As Conor McGregor continues to take the UFC stage by storm, Stephen Larkin talks to his coach and mentor John Kavanagh

The epicenter for Irish Mixed Martial Arts – Straight Blast Gym (SBG) has quickly become on of the most prestigious fighting gyms around the globe.

This is largely down to two people who are currently taking the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) by storm, and these two people are Coach John Kavanagh, and his number one fighter Conor McGregor. ‘Notorious’ McGregor is one of the UFC’s hottest assets in America at present, and Coach Kavanagh always believed he was capable of becoming the star he is today; “He’s got that mix of factors that is required today, he’s great on the microphone, and obviously he has the technique as well, he’s putting away top ranked fighters with ease. But was he ready-made when he first walked in the door? No of course not, nobody is, but what he did was earn it by working very hard every day and putting hours in the gym.”

Kavanagh, who describes himself as a more “quietly confident” person, says he doesn’t have to worry about McGregor’s almost cocky-like persona because he has the right to be confident given the effort he puts in. “I see him in the gym and I know what he is capable of, so going into the fights I’m not worried about him. If he wasn’t putting in the gym time then it would be a problem, but his confidence is a product of the daily work he does in the gym,” said Kavanagh.

McGregor himself is coming off the back of his biggest career win yet, after defeating top American featherweight, Dustin Poirier, in a fight round knock out in Las Vegas in September. “That was a special night. To go to Vegas and win, and also walking out to the octagon, it was just fantastic,” said Kavanagh.

Despite being one of the most talked about fighters in the UFC, McGregor still has his critics, and many believe that he is not as special as he makes himself out to be.  Kavanagh remains happy that people doubt McGregor’s ability, as he understands the value of critics. “I think he may have shut up some critics, but there’s always more and I’m fine with that. The worse case scenario would be that people lose interest in him because he beats everybody, because at the end of the day it’s all a business, so to have no doubters would make people lose interest which isn’t good in a business sense,” added Kavanagh.

Since making his UFC debut in April 2013 in Stockholm, the Dublin man has won all four of his fights in dominant fashion, and it is believed it is largely down to his unique fighting style, which has left his opponents confused by his movements. He said: “Conor’s style is a mix between Thai boxing and karate and it’s a nice blend of both, and it’s something that his opponents have struggled with because we’ve never seen it before. It’s such an unusual combination of movements."

The UFC and Dana White have decided that McGregor’s next opponent will be Dennis Siver at UFC Fight Night 59 in Boston on January 18th. “I think it will be a good fight and one I’m confident Conor will overcome, and I’m looking forward to going back to Boston. It’s a place that Conor and I hold fond memories of after fighting there previously in front on an enormous Irish crowd. Following his win over Poirier, McGregor spoke about a possible fight with Diego Sanchez in November, but after holding talks with UFC president Dana White, plans for that fight were scrapped. Speaking about the fallen through fight with Sanchez, Kavanagh said: “It would have been nice. I think Sanchez would have been a suitable opponent, but it wasn’t to be and it’s off the cards now.”

It is widely reported that if McGregor can beat Siver, he’ll then be given a title shot against current Featherweight champion Jose Aldo, who is just coming off the back of a successful win over Chad Mendes. “I was confident that Aldo would win that fight, and when Conor beats Siver, I feel he’ll be next in line, but it will probably be next summer,” said Kavanagh.

Looking further down the line, Kavanagh and McGregor have discussed moving up a weight division to fight at lightweight, which is something that excites Kavanagh. “After we win the title at featherweight, it’s inevitable that he’ll step up to lightweight. He’s the biggest fighter in the featherweight division, and if he moves up, he’ll be one of the bigger lightweights too, and who knows, maybe one day he’ll move up to welterweight and become the first three-weight world champion.”

On a future fight in the Aviva Stadium, Kavanagh would love to make this happen. McGregor himself has spoken about his desire to sell out the Aviva Stadium on numerous occasions, and Kavanagh is hopeful his dream can be made a reality in his upcoming fights. Speaking about the potential Aviva Stadium fight, he said: “Now that would be cool. I said the July 19th fight in Dublin will be hard to beat, even if he wins a belt in Vegas, I just don’t think it will match what that night was like. But selling out the Aviva Stadium would most definitely match it, and even surpass it."

Kavanagh, who has been called the godfather of Irish MMA, also trains a number of other top fighters, but the two most notable being Gunnar Nelson and Cathal Prendred, who both fight in the UFC as well. “Both fighters are excellent young fighters who I believe can achieve great things. I have no doubt that both will be world champions in the future,” said Kavanagh.

As a result of McGregor’s success, Coach Kavanagh has seen the numbers grow in people wanting to take up MMA and believes the future for Irish MMA is looking very bright. “People see what Conor is doing and it’s inspiring them to take up the sport. This can lead to great things for Irish MMA and hopefully we can produce many world champions in the years to come,” added Kavanagh.