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.
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