It’s been just over a month since Conor McGregor’s super fight against Floyd Mayweather confirmed his status as one of the biggest sports stars in the world. He didn’t do it alone. Instrumental in his rise has been SBG head coach John Kavanagh and striking coach Owen Roddy.
The pair have made a name for themselves in their own right and become two of the most sought-after training partners in mixed martial arts. They sat down with our own Mike Sheridan at the launch of the Original Penguin Autumn/Winter Collection at the Chocolate Factory in Dublin to discuss their journey from a cold shed in Phibsboro to the biggest fight in sports combat history.
As is always the case, Conor’s next fight was the topic on everyone’s lips.
“December 30th is definitely not happening,” said Kavanagh, addressing a rumour that had been circulating last weekend. “I don’t know how these things get started, but they have a certain way of gaining momentum.”
He stated that Conor’s manager Audie Attar had just flown into Dublin and that the team were due to meet this week to discuss his future.
“If it was my choice, and I must stress that this is only my choice and that doesn’t mean it’s going to happen, it would be Nate Diaz in March,” said Kavanagh, adding that St. Patrick’s Day would be his preferred date.
“I’d second that,” said Roddy. “I like the whole build-up of the Diaz brothers, it’s a bit mental and it’s exciting.”
Conversation soon turned to Conor’s most recent fight against Floyd Mayweather. Kavanagh said that while he thought Mayweather was a “total asshole”, he recognised how great a fighter he is.
“I have a massive respect for his skill level in his chosen sport. He’s able to flick between different styles of boxing that, I have to be honest, was fascinating to watch,” he said.
“It’s always miserable,” said Kavanagh, when asked about the mood backstage after the fight.
“It’s not until 24 hours pass, you start to digest it and say ‘You know what? We didn’t do too bad. Went ten rounds with one of the best ever.”
It hasn’t always been headline events in Las Vegas for the duo who met fourteen years ago through Dave Roche, a mutual friend. Owen, a talented fighter with dreams of making the UFC himself, was a student of Kavanagh’s initially.
“Dave used to bring me to his shed and bash me. And then he brought me to John’s shed where him and John would bash me,” laughed Roddy, who cleaned the training mats instead of paying fees.
Thanks to the likes Aisling Daly, Artem Lobov, Cathal Pendred, Paddy Holohan, and of course Conor McGregor, the sport has seen an explosion in popularity in recent years.
“When I opened up my place in Phibsboro sixteen years ago it was the only full-time MMA school in the Republic. Now there’s 90 active MMA schools in Ireland,” said Kavanagh.
It’s not only amateurs and UFC hopefuls that train at SBG. A recent visitor was none other than Coldplay’s Chris Martin who dropped by following the band’s Croke Park gig.
“Conor and a few lads had flown out to Vegas a few days before so when an American number rang my first thought was ‘Fuck! The lads are in jail.’ Thankfully it turned out to be Chris Martin’s manager asking if he could train,” said John.
Owen, a big Coldplay fan, wasn’t happy he missed the chance to train with the singer.
“I was devastated. I was at the concert the night before, screaming at Chris, throwing my boxers at him, loving it. I thought it was brilliant. And then I’m flying out the next morning and I see the picture and I’m thinking you f….,” he laughed. “Where was my call? I was sick!”
For the time being it’s back to the day job for the two lads who train hundreds of students at their gym in Charlestown. It’s only when Conor, who is predictably unpredictable, decides his next move that they’ll know what opponent – or what sport – they need to prepare for. Watch this space.