing body for Mixed Martial Arts with John Kavanagh as president.

The move means that IAPA will break from its existing place within the structure of the Irish Amateur Wrestling Association (IAWA) and set up the separate Irish Mixed Martial Arts Association (IMMAA).

The move comes after Sport Ireland boss John Treacy insisted that there must be a recognised governing body for MMA before it sets out on ‘a long road’ to gain full recognition from sport’s administrators.

In a statement, the IAPA thanked the IAWA for ‘invaluable support’ to this point:

“In particular Michael McAuley and Daniel and Keith Kennedy,” the statement says, “without their advice and guidance we would not be in the position we are today.

The IAWA have been a tremendous source of support, but we feel that it is now time to establish our own National Governing Body to enable the recognition and regulation of our sport in its own right.”

With Kavanagh as president, the IMMAA has set out its intention to ensure all competitors are registered with the body, control medical checks before fights and advise promoters intending to run amateur MMA events in this country, including recommendations for referee and judge appointments.

IMMAA will be a member of the International Mixed Martial Arts Federation (IMMAF) and will adhere to their rules and guidelines.

A Message from John Kavanagh


Yesterday a positive preliminary meeting took place between Minister Michael Ring, a representative of Sport Ireland, Professor Dan Healy and senior civil servants. The purpose of the meeting was to discuss the future of MMA (mixed martial arts) in Ireland, its regulation and safety measures at competitions.

Ireland now has close to 100 MMA clubs across the country, the majority of which have active competitive MMA teams under the Irish Amateur Pankration Association (IAPA)

Over the course of the next few weeks, a series of meetings are to take place between the IAPA and government officials to commence work towards regulating our sport efficiently and safely.

Although the professional end of the sport receives the most media attention, it only represents the tip of the iceberg. MMA is enjoyed both recreationally and at an amateur level by many 1000s nationwide; and I, as President of the IAPA, look forward to a meaningful dialogue with our government as we set about putting in place best practice for MMA clubs and constructive support at the grass roots level. MMA is only growing in popularity and, just like any other sport, we need our own national governing body working in partnership with Sport Ireland as we enable many young athletes to train and compete.

Last year, the IAPA sent a team of amateur MMA competitors to compete in international championship events under the International Mixed Martial Arts Federation (IMMAF). We were able to successfully represent Ireland at the 2015 IMMAF World Championships of Amateur MMA in Las Vegas and at the 2015 IMMAF European Open in Birmingham (UK), winning gold medals at both. This year we are preparing a full team to represent the Republic of Ireland in the 2016 IMMAF World Championships.

I see this acknowledgment by the Sports Minister and government officials as a very positive first step towards our excellent athletes receiving the same level of support and recognition as Ireland's fantastic national sports teams do when they travel and represent their country. We have a lot of work to do, but the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. I'm happy that after nearly 20 years of promoting MMA in Ireland to be making that first step.

The Irish Amateur Pankration Association (IAPA) is an associated body of national governing body, the Irish Amateur Wrestling Association (IAWA). It is made up of IAWA affiliated club members from wrestling, grappling and the martial arts community in the Republic of Ireland. It also enjoys the support of a network of gyms, athletes and promoters.

 - John Kavanagh, SBG Ireland

The Bright lights of Bellator Await SBG's James Gallagher

via Fightland. Written by Peter Carroll


Today, Bellator announced the signing of 19-year-old James Gallagher. The 3-0 featherweight has been tipped for the top since his early teenage years and if his first pro outings were anything to go by, he had no intention of spending too long on the regional scene.

‘The Strabanimal’ has been calling for the biggest stages since claiming his first win pro win back in October, a first-round submission of Denis Ahern. After claiming two more submission via choke over Declan McAleenan and Gerard Gilmore, the writing was on the wall for one of the bigger promotions to take note of him.


Gallagher has been touted as one of the most promising fighters on the Irish MMA scene since his teenage years. Even at such a young age, ‘The Strabanimal’ already had his mind made up about his future. In school, all Gallagher thought about was fighting so he eventually just stopped going at the age 15.

That wasn’t as much of a risk as it seems, because the young Irishman had a better idea than most people his age about how he would fare in the sport. Gallagher had his first amateur fight at 13 years of age.

After leaving school, Gallagher moved to Dublin where John Kavanagh took him under his wing. Eventually moving in with the celebrated Irish coach, Gallagher’s life has been completely immersed in the fight game ever since.

I can still remember looking on in awe as he went through the blue belt adult divisions of the Irish Jiu Jitsu Open like a knife through butter as a 15-year-old. His initial plan was to win the jiu-jitsu world championships before making the full-time commitment to MMA, but the allure of the fight game proved too strong for the Tyrone youngster.

Gallagher wanted to win the amateur world championships before going pro and was a key training partner to Conor McGregor in the lead up to UFC 189 as the world championships as the world championships fell on the same week as the July card.

The purple belt displayed his stellar ground game with a third round rear naked choke against American champion Sam Agushi, but unfortunately, he was forced to pull out of the competition afterwards due to an injury that he suffered during the contest. It was his last act after clocking up a fantastic record of 15-3 in the amateur ranks, especially when you consider how young he began competing at.

Gallagher’s only outing at the IMMAF world championships still turned a lot of heads and he was signed up to a deal with KHK MMA shortly afterwards, who also back UFC frontrunners Frankie Edgar and Khabib Nurmagomedov.

An Investment for the Future

Despite only competing as a professional on three occasions, Gallagher boasts a sturdier fan base than the vast majority of fighters. Bellator has reacted quickly and signed the young SBG fighter, which makes sense due to the other promotions that would have gained interest had he added to his unbeaten record.

Although you would liken skill set more to Gunnar Nelson’s, Gallagher has the same flair for fashion and unwavering self-belief that McGregor has become notorious for. Such is his confidence, there is no opponent that Gallagher doesn’t think he can beat, and for that reason, Bellator need to play their cards right with him.

At such a young age and still only seven months into his pro career, there is no need to rush Gallagher. However, his SBG teammate Paddy Holohan believes that Gallagher is ready to take on whoever the promotion choose to put in front of him.

“The youth and the talent that James has forces him to have a lot of responsibility. He’s an animal to go that young lad. If I knew what he knew what he knew when I was his age, I would’ve been out for world domination.

“I would’ve been still choking out lads in school or something,” he laughed. “James has a lot of discipline, he never flaunts his fighting skills outside of training or competition. He’s very capable too. He might only have three fights, but if Bellator gave him some old veteran on the back end of his career for his debut, he could shock a lot of people and take a very big jump, very quickly.”

Bellator must try to make their events more accessible in Ireland to capitalize on Gallagher’s fan base. Garnering a lot of attention from such a young age, there is unquestionably a lot of Irish MMA fans will be desperate to watch his debut live.

Gallagher will fight one more time before he makes his Bellator debut when he fights fellow Irishman Sean Tobin on June 4 at BAMMA 26 in Dublin’s 02 Arena. There is no doubt that the surging featherweight prospect will want another first round finish to carry into his first outing under the Bellator banner.