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Bellator’s James Gallagher eyeing titles in two weight classes by next year

At only 20 years old, James Gallagher is dreaming big and planning to follow in the footsteps of his training partner Conor McGregor by becoming a two-division champion.

On Saturday evening at Bellator 180, Gallagher had one of the breakout performances of last week, submitting Chinzo Machida with a rear-naked choke in a little more than two minutes. It was Gallagher’s fourth win in the Bellator cage but, more than that, Gallagher believes it was a turning point for him. On the biggest stage of his young career, Madison Square Garden, “The Strabanimal” turned in his most impressive performance and proved to himself that he’s ready to do great things in the sport.

“More people can fit into that arena that I just fought in than there is in my hometown,” Gallagher said. “I feel a great pride and I’m kind of humbled by myself. I showed myself that I can do anything in this game. I’ve faced the highest pressure event that I’m probably ever gonna face. I’m gonna go on and do a lot bigger things in my career. I’m gonna win world titles and I’m gonna do much bigger things than I did on Saturday night but this moment is gonna be one that I’ll remember for the rest of my life. It’s a turning point.”

Immediately after his win, Gallagher called out Bellator featherweight champion Patricio Freire, who responded favorably, but it looks like for now, 145 pound title aspirations will have to take a back seat because the undefeated featherweight says he’s dropping down to 135 pounds to come after Eduardo Dantas’ belt first.

“I think November is next for me and I’m thinking I’m going down and whipping a few 135ers,” Gallagher told Ariel Helwani on The MMA Hour recently. “I’m gonna drop down a weight class I think. I’m gonna speak to my team first before committing to anything but it’s looking like 135 is in the cards and hopefully I can go down and get that belt. Hopefully I’ll have one or two fights and I’ll get the title shot. I’m quite confident. I’m not 100 percent sure but I’m quite confident that it’s gonna be at 135.”

Gallagher has never competed at bantamweight before and even had an amateur fight at lightweight. When asked if Bellator or Scott Coker had any thoughts on his plan, Gallagher admitted he hadn’t run it by them yet but that he couldn’t see why they would have an issue with it since he was the guy who would put the Bellator bantamweight division on the map.

“I can’t see why not. I feel like it’s gonna be good. It’s only gonna bring attention to the 135 pound division because here’s the thing, you don’t ever, ever hear of anything in the 135 division. It’s silent. There’s never any big fights from it. You never hear any names coming up, you never hear any prospects, you never hear anything about it and I feel like I’m gonna be the guy that brings attention to it.”

Whether that is true remains to be seen but the Northern Irishman is certainly starting to bring attention to himself and his planned drop to 135 pounds will likely bring more. As a brash talking, confident young man training out of SBG Ireland, Gallagher is already evoking comparisons to his teammate, two division UFC champion Conor McGregor and his intention to drop to another weight class will only deepen the comparisons. And while Gallagher admits that following in McGregor’s footsteps is certainly on his mind, he also says the weight drop is a matter of practicality: the shortest path to his ultimate goal, 10 pounds of gold around his waist.

“It’s a different kind of challenge. Different people and I feel like, if I’m speaking realistically, I know I want the belt and I called for the belt but I feel like it’s gonna take me another three or four fights to get me a shot at the belt. But I feel like if I drop down to 135, I only need one or two [more fights]. That’s part of the reason. And I’m only 20 years old. Maybe in two or three years time I won’t be able to make 135 but I can now so I’m gonna go and do what Conor did. I’m gonna go down and get the 135 belt and then I’m gonna come back up and get the 145 belt.”

Following in the footsteps of McGregor is already an ambitious undertaking but Gallagher plans to do it even better. McGregor won his first title, the Cage Warriors featherweight belt, at 23 and followed that up six months later by winning the lightweight title. Gallagher plans to do both before he turns 22.

“I reckon this time next year, I’m gonna have the 135 belt and then I reckon once I get that, my next fight straight after that is gonna be for the 145 belt.”

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