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Striking distance; in conversation with SBG Ireland coach 'Rowdy' Owen Roddy

One of Ireland’s MMA originals, Roddy is now helping shape the next generation.

Owen Roddy: central figure in Irish MMA.
Owen Roddy: central figure in Irish MMA.
Image: youtube

THOSE WHO REMEMBER the Irish MMA scene when it was still in its nascent stages, and almost unrecognisable to the behemoth it has become, will fondly recall Owen Roddy as the sport’s first cult hero here.

The Dubliner’s scintillating style had most in the know convinced he would be the country’s first representative in the famous UFC Octagon.

During his seven-year professional career, Roddy won 11 of his 15 bouts and was, for a time, the Cage Contenders featherweight champion. In December 2012, he made his Cage Warriors debut, which he would lose via submission to future UFC fighter Wilson Reis, and then took the hard decision to hang up his gloves.

His burgeoning coaching career, coupled with family commitments, meant he was unable to fully give himself to the spartan lifestyle required to compete at the highest level and so, he chose to make a living outside the cage.

Now, he moulds fighters of all ages and levels at his gym, Primal MMA, in the Century Business Park in Dublin. But it’s alongside his own mentor, John Kavanagh, at the SBG gym, where helps hone the striking skills of the likes of Conor McGregor and Cathal Pendred.

Like many before him and since, Roddy’s eureka moment en route to becoming a professional face-puncher was seeing a VHS of UFC 1, and being mesmerised by Royce Gracie’s stunning display of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, which he used to defeat men close to twice his size.

Then in his late teens, Roddy immediately went looking for a gym to train. He found John Kavanagh and the rest, as they say is history. It was Kavanagh who first told him that he had the makings of a quality coach, and though he still yearns for the heat of battle, he loves the new challenge.

“I really enjoyed coaching. John Kavanagh always said to me that as well as being a very good fighter, I was a fantastic coach, so I went that way. Every single show, I miss fighting and it’ll never go. It’s hard, but you can’t fight forever. All the fighters are going to go through it at some stage; for me it was the right time to go.”

Roddy’s reputation as an exciting fighter was well-deserved, especially in light of the fact only one of his bouts went the distance. He says he’s less cavalier when instructing his own students, while still encouraging them to go hell for leather. However, he admits being at his wits’ end when in the corner.

“I was always tactical with my risks, but you get nowhere if you don’t take risks. When I’m looking at my guys I would always be telling them not to be reckless, but you better push for the finish. Nobody wants to see a dragged out draw or decision win.

“The big thing for me is the nerves. I get very nervous for my fighters and my teammates. I think it’s about control; when you’re in there yourself, you have control, but when it’s a teammate, you’re always worried they might make the wrong step or use the right technique.”

Having coached, sparred or fought with some of the best stand-up specialists around the country, he’s come to the conclusion that if someone is to excel at that aspect of the game, they can do so with one fundamental.

Source: Cage Warriors TV/YouTube

“I always put it down to coordination. If you’ve got good coordination, you’ll pick it up fairly quick, if you don’t, it’s going to take time. It’s not everything either; you could be picking up the techniques really easy, but you won’t have the heart to stay in the deep water when it comes to that point. Or, you won’t have the determination to train every day when you’re tired.”

He claims John Kavanagh’s ethos dictates that the relationship between fighter and coach is a collaborative one and, unlike many of his counterparts, he does not give too much focus to the strengths of opponents.

“The guys do it themselves. They don’t really dwell on who they fight. All the guys ever do is prepare themselves; they’re confident, and they have all the answers. Not one fighter from SBG goes in not knowing what to do in any situation-they know all the answers.

“John has instilled that in everyone, that you’re your own fighter. You don’t have to follow the mould, you can go a different direction. But there is wrong in every aspect, so if you’re going to fight with your hands down, you have to be aware of the risks, but once you do, then go ahead.

“For me, as a coach, I try to put across to my guys that you’re first. You try to implement your game and make him react to you, because if you’re reacting to your opponent, you’re a step behind.”

European fighters have traditionally been as good as any in the striking department, but for a long time those skill sets were often subdued from fear of being taken to the mat by wrestling-savy North Americans. Now that the grappling disparity is considerably smaller, Roddy says more and more fights are being decided on the feet.

“We’ve caught up in our wrestling, we’re a bit more confident, we’re willing to take those risks. I have noticed that in the UFC that it’s becoming more about striking and it’s making for exciting fights.”

John Kavanagh 12/8/2014 Mentor: Coach John Kavanagh. Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

Few in the UFC are currently generating the type of excitement that Conor McGregor is, and Roddy was in his corner when he obliterated Diego Brandao at the 02 Arena last month. Their working relationship is about honing the finer details of McGregor’s game, and will continue ahead of the showdown with Dustin Poirier at UFC 178 next month.

“The pad sessions for Conor are just for fun. He likes to try things, he’s very creative himself. That’s why Conor is so talented when it comes to the striking; he’s very, very creative. He’ll tell me he’s working a spinning heel kick, and we’ll add it in, so Conor likes to take control and we try and tailor it to him. He’s always coming back with new little things and pad drills, and we try and work it out together.”

Conor McGregor 12/8/2014 Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

He is most impressed by McGregor’s elusive movement and ferocious power and believes him to be head and shoulders above all contemporaries, even those at the zenith of the stacked featherweight division.

“He never gets hit. I’ve sparred with him many times. There’s always a chance, but for him it’s very small. But for him to hit you it’s a very big chance, and getting hit by Conor is like getting hit by a car. He hits like a heavyweight.

“People go into fights thinking they’re going to land on him, and when they don’t and he does, they realise they’ve made a mistake. He’s a workhorse and I don’t see anyone in that division going near him. Once he lays hands on them, he’s going to hurt them.

“I think he’s exceptional among those couple of guys that are really good. He’s so good on the ground and people don’t realise that because they don’t see it. You can’t take him down or secure him-he’s complete.”

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Tom Rooney

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