James Gallagher is undoubtedly SBG Ireland’s most heralded young prospect, the man fancied to follow in Conor McGregor’s footsteps to superstardom, and the BAMMA/Bellator event at Dublin’s 3Arena on Friday night was his show – even with North American giant Bellator bringing one of their most recognisable international stars, ‘King Mo’ Lawal, to the Irish capital.
However, the co-promotional event was also a chance for other members of SBG’s promising next generation to make a real impression, competing on a card that was the biggest staged in Ireland since the UFC’s last visit in 2015.
For a couple of them, it even meant major television exposure in North America
A pair of newcomers to the professional ranks picked up victories on the BAMMA portion of the show. Ian Cleary, who actually fights out of Owen Roddy’s SBG Charlestown gym, dominated England’s Andy Lofthouse over three rounds at bantamweight, scoring frequent takedowns and displaying a smothering top game.
Though this was the first bout of the evening, starting just after 6 p.m., an encouragingly large crowd was on hand to witness Cleary grind out the win.
By the time that Cleary’s fellow pro-debutant Richard Kiely took to the cage a few fights later, that crowd had swelled significantly, though, and it seemed that Kiely was personally responsible for much of the increase, such was the reaction that the SBG welterweight received prior to his fight with Team Ryano’s Keith McCabe.
Those who weren’t there specifically to see him on Friday might be the next time he fights, however, as Kiely scored a spectacular first-round finish with a paralyzing body-kick.
Afterwards Kiely, who had just progressed to 1-0 remember, called out two of Bellator’s most dangerous welterweights in Michael ‘Venom’ Page and veteran British bomb-slinger Paul Daley.
That’s ambition for you.
In between those two bouts, a couple of slightly more experienced SBG fighters also picked up wins.
Blaine O’Driscoll moved to 3-1 by handing a unanimous decision loss to Neil Ward. Ward showed a stiff jab and a good overall boxing game but O’Driscoll was the better all-around fighter, landing with a variety of kicks, scoring crucial takedowns and displaying greater control in grappling exchanges.
Welterweight Kiefer Crosbie looked to be a far superior fighter than Conor Riordan on the feet, but when the bout hit the floor, Riordan posed a real threat. An animated James Gallagher shouted at his teammate from the wings, instructing Crosbie to back off and stand up when he lingered in Riordan’s guard.
It seemed like sound advice, but in the end, Crosbie showed how rounded his game is by locking on a triangle and choking Riordan into unconsciousness amidst a sickening barrage of elbows. The win moved him to 2-0.
The fortunes of John Kavanagh’s crew changed towards the end of the BAMMA portion of the card, though, as German welterweight Niklas Stolze, who is based at SBG, dropped a unanimous decision to Terry Brazier.
Things got even worse when the Bellator card got underway, though.
Dylan Tuke displayed some serious resiliency last time out to pick up a second-round submission win over Liverpool’s Adam Ventre on enemy territory, but he was forced to do so because he also showed some serious defensive vulnerabilities.
These were in evidence once again on Friday, but Tuke’s massive heart couldn’t save him this time, as he was chinned by late-replacement Cameron Else, who came into the bout sporting a modest 3-3 ledger, in just 20 seconds.
The KO loss is the first blemish on ‘The Nuke’s short record.
Brian Moore might not fit into the SBG next generation narrative all that comfortably. ‘The Pikeman’ is, after all, 29 years old, a year older than the aforementioned Conor McGregor, and he is no novice pro either – having logged 12 fights in the paid ranks prior to his fight with Germany’s Daniel Weichel.
However, bumped up to the live Bellator broadcast in the wake of Paul Redmond’s withdrawal, he found himself on a much grander stage than ever before.
The native of Wexford was unable to make the opportunity count, despite an encouraging start, as he was choked into submission inside one round by the vastly experienced Weichel.
Things would soon get back on track for SBG, though.
In episode one of Pundit Arena’s ‘On the Cusp’ series featuring Sinead Kavanagh, John Kavanagh compared his women’s bantamweight super-prospect to a ‘big cat’ and she looked like a predator of that ilk as she stalked the previously unbeaten Elina Kallionidou around the cage on Friday night.
Kallionidou proved to be a real survivor, however.
The gritty Greek was relentlessly bombarded with vicious, blurring combinations by Kavanagh in a breathless first round but she refused to become the Dubliner’s prey.
The second and third were slightly scrappier affairs, but Kavanagh still landed plenty of leather on the teak chin of her brave foe.
It looked like Kavanagh might pull off the finish with a rear-naked choke at the death, but it was not to be and she was forced to await the verdict of the judges for the second time in her career. Although, it wasn’t exactly a tortured wait, as the result was never in doubt.
Kavanagh was declared the unanimous winner by scores of 30-27, 30-25 and 30-26.
James Gallagher’s arrival, draped, as most of his teammates had been, in the tricolor, was predictably greeted by raucous chants of ‘Ole, ole’ by the Irish faithful. When the 20-year-old featherweight ascended the ring steps, pausing briefly at the cage door to raise his hands aloft, this was replaced by a less musical, more guttural, roar.
The battle began with his opponent, Anthony Taylor, launching wild two-fisted attacks. The build-up to the fight had been wrought with tension and hostility. Taylor’s street-fighting approach suggested that perhaps he had allowed that to affect his mindset. Gallagher, by comparison, seemed composed.
Still, Taylor had success here and there. The American landed the occasional bomb on the chin of Gallagher, who sometimes retreated in straight lines. ‘The Strabanimal’ took the shots well, but it would have been more encouraging for his fans had he not taken them at all.
In the second, Gallagher began to hurt Taylor with leg-kicks and picked him off more frequently with counter-shots, although ‘Pretty Boy’ once again had some success with his hopeful bombs.
The third saw Taylor shoot almost instantly for an ill-advised takedown, which resulted in Gallagher taking his back. It took a while, but eventually the SBG representative was able to sink in a rear-naked choke and force the submission at the 1:52 mark.
Straddling the cage, the young prospect, now 5-0 as a professional, soaked in the considerable commotion he had created.
It wasn’t exactly reminiscent of UFC Fight Night 46 in July of 2014, when SBG fighters picked up four wins out of four fights, inspiring Conor McGregor to utter the immortal line, “We’re not here to take part, we’re here to take over”.
But with six wins out of nine, it was a solid night’s work for the SBG contingent.
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