Bainisteoir John Kavanagh


It’s a pretty amazing statistic, because of his whirlwind journey to worldwide MMA fame, that SBG Ireland’s coach John Kavanagh has only cornered a fighter eleven times in the UFC; losing on his first occasion with Tom Egan but winning the next ten on the bounce with Gunnar Nelson, Conor McGregor, Paddy Holohan and Cathal Pendred doing the necessary. This weekend, Kavanagh has three more fighters in action and will be looking to extend the amazing streak which has seen his notoriety grow exponentially.

Unfortunately he’ll only be able to corner two of the trio as the unlucky member of the team, flyweight Paddy Holohan, opens the main card in Nova Scotia, Canada on the same night that Gunnar Nelson tops the bill also containing Cathal Pendred in Stockholm, Sweden. Kavanagh himself broke the news on Monday that Holohan will fight Nova Scotia’s own Chris Kelades after Louis Gaudinot was forced to pull out of their encounter with just a week of preparation to go. The SBG team is certain, though, that Holohan will have no problem without Kavanagh as TUF 20’s Ais Daly and Cage Warriors featherweight Artem Lobov step up in his stead.

Kavanagh, though, will be on hand to corner Pendred and Nelson in Sweden where both welterweights will be looking to lay a marker down.

Pendred, fighting in the UFC for the second time against Russian Gasan Umalatov, made his debut last July at UFC Dublin against Mike King. In that fight, the Dubliner was badly hurt early on and barely survived the opening period. Between rounds Kavanagh, with Pendred still reeling from being knocked down and almost choked out, got him to his stool and showed how he can make a noticeable impact. “We’ve been here many times before” Kavanagh calmly told Pendred, referencing the Cage Warriors days where Pendred was known to find himself in tricky spots more often than he would have liked. As his fighter starred down his tired, weary opponent, Kavanagh gave a clear, succinct, reassuring instruction which made the uncomfortable familiar and gave his fighter a push in the direction of belief rather than doubt. Simple but effective. Pendred went out and put Mike King to sleep early in the second.

For Nelson, it seems like Kavanagh is more of a twin pea in his Icelandic pod. “We’ve been friends for seven years” Nelson says when asked about Kavanagh – who may be the only person on earth capable of reaching a similar level of calm. Nelson has trained with some of the best people in the world from his home country to Renzo Grazie in New York and many places in between; yet he still chooses Kavanagh to be in his corner.

There’s a reason Kavanagh is so adored by the people who work with him. His fighters see him in so many different lights, each of which he is quite capable of adjusting too when necessary while still remaining at ease in the situation. Whether he’s the calming and reassuring yet assertive influence on Pendred, the friend to the already calm Nelson, the mentor to all of his young students or the man who went to Conor McGregor’s house, pulled him up by the bootstraps, and brought him back to the gym. John Kavanagh seems to just have the knack of doing the right thing at the right time. And it’s not as if it came from nowhere. Kavanagh’s current UFC stars have all been long term students of SBG and that’s the reason, Kavanagh says, why they are where they are.

“The type of relationship I have with my top guys has been developed over a decade” Kavanagh told Andrew McGahon in their interview in Stockholm this week. “The secret is these guys have been training for 10 years….They’ve been training right every day, they eat right every day and now, after all those years, we are starting to get results”

And it’s also not only his unflappable demeanour and strong relationships with his fighters which makes Kavanagh successful – it’s what he has put in place to make those fighters in his gym reach that level. Kavanagh speaks regularly about the word talent and how it’s not something you are born with but instead something you attain through hard word and proper guidance over a long period of time.

The guidance is almost as important as anything else. This week, Aisling Daly spoke about how her level of MMA was hampered by her time in the TUF house citing Kavanagh and SBG’s preparation as being on a much higher level. The same goes for Conor McGregor who swears never to leave the gym and Gunnar Nelson who regularly travels to Ireland to be part of what can only be described as a special, elite team.

It’s clear that John Kavanagh has facilitated something special over the last number of months and years through an insane dedication, an always open mind, a calmness in the face of everything put in his way and no shortage of (attained) talent. “It’s easy to be a champion” Kavanagh will tell you at a drop of a hat, “It just has to be your every waking moment”. Straight Blast Gym fighters are an undefeated 6-0 inside the Octagon in 2014; With Kavanagh and his team in their corners, following years and years of preparation, it wouldn’t be too surprising if that record was 9-0 by Sunday morning.

Podcaster, lead MMA writer and analyst for SevereMMA. Host of the SevereMMA podcast, out every Sunday. Economics and Mathematics graduate from UCC. Also write for Sherdog. Previously of hov-mma and fightbooth. As heard on 2FM, Red FM, Today FM and more. Follow me on twitter for updates @SeanSheehanBA and on Facebook

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