Last night, the Trinity Entrepreneurial Society welcomed two of Ireland’s most prominent self-made success stories, the Kavanagh brothers, to a packed JM Synge lecture theatre. James has become synonymous with Irish millennials as a social media influencer and as co-owner of the Currabinny gastronomy franchise, which he runs in conjunction with his boyfriend, and regular video victim, William. John, on the other hand, is regarded by many as the Godfather of Irish MMA, becoming the first Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt on these shores, along with acting as the President of the Irish Mixed Martial Arts Association (IMMAA). While many will recognise him as Conor McGregor’s coach, John is also responsible for the tutelage of renowned UFC fighters such as Gunnar Nelson, Artem Lobov, and fighter come Chopped founder, Cathal Pendred. Indeed, it was clear from this evening that John’s story is far more intricate than stumbling across his most notorious pupil.
If the brothers’ career paths didn’t serve as an adequate indication of their difference, their appearance almost certainly did. James arrived at the event in a red velvet jacket, accompanied by a Gucci backpack and ankle length trousers. John instead opted for a simple leather jacket and a pair of jeans. However, once the questioning ensued, it became clear that these brothers had one key similarity. That is, an inexpressible self-belief, and a necessary resilience to forge their own respective paths.
These qualities shone through as the brothers introduced themselves at the beginning of the event. John recalled how he attended DIT Bolton Street before forfeiting a career as a teacher in order to pursue his true passion for martial arts, a passion which notably was non-existent in Ireland at the time. He also modestly remarked that he is often “known for the people I know. I’m either Conor McGregor’s coach or James Kavanagh’s brother. I’m not like James who is known purely for who he is, and I truly believe he is going to be Ireland’s biggest star.” Indeed, this demonstrated the admiration the pair clearly hold for each other. Following John’s introduction, James’ humour shone through, questioning how his “Ma and Da produced this macho man that trains Conor McGregor, and then there’s me who manages an Instagram page for my cat.” He also alluded that Leaving Cert points are not everything when it comes to success, as he himself had only enough to do “basket weaving on the Aran Islands.” This was perhaps a necessary lesson for all those in the audience, although James did later remark that, despite the career he has forged for himself, “I wish I had done it, it would be stunning!”
Once the questioning ensued, it became clear that humour was not a characteristic exclusive to James. John immediately took aim at the talks host, Ally, whom he “assumed was a bloke,” and upon finding out that she was a girl, admittedly thought to himself “I’ve been emailing this guy all week and the motherfucker didn’t show up!” This portion of the evening, while giving rise to laughter, also gave an insight into the business acumen the pair possess. James rose to the challenge of describing his career thus far admirably. He relaid tales of working in PR, and starting Currabinny, as he knew early on that the world of food was “the world that myself and William loved.” He cited the importance of markets in the early stages, stating: “markets are fantastic as you have virtually no overheads. I can remember myself and William being so excited whenever somebody bought our food and came back for more. It was a real rush and it was great to do something I loved.” He also went into detail about his Currabinny cookbook, which has won numerous literary nominations from RTE and other institutions. When quizzed on its origin he proposed that “Penguin must have come to me after they published John’s book and realised that they were onto something!” In terms of the future, James confirmed a Currabinny Cafe was definitely in the works he was reluctant to promise this venture would fill the gap left by Lemon on Dawson Street and that it may even be located in Cork.
John’s career, although the polar opposite to James, was also a result of following his passion. “Abandoning the teaching idea was quite simple, as MMA is what I truly loved.” He recalls a brief stint as a professional fighter, while during the same time using warehouses under the title The Real Fight Club, where he facilitated “men in their underwear rolling around trying to submit each other.” To this, James comically intervened “I’ll have me some of that!” However, while John admitted he loved this part of the journey, he realised that “a €2,000 overdraft can’t go on forever.” As a result, he was forced to accept that, “although my product was great, and people loved it, I couldn’t really rely on the angry twenty-year-olds that a Real Fight Club attracts, so I had to rebrand. We moved to bigger units and made the whole thing more family friendly. That really worked for me, we know have multiple SBG units, and thousands of members.” For the entrepreneurial hopefuls present, this separation of branding and product was a universal lesson.
Both of the brothers have also dipped their feet into different disciplines. While for James, stints in acting and public appearances have been by choice, for John, these ventures are more obligatory missions. With Mixed Martial Arts not yet recognised as a sport, John has taken it upon himself as the President of IMAA to achieve this recognition by the 2028 Olympics. “It’s a bit like Pinocchio. Although recognition wouldn’t make the world of difference, I want to be a real boy.” On this, he was predictably quizzed on what the recent brawl following Conor McGregor’s defeat to Khabib Nurmagomedov would mean for this “personal mission.” He responded by acknowledging that “MMA will always be treated differently, and when I saw it happening I thought oh no, this isn’t good. However, these things happen in lots of sports,” citing GAA, football and basketball as notable examples. “I do accept that more criticism comes with the territory, however, and that’s just something we have to deal with.”
The floor was then opened for questions from the audience, which was dominated by questions about Kavanagh’s star pupil. To this, James observed that each guy in the audience would put up their hand and say “Yeah, I have a question for John,” followed by a philosophical prompt, whereas the girls present would just want to know “if me and William are getting married.” Amongst the notable responses to the McGregor questions, when asked if the Khabib rematch would happen, Kavanagh suggested he may not ever fight again at all. “Conor is at a point in his life where he has not only a phone number bank balance but a phone number with a few area codes thrown in at the end of it. He also has a second kid on the way, and his whiskey, so he has many competing interests. This is a tough game that we do so who knows if he will put himself through a gruelling training camp again.” He also commented that McGregor’s “charisma” was similar to that of his brother and that he was a “one of a kind combination of attributes.” In response to his own questions about his family life, James with the backing of John poked fun at “Rob Kav-dashian,” ie the “least famous Kavanagh.” He also did not comment on whether he and William would be getting married.
As the event reached its conclusion, a few things became abundantly clear. That was, a clear admiration for two people that forged paths that did not necessarily exist, that hard work will always prevail, and that a little bit of charisma coupled with passion will take you a very long way.