Behind every UFC fighter is a team of men and women who help the fighter become the best fighter that they can be. These people include the dietitians, the strength and conditioning coaches, and of course, the actual martial arts coaches, too. In Conor McGregor’s case, the one man who’s trained him the most is his coach, John Kavanagh.
John Kavanagh’s life before coaching Conor McGregor
As the UFC said, Kavanagh was born and raised in Ireland and he didn’t actually get his start as a coach or even as an athlete. Instead, he has an Engineering degree and, according to Kavanagh, he “wanted to be a math teacher.” However, like many young men in Ireland, he had an interest in combat sports.
In 1996, Kavanagh started studying Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, or BJJ, according to the UFC. At the time, the UFC was in its infancy, but BJJ was dominating every other martial art, including boxing and Taekwondo. As a result, BJJ became an easy gateway into the UFC, and Kavanagh started using his BJJ skills to try his hand at MMA.
Kavanagh started fighting professionally in small MMA organizations in 2000, and he fought six times for a record of 3-3, according to the UFC. After dipping his toes into fighting competitively however, Kavanagh realized that his heart was in mixing the best of both worlds, and he did by becoming a coach.
Becoming Conor McGregor’s coach
Not long after ending his professional MMA career, Kavanagh founded his own gym, Straight Blast Gym, or SBG, and it quickly became a great place for Irish fighters to train in BJJ, something that Kavanagh was well-known for and still competing at.
In fact, according to the UFC, Kavanagh eventually became Ireland’s first BJJ black belt. However, it was an MMA gym, and it had other coaches, too. These coaches taught other styles of fighting, such as striking and wrestling.
As Kavanagh explained to the UFC, Ireland is a small country with a small number of talented athletes, so it was scary for him to test his training tactics and techniques against the big American gyms.
But his small team, which mostly consisted of local Irish talent, soon started getting wins on top of wins. This not only built up Kavanagh’s confidence in himself, but it also helped make the gym a hub for more talent from both Ireland and Europe.
One of those local Irish talents was McGregor. McGregor was a good amateur boxer already, but he needed to round out his game. Kavanagh and the other coaches at SBG did just that for Conor McGregor. And eventually, McGregor’s dominance and rise to superstardom happened.
SBG in the modern-day
McGregor’s fame and success has helped the gym a lot. SBG was able to expand its facilities in part due to how successful its fighters have been, but, at the same time, the relationship between SBG’s coaches and McGregor have had some rough patches. As Heavy said, McGregor admits that he let down the people who’ve believed in and supported him.
McGregor is referencing his rough 2019 year, and undoubtedly, it strained his relations with his team. However, with McGregor’s new focus on himself, their relationship has changed for the better.
That said, while McGregor is the most famous SBG fighter, he’s not the only one. Highly-skilled UFC fighters such as Gunnar Nelson also train at SBG, and WWE stars, such as Becky Lynch, do too.
McGregor’s friends, who have had success outside of the UFC, also train at SBG. For example, McGregor’s friend, Artem Lobov, became a bare-knuckle boxer after his UFC career. Lobov, with the help of his team and coaches, actually beat a former boxing champion, Paulie Malignaggi, in a bare-knuckle boxing fight, according to BleacherReport.