Gallagher will put respect on hold to “dismantle” Machida at The Garden

The Strabanimal speaks to Peter Carroll

James Gallagher, Strabanimal

James Gallagher Photographer - © Matt Mackey / Press Eye

James Gallagher made no secret of his wish to fight on Bellator’s debut show at Madison Square Garden on June 24th when the event was announced last week.

Two days ago on The MMA Hour, Bellator CEO Scott Coker confirmed that the Strabane man would take on the older brother of former UFC light-heavyweight champion Lyoto Machida, Chinzo Machida, on the televised undercard of what will be the second pay-per-view event in the promotion’s history.

The notion of taking on a member of the famous Machida family has excited SBG head coach John Kavanagh ahead of the fight, as seen in a tweet he put out shortly after the announcement of the featherweight bout. 

Speaking to Newstalk today, Gallagher revealed that Lyoto Machida was one of his idols when he transitioned from karate to MMA in his younger years.

“I have the utmost respect for him and the Machida family,” said Gallagher.

“To be honest, Lyoto was one of my idols when I first started training in MMA because I came over from karate. He was one of the guys that I always looked up to and then as he progressed through the ranks I became aware of the history of his family in karate.

“You know what they say, you have to work until your idols become rivals. That’s exactly what I want to do.”

Although he has not reached the same heights as his brother in the MMA ranks, Chinzo Machida is thought of as a better pure Shotokan karate proponent than ‘The Dragon’. In his two fights for Bellator so far, Machida has finished both of his opponents with strikes.

Gallagher is aware of the strengths of his veteran opponent but is confident that he will steal the show with a first round finish in the iconic venue.

“There’s a lot of guys that would think, ‘Oh f**k! I’m fighting a Machida’, but I’m just thinking about how I’m going to beat a Machida. I’m looking at this like a massive opportunity.

“I feel like it’s my time to shine. An Irish guy fighting at Madison Square Garden, it’s a perfect time to show everyone what I’m all about.

“Yes, I’ve got a lot of respect to him, but I still think I’m going to go in there to put this guy away. I want to steal the show and I want to get the job done in the first round.”

James Gallagher celebrates. Photographer - © Matt Mackey / Press Eye

Blue-chip prospect Aaron Pico will make his professional MMA debut at the New York event and has taken to social media to claim that Gallagher turned down a fight with him on the card.

According to Gallagher, he was never offered a fight with Pico, and even if he was, the 20-year-old outlined why the wrestling standout is “irrelevant” to him.

“I haven’t turned anybody down,” dismissed the SBG featherweight.

“I don’t do that. Scott Coker even said it when he was The MMA Hour on Monday. I will fight anyone of them. Put them all in front of me and I’ll knock them down one by one.

“This guy, Pico, I really don’t know what he’s talking about. First of all, I didn’t turn down any fight. Secondly, he has absolutely no pro fights. Finally, the guy is a lightweight! He’s not even in the f**king weight class. What am I meant to do with that?

“He needs to cop himself on. He’s irrelevant.”

“The Machidas are legends. This is the kind of thing I’m after. These are the kind of names I want to knock off. There are going to be a lot more names in the future.

“I don’t want to go around fighting guys who are 0-0. This guy I’m fighting is coming off a KO win and he’s face planted a few people.

“I’m going to walk out in MSG and make it another Gallagher show. That’s always my priority. I’m out to steal the show no matter who Bellator put in front of me.”

Following on from the big performances of his fellow Irishmen Michael Conlan and Conor McGregor at MSG, there could be a lot of pressure on Gallagher to perform on the night. ‘The Strabanimal’ believes he is at his best when the pressure is on.

“I always perform to the best of my ability when there’s a lot of expectation on my shoulders,” he explained.

“Look at the last fight in Belfast. I fought a guy who was 7-3, who had a higher belt grade in jiu-jitsu than me, and I absolutely dismantled him.

“I was on fire because I knew if I made the slightest mistake my opponent had the skillset to take advantage of it and make me pay for it.

James Gallagher vs Kirill Medvedovsky. Photographer - © Matt Mackey / Press Eye

“That’s exactly the way it’s going to be in New York.

“I’m going to go out there and put it on him. I’m not going to make any mistakes for him to capitalize on. I’ll capitalize on his mistakes, take him to the ground, wear him down and choke him.

“That’s how I feel it’s going to go down. I know it’s a big card and there are a lot of interesting fights on the card. The whole card is going to be full of big moments.

“I still think people are going to be going home talking about me. They’ll be talking about James Gallagher going in and taking on a guy from a legendary fighting family and dismantling him.

“He’s been fighting for longer than I’ve been alive. Going in and figuring him out is going to be a very proud moment for me.”

Gallagher also spoke about being willing to go over to New York to promote the fight in New York to generate interest amongst the Irish community in ‘The Big Apple’.

“I want to go over there and sell the show. I’d love to get an opportunity to go over and try to get the Irish community in New York interested in the fight.

“As far as I know, I’ll be the second ever Irish MMA fighter to fight in MSG. It’s going to be a big moment for me and hopefully, they will see an opportunity for me to get over and sell it.

“It doesn’t matter if they bring me over or not, I think what I’ll do in the cage on the night will speak for itself.”

@PetesyCarroll