Whatever you think of James Gallagher, chances are, he probably doesn’t care.
And why would he? At the age of 22, Northern Ireland’s Gallagher is 5-1 (including four rear-naked chokes) in his Bellator career; a record his peers strive to match. Additionally, he sees more money per month than most on the other end of the plentiful trolling Twitter comments see in a year.
But ahead of the toughest test of his career this Saturday at Bellator London, Gallagher insists that he’s in full control of his destiny and sees this fight as just another showcase of his imminent global stardom – “The Jimmy Show,” as he calls it.
“I’m 22-years-old, and I think unlike any other fighter in the whole promotion,” Gallagher told The Body Lock during Thursday’s Bellator London media day. “I’m climbing nicely, I know my skill set, and I’m ready to fight the best in the world.”
There’s no doubting Gallagher’s potential for greatness; straight-talking, charismatic, and decked out head to toe in designer threads, all topped up with a strong Irish tone… sound familiar? Indeed, in addition to sharing pugilistic wisdom, “The Notorious” Conor McGregor has probably imparted many the marketing pearl on the young Gallagher during their time together at Ireland’s most famous combat stable, Straight Blast Gym (SBG).
Gallagher’s position is an envious one. There are many prospects like “The Strabanimal” on the same, yet very different, path. Smaller, regional promotions such as Cage Warriors and BAMMA have long been held in high regard as stepping stones to the big leagues, but offer a financial pittance in comparison. When asked his thoughts on opportunities for fighters within these organizations, Gallagher didn’t hold back.
“I feel sorry for the fighters. I feel absolutely devastated,” said Gallagher. “They’re getting money for so-called ‘world title fights’ that I make in a month from endorsement deals. They’re doing the exact same thing as me, but I’m earning over six figures and getting well looked after.
“It all comes down to knowing your worth,” Gallagher said. “Fighters don’t know their worth; they’re all stupid, every one of them. They’re signing sponsor deals for a few hundred quid [dollars] here and there, and when it comes to fight contracts, they haven’t got a clue. They’ve got videographers filming their whole careers, but they don’t own the footage; they have websites that they don’t own themselves. That’s idiotic. I’ve got all that, and I own it. I’m not here to help other fighters grow, I want to grow me and the platform Bellator has given me. They’re not my problem. If you don’t know your worth, someone will tell you your worth. I’ve got a great management team, but they don’t tell me my worth – I know my worth. This is why I’m different and why I am where I am.”
Where Gallagher was, of course, was the ground floor lobby of Leicester Square’s flagship ODEON cinema, Bellator’s media HQ for the day. His opponent on Saturday, Jeremiah Labiano, was conducting similar interviews, but away from Gallagher, on the first floor of the building. That was probably for the best. Twenty minutes prior, a question asked by this reporter sparked a heated back-and-forth between the two, and minutes later, a brief, off-stage scuffle between Gallagher and a member of Labiano’s entourage took place.
He laughs off my apology for unintentionally instigating the situation. “It’s a vibe isn’t it?” Gallagher joked. “Look, Jeremiah is stepping in there to fight me on Saturday night. I’ve got respect for him, but his coach is not stepping in there and fighting me. He has to train his fighter. So, sit down there, train your fighter as best you can. Know your place. Sit down and shut your (expletive) mouth, and he didn’t do that, so I said I’d do it for him.”
Despite the fight-week circus and antics of the day, however, Gallagher is serious as can be when it comes to the fight ahead. He predicts history repeating itself for the seventh time in his career; a first round rear-naked choke win.
Confident – yes. Arrogant – perhaps. But James Gallagher shows his dangerous opponent the respect he deserves – perhaps with a dash of his teammate Conor McGregor’s magic, to boot.
“Jeremiah can say what he wants. I respect him, I’ve trained hard for this fight, and I’m coming here prepared for a tough fighter. I’m not underestimating him one bit, at all. If his coach wants to fight me, then let’s do it, I’ll fight anyone, and his coach will also get a beating if he wants it.”
Rhodri Morgan is a combat sports writer based out of London, England. When not covering MMA, he can be found roaming the halls of a south London Wholefoods, finding a dog to befriend and rolling in the doomed pursuit of the perfect kimura.