Striking Out

Ciaran Sunderland meets Ian Garry, an ambitious Irish MMA fighter eager to make his mark.

Photo Credit: Joe McCallion/ Trinity News

Ian Garry is an amateur MMA (Mixed Martial Arts) fighter with big plans. He’s young, confident beyond his experience and obsessed with fighting. At 6 foot 3 inches tall and weighing 81kgs, Garry drops 4kgs to fight at Welterweight (where the maximum weight is 77kg). 20 years old and chomping at the bit, he cannot imagine a day without training.

“If I was injured I wouldn’t be able to not do it”, he says and leans back in his chair and raises his fists, “If I had a broken leg I would go down and do striking with my hands. If I had a broken arm I would do jiu-jitsu with my feet or something, trying to not let people pass my guard.” You might think he is joking but he is deadly serious. He eats, sleeps and breathes MMA.

“I remember feeling the buzz of the first class” Gary says and describes how he moved from the larger gyms of Straight Blast Gym Concorde Estate in Walkinstown after a striking class to SBG Swords, a smaller, tighter-knit set up. He is very close to both his trainers, Chris Fields and Tom King. SBG Ireland is run by John Kavanagh, Conor McGregor’s coach, and has several affiliate gyms across Dublin and Ireland.

Garry’s passion for his gym shines through, “I’m just with my mates doing what we love and we are doing good things down here. I guarantee we’ll be the best club this year, we’ll have the most wins, we’ll have the most wins per percentage of fights, we’ll have the most jiu-jitsu belts, and personally I’m going out the way to make sure I win more titles than most gyms myself.” The individualism of a combat sport lends itself to Garry’s assertion, “I’m gonna make sure we have the most success this year”, a curious contrast between a fighter’s individual pursuit of victory pooled within the team effort of an MMA gym.

Garry has just finished savouring his latest victory, a first-round knockout over Andrejs Laksa at Clan Wars 30. The knockout blow was a beauty and almost came from nowhere. Relaxed up until then, Garry had counter-punched most of Laksa’s leg kicks and overhand rights. His presence of ease was noted by a commentator, “Ian Garry is just comfortable, like he’s walking down to the shops for a pint of milk.”

The next fight already beckons. A title challenge against Tadhg Linnane for the Cage Ring Welterweight Championship. He is already very confident. “I’m going to be 5’10 on the day: I’m gonna stoop down to his level. If I can keep eye level with him, he can’t take me down.” Linnane is a wrestler and Garry anticipates multiple takedown attempts from his opponent.  Undaunted however, Garry looks forward to the prospect of testing his ground skills, “Happy days. I can show off my wrestling and my grappling.” A Jiu-Jitsu blue belt himself, he leaves the tactics open ended, “I might try wrestle a wrestler, I’ll see on the day.”

Garry praises Linnane on his last fight even though he lost to Laska, his own previous opponent and compliments Linnane on a superman punch thrown early in the fight. However, if Linnane tries any of that against Garry, “He’s getting uppercut to heaven, he’s getting the jaw flown off him.” He ultimately dismisses Linnane’s chances, “He’s a fat farmer from Galway, he’s gonna be knackered after the first round, if he makes it out of the first round.”

Injuries also play little concern. “If it happens it happens,” he says and waves away the idea, “There’s no point worrying about things like that.” Previous declarations about training through broken limbs are early indicators for his carefree attitude. However, there is one thing, “I’ve a nice little face, I want to keep it that way” he laughs and gestures to his face and then the rest of his body, “I plan on keeping this intact, don’t care about anything else below it.”

At ease, a supreme confidence is remarkable from a fighter only starting out. Whether he is talking about his next opponent or his ambitions for a fighting career, there is a constant certainty that he will be the best at what he does. “My goal was to be better than everyone else… why? Because I can. I know I can, I know if I put my mind to something, I’m gonna do it.” He also couples a desire for recognition from others and from himself with this, “My goal is, I’d like to have someone walk down the street, ‘Oh shit, you’re Ian Garry.’ Just that one or two people that come up to you and go ‘Great fight’ say ‘Well done’ or ‘We believe in you’. Whether it happens or not, my goal in life is too be successful for my own self”. When asked if people perceive him as cocky, Garry responds, “No, I am not cocky,- you’re shy and jealous of my confidence, I’m just supremely confident in myself and everything I do. It doesn’t matter, it’s just the way I am. I kinda have to be that way. What’s the point of me going, oh I’m good, but I’m never gonna be the best.”

It is difficult to have a conversation about MMA in Ireland without Conor McGregor’s name turning up. McGregor is important to Garry, “Conor is my idol, I think everything’s he’s done is brilliant. The way he’s paved his footsteps that made the path so that people follow him. It’s good for Ireland. We’re on the map. Before it was kind of who are these guys, I mean we’ve always had a reputation for being fighters, so to think we weren’t in the UFC before that was crazy anyway.”

Despite this reverence Garry’s confidence means he has a different response than most when the fellow Dubliner’s name comes up, “Would I fight him?” Garry asks himself.He contemplates the prospect for a moment before considering other seasoned UFC pros as well, “I’m trying to a point where in my head I could stand and bang with anyone in the country. Even if you put me with the likes of Donald Cerrone and Jon Jones, I would still do it. I couldn’t care less. I would still fancy my chances.

The lads say to me would I spar Conor? ‘Course I would, why wouldn’t I? That’s the confidence I have to have. What happens if I clipped him once or twice? If he knocks me out, he knocks me out; it’s what the game is about.” You would be forgiven for laughing at the idea of the match up, but Garry takes it seriously. He must.

This is probably the best example of Garry’s mindset. The idea of a raw amateur facing off against famous UFC headliners is not absurd to him. Anything is possible to him. His mother’s attempts to dissuade from his path were unsuccessful, the letter she wrote to him discarded with the consideration of failure.

He left a Retail and Services Management course at Dublin Institute of Technology after 1st year, knowing the window of time available is unique and his motivations are complex. “Money is not the objective, it’s the success, to sit down and go, ‘I was this’, ‘I was that.’” Unable to get his passion out of his head, Garry describes, “I’ll wake up every day, I dream about fighting… I’ll wake up and think about choking you out, through the whole day I’ll think about sparking someone, and then I’ll fall asleep at night thinking about making someone tap. I’m obsessed with it. It’s only just starting with me but it’s creeping in slowly and slowly and slowly.”

Do ideas of glory drive him on? “Not even glory, it’s self-pride. That I’ve done something with my life. I went a different way, I decided I wanted to pursue my dream. If it happens it happens, if it doesn’t at the end of the day I can always go back and get a degree. There’s only this short period of time where I can say ‘you know what I’m gonna give this a go’. I can’t start this when I’m 25 or 26.”

“At least I tried. I can sit there ten years down the line, on the couch or in the pub watching a fight and say at least I tried. I mean no one knows, I could die tomorrow like. Do you know what I mean? No one knows what is in store. There’s curveballs thrown at you every day. I know that if I push and work hard, I know there will be something there, if it’s a job as a coach or a professional fighter, couple of grand a fight.

It might not be much but it’s what I enjoy. I can still work full time and do that. It’s something I’m looking forward to and if it happens, it happens. At least I tried, no ifs or buts. At least I tried.”