Bellator 158: "London" takes place at O2 Arena in London, England, this weekend (Sat., July 16, 2016), featuring a Welterweight fight between England's own Paul "Semtex" Daley taking on former 170-pound champion "Phenom" Douglas Lima in the Spike TV-televised main event on the evening.
Kicking off the main card action earlier in the evening, James "The Strabanimal" Gallagher will make his promotional debut, taking on Mike Cutting in a Featherweight fight. The fighters hail from northern Ireland and England, respectively, so regional pride is on the line.
There's something else at stake, though -- just how far the "Notorious" Conor McGregor hype train can carry up-and-coming fighters. Pre-fight press releases have gone out of their way to point out that Gallagher is a training partner of the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) 145-pound champion at Straight Blast Gym. Gallagher certainly has a lot of potential with a perfect (3-0) mixed martial arts (MMA) record marked by three straight submissions, but Cutting's 6-5 record includes six wins by submission, as well as a lot more experience than his opponent.
Gallagher recently chatted with MMAmania.com about his upcoming showdown with Cutting this weekend, starting out by dispelling the myth he's giving up an experience edge.
"On paper, I'm new to the scene, but I've been training MMA since I'm 12 years old, you know what I mean? I'm not inexperienced going against this guy. To be honest, I'm probably more experienced than him when it comes to martial arts. He's got more professional fights, but he's not more experienced."
Gallagher is already experienced in jet leg, too, having traveled to the United States for amateur fights and competitions that don't appear on his professional record.
"I'm used to traveling. I've fought in Vegas, I've fought in jiu-jitsu competitions there -- that's what I mean. Everyone thinks I'm inexperienced, but I've done all these things, I've been to all these countries and competed since I'm very young years of age you know what I mean? So I've experienced them things. It's nothing new."
At 19 years old he'll still have his fair share of naysayers and doubters, though, so I asked Gallagher to expand on his martial arts experience and how he got into MMA.
"I had done karate before, and then it was kind of just like a local thing do you know what I mean? There was a local club that just started up and it was kinda just like a phase -- I come from a small town where it was just like a phase, (but) then I just started it up and now here I am having a craic."
To avoid any confusion, "craic" is a catch-all slang for "fun" or "good times" and Gallagher certainly seems to be having the time of his life getting to be on the big stage this early in his career.
"Just a few months ago I was sitting down and eating dinner with my family, talking about, 'Imagine in a few years time when I'm like signed up and having been on the big TV and all this craic.' And now here I am. In a blink of my eye, I'm fucking straight on the main card and it's happening you know what I mean? It's nice, but sometimes I just back a bit in my apartment at night after training and I just look back and I'm like, 'What the fuck?' It's all a bit nuts. No one's ever done this kind of thing, but I love it. I'm just following my dream."
Gallagher's "Notorious" training partner knows a little about living the dream, too. I asked if he minds the two of them being compared as Featherweights from the same part of the world who work together.
"No, definitely not. I feel like Conor has set the path for me and MMA and all the rest of the young fighters in Ireland that are in our gym coming up. We've got to bow down to him and thank him for what he has done for us. He's the first one to go in and make a living and make his dream come true. Sometimes I get compared to him, (but) I'm totally different. I'm different, but I love training with Conor. He's definitely a big inspiration to me."
One of those differences is that Gallagher has won all of his professional fights to date by submission. Gallagher says that just because McGregor only has one submission by comparison doesn't mean we should sleep on his ground game.
"I've seen him roll with some of the best jiu-jitsu guys in the world and do more than hold his own. If you look at that (Nate Diaz) fight when Conor was fresh, he swept Nathan and stuff on the ground. Then he got fatigued. I'd love to see it go to the ground when both of them are fresh. I definitely don't think he would choke him out (again)."
Future predictions about McGregor's prospects at 170 pounds aside, Gallagher has the immediate prospect of Mike Cutting to deal with. While he's respectful of Cutting's experience, he's not fearful of the challenge in front of him.
"I know how much prepared I am. I know what I have done and to me that's all that matters, you know what I mean? I don't look too much into him. He can do what he wants, but I know what I'm going to do and I'm the one prepared to do it. I'm 100 percent confident in my ability and the work that my coaches have put into me. I'm definitely not underestimating him!! I'm going in there giving it my all. I'm not underestimating any one, but no worries at all -- I'm not sweating anything."
Look forward to Gallagher working up a sweat against Cutting this Saturday night and having a "craic" of a time in London.
Complete audio of our interview is below and complete Bellator MMA coverage can be found right here on fight night.