James Gallagher talks mental health struggles

James Gallagher
Image via James Gallagher on Instagram

Irish Bellator prospect James Gallagher has a promising future ahead of him. As he prepares for his next fight against Roman Salazar in Dublin on Friday, he plans to follow in the footsteps of Conor McGregor and take his budding career stateside. The 22-year-old has the winning formula for a rising MMA star, but that hasn’t stopped him suffering from anxiety. He revealed his mental health struggles in an interview with the BBC.

“We’re the tough guys,” said Gallagher. “We’re the ones everyone is scared of.”

James Gallagher spoke candidly about the expectations of living up to a ‘tough guy’ persona.

“Other athletes or celebrities put us on a pedestal,” he said. “You’ve got an image that you’re a big, scary fighter, but we’re human beings and that’s just how it is.

“I feel invincible in the cage, but it doesn’t mean I’m invincible in life,” he added. “We put ourselves out there and everyone loves you when you’re on the climb.

“When you get there, they want to pull you back off because no-one else has had the balls to do what you do.”

James Gallagher has demonstrated his evolving MMA skills since his professional debut in 2015 and has finished over half of his fights in the first round. The Irish prospect effectively utilizes his submission arsenal; the rear-naked choke being his weapon of choice.

However, last year he suffered a shocking KO defeat at the hands of Ricky Bandejas. Gallagher has bounced back from his loss with two back to back wins but is cautious of the pressures associated with rising through the ranks.

“When all these guys reach the top, that’s when it starts to happen. I can see it, I’ve studied these guys, the likes of Tyson Fury, Anthony Joshua, everyone loved them on their way up but once they reached the top, no-one liked them any more,” he said.

Gallagher trains out of SBG in Ireland under the tutelage of John Kavanagh. Despite having this elite Irish squad backing him, he still has moments of feeling overwhelmed.

“Everyone says you’re a faker, but I’m not. I’ll come out and say I had panic attacks when I was training in the gym.

“I was getting anxious and didn’t feel great, but I’ll walk out in the 3Arena next week, sold-out crowd and beat some grown man, smash him up. No problems.”

Gallagher has a strong MMA record of 9-1, and believes his athletic ability trumps any psychological pressure and gains confidence from speaking honestly.

“I’m secure in myself so why wouldn’t I speak about something that I’ve got going on? I feel like it’s hard for people who aren’t confident in themselves to speak about something like that because they’ll think someone will think something of them,” he said.

“But I’ve been faced my whole life with people running me down, people coming on my back and I’m used to that. So that situation of people hating on me constantly has probably helped me get through something like that.”

James Gallagher’s confrontation towards adversity and unfiltered showmanship have attracted negative comments on social media. However, like many other fighters, The Strabane native uses it as fuel and believes his authenticity will be the secret to his success.

“They helped me,” said Gallagher. “If I wasn’t faced with such adversity, then how can I handle this different kind of adversity if I don’t know what adversity feels like.

“You have to be real with yourself. That’s the problem with the world today. Nobody’s being real with themselves, but I am.”

This article first appeared on BJPENN.COM on 9/25/2019.