John Kavanagh has been the head coach of SBG Ireland since 2001, and most fans know him as the coach behind Conor McGregor.
Yet he’s far more than just that.
During an interview with BJPENN.com at a recent Bellator press conference, Kavanagh opened up on his work with some of the UFC’s brightest stars, and several world-class talents in Bellator.
While his best-known fighter, McGregor, is synonymous with the UFC, Kavanagh also coaches a significant list of Bellator MMA talents.
“The opportunities that [Bellator President Scott] Coker has given [SBG fighters] is incredible,” Kavanagh said. “Still of course, we have a great room with Conor, Gunnar Nelson, and Artem [Lobov] and those guys. Now I’m kind of on my second wave and we’re obviously heavily committed to the Bellator brand, they’ve changed so many of my fighters’ lives just from a financial point of view, allowing them to train full-time, treating them as full-time athletes, it’s a great partnership that I hope continues.”
In addition to McGregor, SBG Ireland is home to another brash talker in rising Bellator star James Gallagher, who not only put on a show inside the cage, but knows how to talk trash and sell fights outside it.
Kavanagh doesn’t object to his fighters trash talking, he just hopes that they stay true to themselves.
“The only advice I give to guys is be yourself,” Kavanagh said. “Don’t try to be someone you’re not because the MMA fans are very astute and they’ll pick up and you guys are very sharp in picking up if someone is an act or whether it’s natural. So, be natural. If that’s you and you like to be loud and rambunctious and make crazy statements, look, this is the game we’re in. The fans seems to enjoy it, the fans seem to engage with it. For me, I just sit at the back and focus on the technical side of things, the strategy, and try to train the guys the best as I can.”
John Kavanagh had been training SBG Ireland’s Pedro Carvalho for a Bellator featherweight title shot against Patricio “Pitbull” Freire before the coronavirus pandemic halted all combat sports. He was excited for the chance to add a Bellator title to his gym’s trophy case.
“I’ve been super busy with this build up for Pedro,” he said. “This is our first time as a team getting the opportunity to fight for a Bellator world title. It’d be somewhat of a dream come true to have a UFC world title and a Bellator world title. If you would’ve told me that 15 years ago, I would have maybe laughed at you.”
James Gallagher has been training with Kavanagh since he was 13-years old and while he’s faced adversity in his career, Kavanagh notes the experience that Gallagher has amassed in the lead up to his fight against Cal Ellenor at Bellator London in May.
“I have to remind myself how young he is every now and then,” Kavanagh said of Gallagher. “He’s very, very experienced, I saw him fighting when he was 13 and now 10 years later nearly. So, [he’s] very experienced, he’s against a solid opponent. Cal is a calm fighter, doesn’t make a lot mistakes, so we have to be careful and be ready to go the distance if need be, but I think James can get the finish in this one.”
No conversation can be had with Kavanagh without his star pupil Conor McGregor. Kavanagh says it’s just business as usual with McGregor, who is working hard in the gym, but a timeframe for his return is unknown.
“I honestly don’t know,” Kavanagh said of McGregor. “What’s next for Conor, I don’t know. I can tell you he’s training away, he’s keeping his discipline, he’s keeping his focus, his consistency is there in his training, we’re waiting for the call up, and excited for whoever it will be.”
For John Kavanagh, getting both a Bellator world title and UFC world title would be a dream come true. Needless to say, he’s hoping the success for SBG Ireland stars like McGregor, Carvalho and Gallagher continues.
“It really is, it’s the stuff of dreams,” he said. “We just got announced another female fighter we train, 6-0, Mandy Bohm, she signed with Bellator and she’s getting Liz Carmouche in her debut, main event, May 29. The winner of that is probably in line for a title fight. So, I just have to pinch myself every day, I wake up and I get to do my dream job.”
This article first appeared on BJPENN.com on 3/19/2020.