In the sixth edition of Exploring Irish MMA, I spoke to fighter, coach, and promoter/owner of the prominent Irish mixed martial arts show, Cage Legacy, Declan Kenna.
Fighter. Coach. Promoter.
Most people struggle to find the right balance as they navigate through the challenges that come with pursuing even one of these paths.
Declan Kenna spoke to us here at Pundit Arena MMA and explained his long and storied history with combat sports and how fighting acted as a catalyst for well-timed change in his life when he needed it most.
“I used to do full-contact kickboxing, that’s how I started. I started off when I was 4 and I did it until I was 16. Then I stopped doing it and I just started messing and just getting into doing the wrong things.
“When I was 23, I turned my whole life around. I started training MMA, started training myself in a gym called ‘G1 Gym’ in Drogheda and then that shut down.
“So when it did, I was out of the gym for about a month or two but I loved it so much that I ended up opening my own gym, Full Power Gym.
“We literally started off with a small gym and a couple of mats and now we’re after upgrading – we’re in the same gym but we have branched out.”
There’s only so much time in the day no matter what it is that you’re doing but when you’re as deeply engrossed in the fight-game as Kenna is, everything from your management of time to your mental awareness, and of course, desire to compete both inside and outside of combat must be unwavering.
“I run Full Power MMA, which is located in Drogheda. I train a lot of fighters who compete in kickboxing, MMA, and Brazilian jiu-jitsu. I run Cage Legacy and then I compete myself.
“We have about 23 or 24 different people who compete. The gym’s doing great, we have a great record and the shows are getting better every time.”
“What I like doing is teaching. In my role as a coach I’ll be going to the gym every day either way training my fighters, sparring with them. They’re my training partners, which is good for me.”
The gym remains at the centre of Kenna’s world as he continues his juggling act of sorts.
The biggest surprise that I came away with from both our chat and the research that surrounded it was the fact that there was actual evidence of this man excelling in each and every one of his roles.
“I won the IBA lightweight boxing title at 60kg and I fought for another title on Saturday night, it’s semi-professional but I plan on turning professional.
“I do it cause I love it, I do it cause I love it. You have to hate it to love it. I promote myself, promote the show. I look for matchups for my fighters. It never stops.
“I haven’t fought in MMA yet but that’s the plan. I train lads, I have a blue-belt in BJJ. I’ve competed in jiu-jitsu and I have competed in striking.
“I’m planning on turning professional in boxing and a couple of my lads are planning on turning professional in MMA. So we can all work together in Full Power Gym.
“And then with the show, my fighters can fight on the show if they want.”
As for Cage Legacy, the show’s rapid ascent into the eye of the mainstream Irish MMA scene began just over two years ago.
Fast-forward nine events and with Cage Legacy 10 set to be the promotion’s biggest venture to date, Kenna maintains that they are in no way ready to rest on their laurels.
“I started Cage Legacy in the summer of 2016. We had our first show on the 28th of October, 2016. It was in the TLT in Drogheda. Decky Dalton against Peter Queally was the main-event.
“So it started there and we have a show on December 1, that’ll be Cage Legacy 10 at the Good Counsel GAA Club. We started this business because we wanted to give a platform for the talent, give them the lights, the entrance, the walk, give them a taste before they get to the big stage.
“This will be our biggest show to date for sure. We have all the top fighters from all over Ireland on the card. We have a charity boxing bout which includes James Gallagher, the Bellator fighter. All the money raised will go to Féileacáin, which is a charity for stillborn babies. We’ll be making a donation to them after the event.
“RTÉ will be involved. Wingman, a TV series, they’ll be coming out and releasing something in the early part of next year.”
Reputations in this sport can make or break a gym, a fighter, or in this case, a show itself. Cage Legacy managed to earn the praises of the country’s mixed martial arts community with its implementation of cutting edge safety precautions.
Working alongside Safe MMA to ensure that every measure is taken to prevent anything that is potentially avoidable, Kenna and co. were selected by the IMMAA to test once-off brain-scans on their amateur fighters – a move that was heralded as a ‘great success’ in the show’s aftermath.
This is a foundation Cage Legacy intend on maintaining as they continue their rise.
“Since we started the show it has gone from strength to strength. We’ve had the backing of Safe MMA. With all of the fighters it’s safety-first. All of the fighters will have their medicals, their brain-scans.
We were the first show to bring that medical in, we have the brain-scans for the amateur fighters in Ireland and then everybody followed the way.
“Through John [Kavanagh] and Safe MMA Ireland, we used them for all of our shows and just kept using them and using them all the time, even when we were in Northern Ireland.”
Cage Legacy 10 on December 1 will mark a milestone for Declan and his promotion but with an eye on the future, it’s clear that his hopes for the coming years continue with the trend of ambition that has been evident from the get-go.
“Everything’s going great. Every time we do it it’s getting bigger and better, we don’t plan on stopping.
“The show never ever stops, flat out every single day. I am the owner of the company, I started it myself. The plan from the start was to make it Ireland’s leading MMA show and since then – you can quote me on this – it’s definitely Ireland’s leading MMA show.
“We plan on taking it to the world, to Europe, and try to make it as big as we can. Cage Legacy will definitely be Europe’s leading MMA show in the next three years.
Whether it’s fighting, coaching, or his role at the helm of one of Ireland’s premier mixed martial arts shows, Declan Kenna doesn’t appear to be showing any signs of slowing down just yet.
In fact, I find the length of his job description almost baffling.
Some people are just built to reap the benefits of hard work and dedication, though. With his triple-edged sword and seemingly unshakeable desire to remain close to the fight-game in as many ways as he can, you can expect to hear a lot more about Kenna and Cage Legacy over the course of the coming years.
Each entry to the series will become available to read below as it goes live.
Part I – Blaine O’Driscoll – 125/135lbs – (6-2)
Part II – Richie Smullen – 155lbs – (3-1-0)
Part III – Will Fleury – 185lbs – (4-1)
Part IV – Richard Kiely – 170lbs – (2-1)
Part V – James Gallagher – 135lbs – (7-1)
Cillian Cunningham, Pundit Arena