Bellator MMA’s 2018 schedule will revolve heavily around its Heavyweight World Grand Prix, but the promotion’s featherweight division may actually be its most intriguing.
Bellator has a wealth of young talent at 145 pounds, including SBG Ireland’s James Gallagher (7-0), Los Angeles’ A.J. McKee (10-0), Aaron Pico (2-1) and former Ohio University wrestler Tywan Claxton (2-0).
None of the four is older than 25, and it’s only a matter of time before this class challenges the current guard — and each other.
But for Gallagher, who headlines Bellator 196 against Adam Borics (8-0) on April 6 in Budapest, Hungary, there is no competition with fellow prospects, at least until an actual fight is signed. His focus is money and world titles.
“It’s stupid the way some of the others have acted about it,” Gallagher told ESPN. “It makes me cringe. McKee has said things like, ‘Sign the contract, James.’ I’m going, ‘What contract? There is no contract.’
“I’m above that. I’m here to fight for world titles and get proper money, a level they’re not on. I don’t know what Bellator’s plans are for us, but I know what my plans are: win a world title and beat everyone in front of me.”
The 21-year-old Gallagher might not view the other prospects as his direct competition, but it’s only natural for the rest of us to wonder which of the four will rise highest.
For the record, Gallagher believes McKee, 22, is the most well-rounded (excluding himself, of course). He’s far less impressed with Pico, 21, who nearly made the 2016 U.S. Olympic wrestling team.
“A.J. is a tough fight for anyone, but I would strangle him,” Gallagher said. “He’s very good everywhere, though. I’m not going to sit here and lie and say he’s s—, because that’s not true. That’s what they do. They lie about things to make themselves feel better about it. I know exactly where I stand, so I can say that A.J. is very well-rounded. But I have an edge everywhere.
“I haven’t been impressed [with Pico] at all. He’s what you call a ‘celebrity trainer.’ He goes to the best boxing gym, jiu-jitsu gym, wrestling gym — and he’s a very good boxer and wrestler, but he just can’t put it together. It’s very clear he can’t do MMA. He’s s— at it. He’s a beginner. He’s a good boxer, but they’re different sports. He’s no good at MMA.”
“It’s very clear he can’t do MMA. He’s s— at it.”
James Gallagher on Aaron Pico
The progression of all four should be interesting, but until their paths cross, Gallagher says he’s focused on himself. Despite missing the second half of 2017, he believes he’s two or three fights from a title shot.
“I want a first-round finish in April. I want a proper comeback here,” Gallagher said. “I want jaws hitting the floor after this fight.
“I want a title shot in two or three fights. I can’t see why not. Especially if I get another two or three first-round finishes. I don’t see how they couldn’t give me a title shot. Give me someone ranked No. 2. I’ll go up and beat them and earn my title shot.”