EXCLUSIVE: Bellator announce James Gallagher's opponent for Belfast bout

Fellow unbeaten SBG fighter Sinead Kavanagh also now has an opponent for Bellator 173

James Gallagher, Ireland, MMA, BAMMA

Image: ©INPHO/Gary Carr

Newstalk can exclusively reveal that unbeaten Irish featherweight sensation James ‘The Strabanimal’ Gallagher will meet Kirill Medvedovsky (7-3) in the co-main event of Bellator 173 at the SSE Arena on February 24 in Belfast.

Also in action on the night, fellow unbeaten SBG fighter Sinead ‘KO’ Kavanagh (4-0) makes her second walk to the Bellator cage following her debut win in December, meeting French fighter Iony Razafiarison (1-1) at a catchweight of 140 lbs.

Medvedovsky was initially slated to meet Gallagher in his native Israel on November 10, but Bellator rejigged their matchups after they confirmed their Dublin debut for December.

Commenting on the Israeli prospect ahead of their first meeting, Gallagher claimed that he was looking forward to pitting his skills against the jiu-jitsu brown belt.

Yet, when asked again about his future counterpart ahead of their Belfast meeting, the 5-0 submission specialist maintained that Bellator saved the 24-year-old by postponing their initial matchup.

“Bellator saved this guy’s life by cancelling the first fight in Israel,” said Gallagher in an exclusive interview with Newstalk. “Now, in a few weeks’ time I’m going to end it for him. He won’t get away from me that easily.

“If he thinks he has an advantage over me on the ground, I’m going to go straight in there and put him on his back so we can find out. I’ll prove who the real jiu-jitsu guy is. Mark my words.

“Don’t get me wrong, I won’t be cutting any corners, I’ll be ready to bomb the jaw off this guy if he wants to exchange too. It doesn’t really matter what he does, I’m going to have my hand raised anyway.”

Medvedovsky took on the vastly experienced Georgi Karakhanyan instead in Tel Aviv, and after succumbing to the veteran’s strikes in the first round, Gallagher believes he has been given valuable insight into his opponent.

“He lost to a very experienced guy in his debut, there’s no shame in that, I just think he quit. He made up his mind that his opponent was too good and too quick very early on. He had no answer for the strength and experience that he faced. He wanted to get the f**k out of there as soon as he could.

“There’s no doubt that this guy has solid striking and jiu-jitsu, but he hasn’t got the fire that I have in me. He doesn’t want this as bad as me. I’m here to fight, he’s just here to get quick wins and if he can’t do that, he quits.”

In his last outing, Gallagher’s opponent Anthony Taylor’s lack of technique made him very hard to counter. The squat American looked to bulldoze his way into the exchanges, wind-milling to the inside with looping punches, making it very difficult for Gallagher to time him.

Although he secured his patented rear naked choke in the final round of the Dublin co-main event, Gallagher believes Medvedovsky’s firmer understanding of technique will make for a better spectacle for the crowd.

“This fight will be different because this guy is more technical," Gallagher added. "He’s been around the block and he knows how to fight. That will make him a lot easier to hit for me. He’s probably one of the best guys I’ve fought outside of Decky McAleenan, I still consider him to be one of the toughest challenges I faced so far.

“This guy will probably be my toughest test on paper, but I’m going to make it look easy. They’re saying this guy is a jiu-jitsu brown belt, but I definitely want to show him that I’m the better ground fighter than him on the night.”

With Belfast being a lot less of a journey from Gallagher’s hometown of Strabane, the undefeated flyweight thinks Bellator’s Northern Irish bow will be even bigger for him than his last fight in Dublin.

“It’s going to make Dublin look silly. For all the people that will be coming from Strabane, it’s only a quick drive up the road. The trip to Dublin for the 3 Arena takes a lot more organizing and it costs a lot more money. I think this show is going to be the best in terms of atmosphere.”

As for Medvedovsky who has likely never walked into an atmosphere like the one he will encounter in Belfast, Gallagher explained the affect his impassioned support has on his opponents.

“It definitely does affect my opponents, I could see that it got to my last opponent in Dublin. I’ve got a unique ability to just ride the wave I can feel from the crowd, but being able to deal with the kind of pressure I was under in Dublin is rare, especially for someone as young as me.

“People have been talking about me being a future world champion since I was a kid. I don’t worry about fulfilling that potential because I already know it’s going to happen,” said the confident 20-year-old.

“I’ve dreamed about sold out arenas and championship belts since the first day I started training. I know what I have to do to get there. My opponents walk into an arena packed with my fans and they’ve never seen anything like it. For me, this is just the beginning.”