Irish fighter James Gallagher looks every bit of his twenty years, but he speaks with the calm confidence of a true veteran. He has only competed once in the Bellator cage, but the promotion is already grooming "The Strabanimal" into one of their stars.
Gallagher’s second fight in Bellator will be the biggest of his life: He fights in the co-main event in his home country when Bellator comes to Dublin on Dec. 16. To the Irish crowd, Gallagher’s fight will be the true main event, and he’s received more attention ahead of the event than any other fighter on the card.
Many fighters would crumble under the pressure of such a high-profile fight at the age of 20. Gallagher (4-0, 1-0 Bellator) talks about the upcoming fight without the slightest whisper of nerves.
“My mindset has never been better," Gallagher told FightSports. "I’m calm, focused, prepared. I just feel invincible. My confidence comes from my preparation. I’m just chilling, waiting patiently and next weekend I’m gonna kill whoever’s in front of me.”
If Gallagher’s icy confidence seems familiar, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that he’s a young product of Straight Blast Gym, the breeding ground of Irish talent that produced the sport’s biggest star in Conor McGregor among several other UFC fighters. In his predecessors, the young Gallagher has the blueprint for how to handle his growing media obligations, and he’s taking them in stride.
“I love it all. I’m laughing it up. And I take great pride in it — it’s kind of like a respect I’m being shown for all my hard work, and I appreciate that so much. But at the end of the day when we get in there and the door closes and the ref says ‘fight’, nothing else matters.”
When the door closes, it will be American Anthony Taylor (1-1) that will stand in from of Gallagher. Taylor has been poking at him for months, both on social media and in person. But despite Gallagher’s youth, he’s seasoned in the fight game. He can spot an opponent that truly believes their pre-fight threats, and Taylor isn’t one of them.
“Including pro and amateur I’ve got like 20-odd fights, so I’ve faced a lot of different opponents before," Gallagher said. "And I’ve come across guys before that have been saying stuff to me, like ‘I’m going to cave your head in’…and they meant it. And you go into them contests saying ‘I’ve got to be on the ball, this guy’s coming to fight. This is going to be tough, I’ve got to be prepared for this.’
“But when he says anything, it feels so fake, it seems like an act. And it’s just the cringiest bullshit I’ve ever heard in my life. It means jack shit to me, I don’t give a fuck what he does, what he says. I’m just going in there to do what I do. I’m winning, and that’s that.”
When it comes to his own prediction for the fight, Gallagher seems to mean every word he says. Some fighters visualize victory and nothing else. Gallagher pictures every violent detail.
“I see myself caving his face in with elbows and the ref dragging me off him, begging me to stop hitting him," he said. "He’ll say ‘I’m sorry James, I’m sorry, please stop hitting me."
While the ruthlessness of his predictions and his cold conviction will draw comparisons to McGregor, Gallagher is poised to make his own mark on the fight game. When he was a teenager, he watched the likes of McGregor and Gunnar Nelson achieve their dreams and make it from SBG to the biggest stages of fighting . Their success fueled his own training, and now he’s ready for his moment.
“They’ve given my great motivation," he said. "When I decided that this is all I wanted to do, I had quit school and I was set on a path for this and none of those guys had made it [to the UFC] yet. So there was no set path, and then all them guys just made it. And I saw — there is a set path. So that just made my confidence grow and grow. And now I just feel invincible."
WATCH: Gallagher and his opponent Anthony Taylor nearly come to blows at the Bellator 169: Open Workouts in Straight Blast Gym in Dublin. Video courtesy of SevereMMA.