"The Strabanimal" is the main Irish draw on December 16th
After two hours of training and a quick shower, the superstar glow still emanates from James Gallagher as he walks around SBG Concorde, decked out in designer gear.
In the early hours of this morning, Bellator sent out a press release with a promotional picture attached for their Dublin debut on December 16, and despite not having an opponent booked for the event yet, a shirtless Gallagher dominates the middle of the graphic.
Bellator’s deal with BAMMA will see both promotions run shows on December 16th at the 3 Arena, BAMMA 27 and Bellator 169, and even with the amount of homegrown talent that will be on display that night, Gallagher’s name has garnered the most attention thus far.
“James is the guy that we’re going to really push,” Scott Coker told me the night before I meet with Gallagher.
“And that’s not just for this show, that’s for shows that we’re putting on around the world. We have a have a lot of high hopes for this kid, and we’re really going to test him going into 2017.
“He’s got the x-factor that we always look for in Bellator. He’s not only a good fighter, but he knows how to market himself.
“James, I think he’s got it all man. He can speak, he can fight, he’s got the look and I think he’s going to be a great representative for Bellator. I’m not just talking about in the UK and Ireland, I’m talking about him being a brand ambassador for us worldwide.”
‘The Strabanimal’ – a name that derives from the 19-year-old’s hometown of Strabane – has no problem in shouldering the pressure of being the main Irish draw on December 16.
In fact, he sees himself as the main event for the show, despite former Strikeforce champion Muhammed ‘King Mo’ Lawal and Satoshi Ishii being announced as the headline bout this morning.
“I’m completely prepared to walk out in the 3 Arena in front of 9,500 screaming fans,” Gallagher tells me.
Photo by Dave Fogarty
“People can say whatever they want about ‘King Mo’, but I’m not front and centre in the poster for nothing. This is my show. I’m the main event.
“Walk outside the 3 Arena in a few weeks time when there are thousands of people queuing up for this show. Ask them who they are here to see, how many of them are going to say ‘King Mo’ and how many going to say ‘James Gallagher’?
“I’m an MMA fighter and I don’t even know how to say his opponent’s name,” he quips as a Hollywood smile spreads across his face.
Gallagher has every reason to highlight his importance for the show considering that Bellator consulted him on the event.
“I really thought that I’d be able to get them over here within a year or two. I was preparing for my fight in Israel and I get a text message that said, ‘are you happy to come off the Israel card so you can fight in Dublin in December?’
“I didn’t know they were going to do that before that message, but they had been asking me if I thought I could sell-out an event in Dublin. When they asked me that I just replied ‘within a few days’, and now here we are.”
At this stage, not announcing Gallagher’s opponent could be an unconscious stroke of genius from Bellator.
Fighters from all over the UK and Ireland have inundated the SBG man with fight offers, insults, and critiques of his game, but in a way, they kind of all play a part in creating the staggering amount of hype Gallagher carries on his shoulders.
“About 500 guys are already at home writing tweets as we speak,” he laughs. “Let them talk, I’ll be able to have my pick of them.
“These guys don’t realize that they’re blowing me up. I’m sitting at home laughing because they’re only making my name bigger. They’re a big part of all this hype.
“They want me, you know? I’m with Bellator and I can fight anybody, anywhere in the world, but they need me. They do all the work for me. They spend more of their time hyping me up than they do hyping themselves.
“The thing is, I really don’t give a f**k about who I fight,” he says.
Photo by Dave Fogarty
For Gallagher, there’s only one man that he definitely wants to fight, and that’s the man that currently holds Bellator’s featherweight title.
“The only name I care about is Daniel Strauss, the champ, that’s who I want. I know the rest of the fighters all want me, but that’s the guy I’m gunning for.
“I have more of a following than the guy. People have more interest in me right now and I’m not even 20-years-old.
“I’m going to beat all the bums that they put in front of me and I’ll eventually get him. I’m ready to fight for that belt and it’s definitely going to happen.”
The 4-0 pro has been one of the most highly touted fighters on the Irish scene since his early teenage years due to his prodigious grasp of jiu-jitsu. Bellator signing the teen shocked some people given his relative experience, but the promotion bringing a show to Ireland speaks volumes as to how highly they regard the young Irishman.
As Scott Coker explained, the new deal with BAMMA will allow them to have access to their roster and vice versa, which could see more prospects brought into the Bellator fold.
“There are certain fighters that are contracted to BAMMA in the UK and Ireland that we are going to be looking for,” said Coker.
“They already have signed some of the best talents in the UK and Ireland, and we’re looking forward to a relationship with them, whereby we can bring some of those guys over to Bellator at some point.
Photo by Dave Fogarty
“At the same time, if there was a guy who came over to us in Bellator, if BAMMA were staging an event in their hometown, then we would be fine in letting them go back and compete at that event for BAMMA. We will have an open door policy with BAMMA.”
Similar to what McGregor did with UFC on his arrival, Gallagher believes he will be the man to bring more Irish fighters into the Bellator ranks.
“I want my guys to be up there earning that big money, so I think the BAMMA deal is great. I want these guys to be earning tens of thousands every time they fight, and I know they’re capable of reaching that level. These guys could come in and challenge for Bellator’s titles straight away.
“They need a guy to push over here and now they have that with me. Wait until they see the rest of these guys and what they can do.”