John Kavanagh, SBGi founder and head coach for Conor McGregor, spoke recently with RTE 2fm's Game On and said he's proud of how "The Notorious" has dealt with recent controversies and argued that the bad publicity has not harmed public perception of mixed martial arts.
"I'm incredibly proud of Conor. I realize it was him individually who has made the sport so well known," said Kavanagh, as transcribed by RTE. "I get stopped by 60-year-old ladies asking me how his wrestling training is coming along. I know it was him who made it a huge sport in Ireland so I'm very, very proud of that."
"Negative headlines get more clicks than positive headlines. That's just the media game. He's spoken himself about his slips and his mistakes. He's had to pay for those outside of the sport. I feel we're on a good comeback story - he had a great win in January - but yeah, like most things in life you take the good with the bad, you roll with it and try to improve, learn from mistakes and get better as a human being and an athlete as you go on.
"It's a very weird rise from being an unknown guy in Dublin, doing a sport no one has heard of, to being a global superstar. Everything you say and do is analyzed. He had to make his mistakes very publicly and visibly. I'm proud of how he's come through those things. He's owned up to his mistakes. He's trying to make himself a better person and I'm behind that.
"I'd like to think [his mistakes haven't damaged the sport]. I think people who are interested in the sport realize it's not one person."
The question about the reputation of MMA is keenly felt by Kavanagh, as he has spent two years working to get MMA recognized officially as a sport by the government.
"We had to put together a huge amount of documentation between child safety, good governance, membership quotas and all of that, so we're at the stage now of just beginning the application process," said the coach. "We're hopeful we'll have it done maybe in the next twelve months. Just recently France recognized MMA. They've gone underneath the boxing association. We're in the process of applying to go underneath a national governing body for all martial arts in Ireland. It's called IMAC [Irish Martial Arts Commission].
"I'm a huge Katie Taylor fan. I feel like every time she's had a great achievement I'd hear her coaches being brought on to shows and the only conversation would be, 'what a great achievement, what an inspiration' and so on. Every time one of my guys had a great night or achievement... I was only ever brought on to discuss, 'well is this a real sport? Are you promoting violence?' I'd be like, 'I just watched Katie Taylor pound some girl's head into the canvas and they're getting high fives everywhere!'. I just wanted to have it so that kids that are interested in MMA have a recognized route through the sport.
"When Conor started to make waves we probably had about 15 MMA clubs in the country. As of now, we're coming up to a hundred clubs. In general, you're talking about 50 to 150 members in a hundred clubs, so there is a lot of interest.
"One of the biggest things that MMA has done is, for under 18s, they've removed head contact altogether. We just train them to throw strikes to the body and the legs. We don't allow any head contact in competition. There is obviously the grappling element which is more akin to wrestling or judo. It's a tough sport, but it's as safe as any other sport out there."