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On The Cusp – Sinead Kavanagh – Part 1

In 2014 Peter Elijah Lungu, Executive Director of the Zambian Institute for Sustainable Development, wrote that order exists in disorder.

Lungu wrote in a piece titled Organized Chaos: The Natural Law of Order that ‘all living organisms are guided by unwritten laws, which provide guidance and natural order even for the animals in the jungle.’

Traditionally, the lion is the unquestioned king of the jungle, but at SBG Concorde it’s the Gorilla, and the gym’s Silverback is undoubtedly John Kavanagh, Head Coach of SBG’s pro fight team.

Organized Chaos is a fitting title for Lungu’s piece on natural order, but it’s also an apt description of Straight Blast Gym, Ireland two weeks out from a major MMA event.

The gym is home to some of the most elite fighters in Ireland but it’s not just a place to train. There’s a guy on the front desk making smoothies and an assortment of protein shakes. There’s fans and potential members dropping into the gym asking if they can look around and if they could take pictures, and then there’s four guys sitting on two couches awaiting the arrival of Sinead Kavanagh.

The Dublin Bantamweight has a professional MMA record of 3-0 after training and competing in some sort of fighting discipline for the better part of the last 19 years. After making the switch to MMA in 2013, Kavanagh has quickly climbed the professional and amateur ranks in Ireland and now has her sights set firmly on becoming only the second Irish woman ever to fight in the UFC.

But before she’s able to make the leap to MMA’s premier organisation, she’s got to face Elina Kallionidou at Bellator 169.

As part of her preparation, Kavanagh has agreed to take part in Pundit Arena’s On The Cusp series, a video series examining the rigours and hardships of the early stages of being a professional athlete.

For Pundit Arena, Kavanagh is the perfect subject for the series; a 30-year-old mother of one who’s chasing her dream of competing in the UFC and being able to provide for herself, and her son Leon, through her newfound passion of mixed martial arts.

With a 3-0 record, Kavanagh is certainly heading in the right direction towards achieving her goal of fighting in the UFC, which is only further fuelled by the success of her teammates, most notably Conor McGregor.

But while McGregor is preparing to board a private jet with his two UFC belts and a host of his close friends, Kavanagh and his teammates are back in Dublin preparing for BAMMA 27 and Bellator 169.

Photo - Darragh Culhane
Photo – Darragh Culhane

Like a professional athlete should, Kavanagh arrives at the gym 20 minutes before training on Monday and greets the four guys waiting for her on the couch, or in other words Pundit Arena’s video team.

After exchanging pleasantries with Kavanagh, we sit down and discuss how we would like to shoot the series with her and try to answer any questions or queries she may have about the nature of our production.

Standard procedure for a project like this, but during the course of our conversation her teammates start to flood in for training.

It’s the week before fight week at SBG so the scene is quite unique. Some of her teammates walk straight through the door and head towards the changing room, others stop and chat briefly to various figures surrounding the gym’s entrance and reception, while Dylan ‘The Nuke’ Tuke enters the gym with his hood up, his head down, marching towards the changing room blurting out some sort of primal scream on his way into the gym.

As much as we’re engaging with Sinead about our plans for the video series, it’s hard not to get distracted by the myriad of activities that are going on inside the gym.

In the hour we are there, there’s an awful lot that’s happening away from the planned training session. There’s receptionists answering phone calls and queries. The gym’s Shoptagon, a creatively designed cage which contains one cash register and an assortment of merchandise, has just opened for business, while a quartet of young Eastern European men have strolled in asking if they can have a look around the gym because they’re thinking of joining.

Another man soon enters the gym with the apparent sole intention of taking a picture with John Kavanagh, which in fairness Kavanagh was only too happy to take, but as alluded to earlier in all this disorder there is order. Unlike professional entities in team sports, SBG does not have a security team or designated operations manager to deal with all this ‘noise’.

They have two receptionists and John’s partner Orlagh to deal with all the peripheral activities at the front of the gym, whereas the back of the gym is reserved for order, away from all the cameras, smoothies and fans.

Photo - Darragh Culhane
Photo – Darragh Culhane

This is the ringfenced part of the gym reserved for members only, and at this time of the day it has been blocked off for the pro fight team.

At 1:30pm, while the gym’s poster boy Conor McGregor is soon preparing to board his private jet with 12 lbs of gold strapped around each shoulder, his teammates are greeted to Skepta‘s That’s Not Me, a smash-hit throughout the UK, but an air raid siren at SBG that signals that training is about to start.

Sure enough, just as Skepta begins telling tales of sexting and throwing Gucci clothing in the bin, SBG’s pro fight team are already in the swing of things with some light flow sparring.

Lightweights pair up with middleweights, males with females, it seemingly doesn’t matter. The fighters train, they switch partners, they learn and they improve, however they’re all made accountable for their actions.

They’re expected to train smart, acknowledge when they would have been hit or tagged, and to not get in each other’s way.

Sinead is comfortably progressing through her sparring sessions not exerting a huge deal of energy, however, when she begins rolling and grappling her true power really starts to show.

The nature of SBG’s training sessions seem to place a great deal of emphasis on technique, refining minor details whilst minimising the chance of injury, however every so often you’ll witness moments of real power and athleticism.

In one particular instance, Sinead picks up one of her training partners and slams him into the mat. On another occasion she swoops in and takes her partner’s back, before cleanly sliding him into a rear-naked choke.

It’s a high pace training session with fighters grappling and fighting for every inch, in front of the grand overseer John Kavanagh, who walks up and down the outside of the mats analysing the near dozen individual match-ups that are taking place before him.

Occasionally disagreements and intensified conversations will take place across the mats between fighters, but when Kavanagh is talking through a particular technique with one of his students, conversations start to simmer and attention suddenly gravitates towards him.

Photo – Darragh Culhane

What starts out as a one-on-one conversation between a coach and a student soon ascends into a public demonstration between Kavanagh and some of his very best fighters.

They hang on his every word and continually question the why and how, always wondering, always learning.

His namesake Sinead stands over his shoulder observing from an elevated position.

She still has a lot to learn about the industry of professional MMA; how it works, how her contract works, how she can go from where she is now to where she ultimately wants to be, but for the moment, amid all the noise, disorder and organised chaos elsewhere in the gym, she’s a sponge where it matters most, on the mats, soaking up information and continuing to learn on the job, which evidently she’s not half bad at.

Episode 1 of “On The Cusp” – Sinead “KO” Kavanagh shares her story ahead of the biggest fight of her career.

Posted by The Fighting Irish – MMA on Thursday, 15 December 2016

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Author: The PA Team

This article was written by a member of The PA Team.