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Seven fighting prospects who could make 2016 another good year for Irish MMA

Keep an eye on these potential stars of the future.

WE PROBABLY WON’T be seeing them in the UFC in 2016, but expect these professional fighters to take significant steps towards the top over the next 12 months…

Ayo Daly

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An all-rounder who put together a solid ledger of wins as an amateur, Daly made a successful professional debut back in March. The 28-year-old welterweight courageously stepped in on short notice to fight home favourite Martin Van Staden in South Africa just three weeks later, and despite losing the bout against a fighter who had already competed 21 times as a professional, Daly will have benefited from the experience. Training at Team Ryano in Finglas alongside Paul Redmond and UFC flyweight Neil Seery, the Dubliner will hope that a busy and injury-free 2016 can help him to develop a reputation as a fighter with the ability to make an impact in the professional ranks.

James Gallagher

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As you’d expect from someone described as the main protégé of Straight Blast Gym head coach John Kavanagh, Gallagher’s jiu-jitsu is extremely smooth for such a young fighter. However, as one of the new breed of complete mixed martial artists, the 19-year-old Strabane native — who’s now based in Dublin — has got the lot. Gallagher has already won his first two professional bouts. Earlier this year he became a member of the KHK MMA team, which is lucratively funded by Sheikh Khalid bin Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, the fifth son of the King of Bahrain. Gallagher spent most of the summer in Las Vegas as one of Conor McGregor’s main sparring partners ahead of his UFC 189 fight against Chad Mendes, while the young SBG featherweight also prepared for the IMMAF Amateur World Championships. Gallagher looked excellent as he defeated the USA’s Sam Agushi in the opening round, before being forced to withdraw from the tournament due to injury.

Sinéad Kavanagh

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Having been a five-time national boxing champion, as well as competing alongside Katie Taylor on the Irish team that went to the World Championships in 2012, Kavanagh is now focusing on MMA. She won a silver medal at this year’s IMMAF Amateur World Championships, before taking just 17 seconds to win her professional debut in September. The Dublin bantamweight brings an elite level of striking into the cage, but now training at Straight Blast Gym, Kavanagh is certainly in the right place to sharpen the rest of her tools.

Frans Mlambo

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Another high-level striker from Straight Blast Gym, the South African-born fighter won gold at the IMMAF Amateur World Championships in July. Mlambo is one of Conor McGregor’s most trusted sparring partners and, having made a successful professional debut in September, the 24-year-old’s journey to the top is now well underway. He’s far from the finished article but the Dublin-based bantamweight has the potential to carve out a very successful career. Always entertaining, if Mlambo is shadow-boxing while waiting for the bus, you won’t want to miss it.

Kieran O’Brien

CW63 Dublin Source: Dolly Clew

It’s two years since O’Brien had his first professional fight but the Corkman’s progress in the meantime has been hampered by injuries. After kicking off with a 28-second KO of Fabio Lage, O’Brien submitted Mick Brennan at Cage Warriors 63 on New Year’s Eve in 2013. He’s been inactive in MMA competition ever since, but if O’Brien can have a busy 2016, it will give him an opportunity to remind fans that he’s one of the most talented fighters the country has to offer. O’Brien possesses spectacular stand-up skills, solid grappling and — at 6’3″ — a significant height advantage over most fighters in the 145lbs division.

Darren O’Gorman

Frans Mlambo consoles Darren O'Gorman after the fight Source: Gary Carr/INPHO

Although his progress was temporarily halted by Frans Mlambo in September, O’Gorman remains one of the most exciting prospects in the country. The Cork native embarked on a 3-0 run in his professional career before coming unstuck against Mlambo. However, expect the exciting bantamweight to bounce back next year. O’Gorman boasts a wide-ranging arsenal but his ground-game is particularly impressive, as evidenced by his audacious triangle-choke submission of Gavin Kelly last June.

Dylan Tuke

Dylan Tuke makes his entrance Source: Gary Carr/INPHO

Another one from the new generation of all-round martial artists, Tuke stormed through the amateur scene before submitting Adam Caffrey in his professional debut in September. Under the guidance of coaches like John Kavanagh, Owen Roddy and Paddy Holohan at Straight Blast Gym, the potential is limitless for this young bantamweight from Dublin.

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About the author:

Paul Dollery

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