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John Kavanagh has been the most celebrated European MMA coach since the emergence of his Straight Blast Gym Ireland products, Gunnar Nelson and Conor McGregor, in the UFC’s Octagon. Although it was Nelson and McGregor originally blazing a trail for the Dublin gym on the world’s biggest MMA stage, on July 19 TUF alumnus Cathal Pendred and Paddy Holohan made their long awaited debuts in front of their hometown crowd and banked memorable wins.
Preparing together as a team since graduating from regional shows to the national heights of Cage Contender, after capturing the vast majority of Irish titles the team set their eyes on Cage Warriors’ championships. Obtaining four titles to date under the CWFC banner—McGregor at featherweight and lightweight, Pendred at welterweight, Chris Fields at middleweight—they now look to claim the world’s most prized MMA titles and to do so they will have to negotiate a particularly hectic week between September 27 and October 4.
After ‘The Notorious’ settles his business with Dustin Poirier in the MGM Grand on September 27, two of his corner men will take different paths home with John Kavanagh heading towards Europe and Artem Lobov making his way to Canada.
With Nelson and Pendred set for action in Sweden on October 4, Kavanagh will take his coaching duties to the Swedish capital. He will return to the same arena that originally saw the Irish MMA bandwagon gain so much speed that it caught fire, The Ericsson Globe, where McGregor originally announced his UFC intentions with his 67 second knockout of Marcus Brimage.
“The Prospect Killer” or “The Russian Hammer” depending on who you ask, Lobov will take to Nova Scotia in a coaching capacity alongside Aisling Daly to help out Paddy Holohan in his sophomore UFC outing against Louis Gaudinot the same night Nelson and Pendred got to battle in Stockholm.
Although there are some fighters who like to have a camp designed specifically for their every whim, the SBG clan seem as content as ever to prepare as they always have. There is a strength to their routine whether they take up camp in Iceland or Ireland, and their results to date have confirmed that.
“This is just great at the moment,” said Holohan who began training with Kavanagh as a complete beginner. “We used to be getting excited about going to Donegal and Cork back in the day but now we’re going global.
“Conor is heading to Vegas a week before and then Gunni, Cathal and me are all going to be fighting on the same day, but I’ll just be in a different country. We’ve all been doing this for years, we know each other so well and it makes getting ready so much easier.
“I can remember meeting Gunni when he was about 17, back when he was still wearing them little pants in training. Now he’s looking at fighting for a title, so is Conor, and me and Cathal are going to be up there soon ourselves.
“This was all a dream for us a few years back, but now it’s happening. It’s a very exciting time for all of us, the whole SBG team is buzzing. Everybody might be just coming to the party now in terms of fans and things, but we’ve been at this for a very long time.”
Pendred shed some light on how the team has climbed the rankings together and how it helps to be surrounded by people who are getting ready for action inside the Octagon.
He said: “We’ve all been coming up through the ranks together, we have all know each other since we were 19 or 20 and we’ve literally grown up together. We all started out on small local shows then we went on to the national shows like Cage Contender. Then it was Cage Warriors for the big European shows.
“We’ve all gone through it together. One of us might get our break a bit sooner than the others but we all have slipped in. We’re all in the UFC now and we’re all training for three different events around the same time. We’re all looking to peak at the same time, we’re increasing training hours at the same time. There’s a great energy here at the moment, it’s brilliant.”
Nelson, who headlines his first UFC event on Stockholm’s October card, also acknowledged the benefits of being surrounded by his SBG “family”, giving a special mention to the man who made it all possible, John Kavanagh.
“It almost feels like the past where we would all get ready and fight on the same cards in our early days. Now, everybody is in the top league. Our team is everything to us, we’ve got such a good thing going, we’re all very good friends and everything is working out for us.
“Coach Kavanagh gives us such a good perspective on things that we might oversee as fighters. We have him to lead us in the right direction. Everything is working out perfectly,” he said.
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