Bellator returns to Dublin this weekend for yet another enthralling night of action at the 3Arena.
The Leah McCourt-headlined event is the first of two Bellator fight night’s taking place in Dublin while MMA’s leading organisation, the UFC, announced last week that it would be returning to Ireland’s capital city for the first time in five years.
On top of that, leading European promotion Cage Warriors have also pencilled in three Irish shows for 2020 with two taking place in Belfast and one in Cork.
Clearly, there is an appetite for the sport on these shores, however, MMA has repeatedly struggled for recognition from Sport Ireland and has thus struggled for government funding.
John Kavanagh, famed coach and owner of SBG Ireland, has long been battling to have MMA recognised as a sport in Ireland. Appearing on RTÉ 2fm’s Game On earlier this week, Kavanagh outlined what has gone on behind the scenes to try and get recognition for the sport.
“We had to put together a huge amount of documentation between child safety, good governance, membership quotas and all of that, so we’re at the stage now of just beginning the application process,” Kavanagh said.
“We’re hopeful we’ll have it done maybe in the next twelve months. Just recently France recognised MMA. They’ve gone underneath the boxing association. We’re in the process of applying to go underneath a national governing body for all martial arts in Ireland. It’s called IMAC (the Irish Martial Arts Commission).”
Kavanagh highlighted the double-standards shown to MMA compared to boxing, using Katie Taylor’s success as an example of how the two sports are treated differently.
“I’m a huge Katie Taylor fan. I feel like every time she’s had a great achievement I’d hear her coaches being brought on to shows and the only conversation would be, ‘what a great achievement, what an inspiration’ and so on.
“Every time one of my guys had a great night or achievement… I was only ever brought on to discuss, ‘well is this a real sport? Are you promoting violence?’.
“I’d be like, ‘I just watched Katie Taylor pound some girl’s head into the canvas and they’re getting high fives everywhere!’. I just wanted to have it so that kids that are interested in MMA have a recognised route through the sport.”
The SBG head coach also went on to talk of the rapid rise of MMA clubs throughout Ireland while also highlighting checks and balances that have been introduced throughout the country at an underage level.
“When Conor (McGregor) started to make waves we probably had about 15 MMA clubs in the country.
“As of now, we’re coming up to a hundred clubs. In general, you’re talking about 50 to 150 members in a hundred clubs, so there is a lot of interest.
“One of the biggest things that MMA has done is, for under 18s, they’ve removed head contact altogether. We just train them to throw strikes to the body and the legs.
“We don’t allow any head contact in competition. There is obviously the grappling element which is more akin to wrestling or judo. It’s a tough sport, but it’s as safe as any other sport out there.”