Bellator’s third event in the Republic of Ireland on Saturday has more than a little of the same feel to as the UFC Dublin card which transformed Irish MMA.
On that notorious, balmy summer night in 2014 Conor McGregor made good on his promise to ‘drag’ the UFC back to Ireland for the first time in five years, defeating Diego Brandao by first round TKO and earmarking himself as a bona fide mixed martial arts superstar in the process. Less than year later, McGregor would claim interim UFC gold and, a few months after that, landed the most famous left-hand in UFC featherweight history to dethrone Jose Aldo from his decade-long era of supremacy.
It was a perfect storm. Every Irish fighter on the card, as well as honourary Irishman Gunnar Nelson, all had their hands raised on that night in July 2014, recognition of the growth of mixed martial arts within a country known worldwide for its fighting prowess.
It was said following the event that this would be a transformative event for mixed martial arts within Ireland’s borders and if any proof was needed regarding the veracity of that statement, the evidence is obvious with a glance of the Bellator 217 fight card.
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James Gallagher and Peter Queally, the two SBG men who will contest the main event and co-main event inside the 3 Arena this weekend, were part of the team who helped McGregor (and other SBG fighters) prepare for battle and now, some five years later, the spotlight has become firmly fixed on them as representatives of the ‘next wave’ of Irish mixed martial arts talent.
Gallagher, for one, wasn’t yet 18 years old when that event but clearly had the correct type of confidence needed for success. As noted by this very writer, during the public weigh-ins Gallagher approached MMA journalist Ariel Helwani to tell him that one day he would be featured on his MMA podcast.
Two years to the day later, Gallagher made this prediction a reality. A little over two years after that, he is headlining the same arena in which he watched McGregor take his biggest steps yet (at the time) to superstardom.
Having been ruled out from injury from headlining a card in Ireland a year ago, Gallagher said to TheMacLife that it has all been worth the wait.
“It feels right,” Gallagher said. “I’m on top of the world. I’m calm, I’m focused. I’ve got no other words for it other than I’m prepared and I’m at my best, physically and mentally. I don’t feel like there’s anyone who would be able to stop me on Saturday night.
“I’m only 22 years old and I have a main event in my home country. It is dreams becoming reality in front of my eyes. I can see my dreams just unfolding in front of me, being able to do something like this in my own country. I get goosebumps just thinking about it – but I’m very proud of myself. I deserve it. I fucking deserve it, so I do.”
Gallagher’s opponent this weekend, 6-3 American Steven Graham, is the man tasked with playing spoiler but as Gallagher says, it doesn’t matter who he faces this weekend — this is just the latest edition of ‘The Jimmy Show’.
“I’m going to cave his head in on Saturday night. There’s nothing that can stop me, not even him. He can’t. He’ll try but he can’t. He’s sitting a few feet away from me right now but that doesn’t matter, he’s going to be the one standing across the cage from me on Saturday. He’s going to be the one I’ll be running at with my hands up and I’m going to go over there and put him away.”
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#Repost @thenotoriousmma ・・・ Solid rounds with the Show Stopper! Peter hits 960+ watts on the rowing machine on the @mcgregorfast program. 1 Horse Power equals 735 watts. I’ve never seen anything like it. Stronger than a fucking horse. Crazy! Keep your eye on the @mcgregorfast channels in the coming days for the video of this workout with tips on how to increase your own watt output. Insane! Thank you for the work brother 👊
If Gallagher is unconcerned by the identity of his opponent on Saturday, his SBG teammate Peter Queally very much isn’t. Queally will make his Bellator debut on the back of the biggest win of his career last May when he stopped the then 24-3 David Khachatryan in Russia. The Armenian, a hugely popular fighter in Russia, had never been stopped until he ran into ‘The Showstopper’.
Queally is reserving the same treatment for his opponent on Saturday, Myles Price, a former SBG training partner who left the team on less-than-good terms. Last year, Irishman Price traveled to the AKA gym in San Jose to train with Khabib Nurmagomedov ahead of his bout with Conor McGregor, an act that Queally sees as unforgivable.
“To paint the picture of this weekend’s fight, Ireland’s biggest sportsman was preparing for the biggest fight of his career. Myles Price, an Irishman who is a former teammate of Conor, spent his own money to travel 5,000 miles to go help his opponent. That’s why this fight is happening. He’s rat, that’s why this fight is happening,” he said to TheMacLife.
Queally was in line for a title shot in his last promotion but fate conspired to bring him to the Bellator cage, where he will make his debut in front of his home country in Ireland’s largest indoor arena — and it is that last fact which Queally says earmarks this as his biggest fight.
“The fight against David Khachatryan was huge. It was in a big, massive arena in Russia. He was a bit Russian star. It was away from home. It was a big fight in Russia more than it was a big fight here.
“This one feels like a much bigger fight because it’s here. There’s a bigger emotional story attached to this fight, where there was no story attached to the David one – it was just two animals coming together in a big fight. This fighter is two good fighters coming together to fight but there’s an emotional investment in this fight.
“This one was very easy to train for. I know why I’m fighting him. I’ve never fought someone like this when there is an emotional investment, it’s always just been some random guy who I have no animosity towards. With Myles, we do know each other. I’ve never had anything against Myles until now. I wouldn’t consider him a friend or anything, we were never very close. The preparation wasn’t different. It was the same shit, but it was easier to get up in the morning.”
The occasional SBG mantra has always been a reference to how ‘there is no opponent’, and that they are all ‘nameless, faceless’, though that isn’t strictly true in Queally’s case as he has spent numerous hours on the mat with Price over the years.
With bridges well and truly burned now, Queally says he isn’t allowing any old familiarity with his opponent cloud his judgement ahead of Saturday’s scrap.
“I don’t give a shit about him, he’s just a body to me now. There will be no emotion on the night, I’m going to go in and kill him and that’s it.”
Watch Bellator 217: Gallagher vs. Graham live on Sky Sports Main Event and Action on Saturday, Feb. 23 from 9pm. Preliminary bouts will stream globally on the Bellator Mobile App.