James Gallagher: ‘I respect Cal Ellenor’s dangers but I won’t play into his hands’ as Bellator MMA completes third event in eight days
The storm that hit Milan, Italy in the last two days was being dubbed ‘Storm Jimmy’ as Ireland’s James Gallagher swept into the Bellator MMA testing bubble for its third event in Lombardy in eight days. Headliner Gallagher, a young, rising star in the sport who is as divisive as he is devastating as a showman and fighter, never fails to light a fire under his contests.
This one is no different, yet in these rarified times, in a world changed by masks and social distancing, this main event against Englishman Cal Ellenor has certainly been a long, long burner.
They finally meet at the Allianz Cloud (arena) tonight at the fourth time of asking with Bellator staging the last of the triple header behind closed doors in northern Italy.
It has been an intriguing week of events thus far, with Costello Van Steenis taking the victory in the opening headline match-up against Fabian Edwards at middleweight to advance his cause towards a title shot, and two nights ago, accomplished Dutchwoman Denise Kielholtz smashed and grabbed her way through Cornwall’s Kate Jackson inside a minute to advance her cause for a world title in the women’s flyweight division.
Tonight, Ireland’s Gallagher has pledged to end a feud with the Sunderland fighter after three cancellations, and one man leaves with the reputation as arguably the best bantamweight in Europe.
Gallagher, typically, already claims to be the greatest bantamweight in the world. Such is his way. And compelling it has become. Love him or loathe him, he has something of the ‘McGregor Effect’ about him.
But Ellenor and the Irishman have waited a long, long time for this.
They must be sick of the thought of each other, let alone the sight of the other, though both men have insisted this week that they have moved beyond that and just want the ‘W’ on their records.
In truth, the obsession with gaining the championship of each other will only have deepened during the lockdown.
Call this contest ‘cursed’ given the cancellations, but during the COVID pandemic it is finally set to take place, complete with the swab tests, daily temperature checks and masks that must be worn in the bubble here.
No crowd of course, which may, or may not, affect the irascible Gallagher, who looked to have had a tough weight cut this week. So, too, for Ellenor, a six-footer who weighs in at 135lbs.
“It was the best camp ever” 23-year-old Gallagher, known as ‘Strabanimal’, insisted from the fight hotel this week. “Training hard twice a day, diet, nutrition, everything on point. Nothing changed for me in training. I just had nothing else to do. I’m the best shape I’ve ever been in, mentally and physically, and on Saturday night, I’m going to show that.”
Eleanor, says Gallagher, is not the vision in his head. “I’m ready to fight. I don’t give a f— who is in front of me. He doesn’t play a factor in this. Why would I let someone not on my level play a big factor in anything? I’ve just grown myself and bettered myself. Now I’m here, I’m prepared to fight and confident. I’m not trying to get past anything, I’m here in the moment.”
Nor is Gallagher bothered by the absence of a crowd. There has been no thought of that, he claimed. “Yeah, I don’t need to. I don’t need to psychologically prepare for it. I’m a fighter. I thrive off fighting and winning. That’s what I really thrive off. I don’t need the crowd, other people, anything – I’m here and I’m ready. I’m not here to get this out of the way. I’m here to fight him.”
“I thrive more off winning. That’s what I’m here to do. When I smack him in the head and I hear the noise of my glove off the side of his face. I’ll thrive off that. Then when I’m on his back I can hear him crumbling. When I’m sinking in the choke I will hear everything, him gurgling and choking and ready to get out of there. That’s what I really thrive off. I’m dark. I can’t wait to hear the noise of my elbow bouncing off his cheekbone. It’s going to be great.”
But there is respect there for Ellenor. “I respect everyone. There’s no easy fights. It’s another grown man looking to beat him. You have to respect that? What do you think, am I a f—– idiot? I have to respect that and that’s why I’m going to win. I know he’s dangerous and I won’t play into his hands.”
Gallagher also told combat sports writer Chisanga Malata this week that with victory his next target would be Sergio Pettis. “I want him next. I want to prove to myself that I can be the best in the world at this. I don’t give a f**k about proving anything to anybody else. I don’t need to prove anything to anybody else.”
“I just need to prove to myself that I can be a world champion. And I’m never going to stop until I prove that to myself.”
Ellenor, meanwhile, has so much to fight for himself, and detailed the deeply challenging time he has had in his life during the course of the scheduling of this fight.
Expect a scramble in the stand-up and grapplefest in this contest, as both men believe they are superior on the ground. It’s a hard fight to call, but Gallagher has the edge, though he could be severely tested if not on his mettle. Bottom line is that, finally, we get to see them square off, and define a long hiatus in which the debate has not been settled.
Now it will be.
Also on the main card tonight, another highly ambitious Irishman Kiefer Crosbie clashes with former footballer Charlie O’Leary and Conor McGregor’s friend and minder Charlie Ward meets Estonian martial arts stand-out Andy Manzolo.
After tonight, Bellator MMA moves to Paris, France, for an historic, inaugural event in that country, with a ban on MMA having been lifted at the start of the year by the French government.
Cheick Kongo, born in Paris, and one of the stalwarts of the heavyweight division for almost two decades, returns home to rematches Timothy Johnson in the co-main event while Londoner Michael ‘Venom’ Page meets undefeated Ross Houston in the main event.
The ground-breaking event will be shown on Channel 5 in the UK, and on CBS Sports in the United States.