On Saturday, former Cage Warriors middleweight champion Chris Fields and Irish jiu-jitsu black belt Tom King announced that their gym had “ceased all association with, and affiliation to SBG Ireland and SBG international” via a social media post.
King was the first person to be awarded a black belt by John Kavanagh in July 2013 and Fields was synonymous with the gym’s early emergence as an international force when he claimed the Cage Warriors middleweight title in 2012. He later appeared on the UFC’s reality television platform, The Ultimate Fighter.
Formerly known as SBG Swords, the north county Dublin gym will now be known as Team KF. Since the gym’s formation three years ago, they have most notably produced a Cage Warriors champion in middleweight James Webb, becoming the first Irish gym since SBG and Team Ryano to do so.
Appearing on the latest episode of Eurobash, King underlined how he felt it was time that he and Fields forged their own identity.
“This is something we’ve carefully considered,” King told Eurobash. “Since we’ve opened the club we’ve been fairly independent minded and that’s slowly developed over time. We’ve got to the point where we don’t interact with the larger SBG association, so we feel it’s time to forge our own identity away from that.
“It’s a reflection of where we are. We are a fully independent team and we have been for quite some time. Symbolically it’s a big change, but for the day to day in the gym, there isn’t going to be much of an effect because, as it stands, we’re ferociously independent as it is.”
Fields likened his split from the SBG banner to a breakup.
“I suppose it’s a little bit like a breakup,” he said. “Like with a breakup, you kind of have to move on to things you would consider to be better things for yourself. I feel like me and Tom’s mentality, and the mentality we have for the team, is a little bit different. That’s the direction that we’re going in to set our own stall out with what we’re trying to do, which you’ve probably seen through our fighters’ performances so far.”
The announcement was in close proximity to a social media back and forth between SBG fighter Conor McGregor and Khabib Nurmagomedov that sparked a debate as to whether the lightweight duo’s rivalry had gone too far. King was quick to underline that the decision to leave the SBG affiliation had nothing to do with the infamous social media interaction.
“It’s not a deciding factor at all, by any means. Like I said the decision is something that’s been made over months, probably years. It’s not something that’s just cropped up in the last few weeks. Myself and Chris, we have a certain attitude, a certain culture, we want to maintain that it’s probably different than the culture in a lot of other gyms,” King explained.
“We’re very positive here. We don’t like our fighters talking smack online, but as far as that being a motivating factor, it’s not. We’re really out to forge our own path and that’s the reason behind this.”
SBG head coach John Kavanagh and the gym’s main social platform on Twitter often share out the achievements of SBG fighters’ successes, but there was no note of Webb’s Cage Warriors middleweight title capture, despite him claiming the accolade under the SBG banner.
While some may have saw that as a nod to a rift between SBG Concorde and the gym formerly known as SBG Swords, King claims that he is unaware of why the accolade was not praised by Kavanagh and the main SBG social media accounts.
“That’s probably something you’d need to ask them, I suppose. We did notice that ourselves. In terms of individual clubs in the country, there are only three in history that have produced a Cage Warriors champion. It’s a legitimate step towards the UFC and obviously Chris is a former titleholder [as well as] Conor [McGregor] and Cathal [Pendred]. It’s a pivotal title as far as Irish MMA is concerned, so I found it strange that it wasn’t shared. It is what it is, it’s not coming from us, you’d probably have to address that to the people that are on the other side.”
As for other affiliates that are headed by some of Fields’ and King’s close training partners like Owen Roddy, Paddy Holohan, Philip Mulpeter, Peter Queally and Kieran Davern among others, the Team KF head coaches were adamant that their doors will always be open to them.
“Obviously, the guys we came up with, the guys we served time in the trenches with, we’ll always consider them our teammates, they’re always welcome to train down here and a lot of them have done and will do in the future. Myself, I’m travelling to Munich next week with Joey Breslin [SBG black belt] to compete. These are guys we’ve trained with for years. There’s no fall out where that’s concerned,” said King.
“Really, this about us and our identity. We always have an open door policy and that’s probably different to a lot of gyms. People are always welcome to come down here and train. We think cross training is a very important factor in jiu-jitsu and in MMA.”
“Those relationships aren’t about us all being in SBG together, we’re all friends,” Fields added. “We’re all friends and that’s more important than clubs. They’ll always be welcome in our club, all of those guys. Anyone that’s looking to come over and train can just give us a heads up.”
Check out the latest episode of Eurobash. The Team KF interview begins at 57:00.