Watch a minute of Jack Gallagher in a WWE ring and it will come as zero surprise that he almost chose a career in pro MMA instead of pro wrestling.
Gallagher—billed as “Gentleman Jack Gallagher”—has been a mainstay on the WWE’s 205 Live program since its start in late 2016 and he quickly endeared himself to fans with his unique look and style, which seemed more suited for an ADCC competition than the WWE.
The 30-year-old has been wrestling professionally for almost half of his life, and while that was his first love, his MMA fandom came naturally especially considering the company he’s kept while studying jiu-jitsu. Appearing on The A-Side live chat, Gallagher claimed a lineage that traces back to catch wrestling pioneers Billy Riley and Billy Robinson, and also mentioned that he’s worked with all-time MMA great Megumi Fujii.
“I didn’t start with jiu-jitsu, although most people kind of know me in the gym as the jiu-jitsu guy,” Gallagher said. “I started with catch wrestling in Wigan, sunny Wigan, very lovely place, and I trained with a guy called Roy Wood out of the Snake Pit. He was the last person to be trained by Billy Riley, Billy Riley trained Billy Robinson, Billy Robinson trained [Kazushi] Sakuraba, all this generation of PRIDE, Japanese fighters that a lot of people like, it’s those guys.
“Actually, I lived in Tokyo for about nine, 10 months, I actually got to train with Megumi Fujii as well in the AACC. That was pretty fun. A little bit of travel. I’m training with Seth Petruzelli now out in The Jungle and Felicia Spencer as well who will be challenging for the (UFC featherweight) title at some indeterminate point in the future, I’m sure.”
Thanks to his training, Gallagher can boast that the cauliflower ears and various scrapes he’s developed have helped him to add, as he puts it, “an air of legitimacy to an otherwise farcical human being.”
Prior to joining the WWE, Gallagher put his skills to use in a pair of amateur fights, winning both by submission. He was considering a career in MMA in 2016 when the WWE came calling to add him to their Cruiserweight Classic tournament and shortly after that he signed a full-time contract with the company.
Gallagher admitted that the occasionally abrasive atmosphere around MMA also contributed to his decision to stick with pro wrestling—though he noted that wrestling fans aren’t exactly easy to deal with either—despite his urge to follow in the foot steps of PRIDE greats like Sakuraba.
“It’s really weird, I got into professional wrestling first and I was a little bit apprehensive of MMA because I thought that the fan base, would you believe, might be a bit toxic. … I was a little bit resigned to it at first because I was like, whatever, it’s just the blood and guts thing,” Gallagher said. “But it actually was kind of the Kazushi Sakuraba—You know you’ve got to find your way in. You’ve got to find the thing that you connect to. So for me, it was here’s a guy who associates himself as a pro wrestler who was doing pro wrestling moves like the sliding drop kick and the Tiger Mask spinning back kick and all this crazy stuff, and then he was trained by a pro wrestler as well. So he had this whole lineage. I was like, this is my guy.
“So Kazushi Sakuraba was my way into MMA and the more I kind of became obsessed with him and the history of him and then the Gracies in Brazil and Japan, then you see the PRIDE fighters then go to the UFC, it just kind of became this natural progression until I realized I was like, I’m just as big an MMA fan as a pro wrestling fan now probably, it’s just kind of meshed in now.”
In regards to how flexible his options are as a member of the WWE, Gallagher speculated that he could take an MMA fight if it were proposed, though he would have to run it by his current bosses.
Former UFC champions Brock Lesnar and Ronda Rousey have had success crossing over to the WWE, though so far they have proven to be the exception more than the rule when it comes to dealings between the two sports entertainment giants.
“In theory, I could,” Gallagher said. “Theoretically, if a major promotion was to reach out to me. Say like last year, if someone reached to me last year and said, ‘Would you be interested in doing an MMA fight? We understand that you have a background,’ and I got back and said, ‘Yes, I’d be interested.’ All I would have to do is maybe take it to WWE and we’d discuss how it would work.
“So maybe in the future, but it’s not worked out so far.”
A move to MMA may lead to some frustrating moments of mistaken identity for Gallagher, who said fans are already in the habit of mistaking him for Irish fighters Conor McGregor and James Gallagher, despite the fact that he’s from England.
Gallagher joked that he could fight James Gallagher to “take my surname back,” but there’s not much he can do to address the mystifying McGregor comparisons.
“I get confused with Conor McGregor and I’m not even bloody Irish,” Gallagher said. “That is the level of intelligence I’m dealing with with the casual fan now and again. Vaguely ginger, pale, accent I don’t understand, not even Irish, and then just ‘Conor McGregor,’ that’ll do. Then they hit ‘Gallagher’ and then they’re like, ‘Oh, I know. James Gallagher.’ No, not even James Gallagher.
“Bloody casuals, it is terrible. It is absolutely awful. It’s just people who don’t pay attention, but they expose themselves, so it’s kind of funny in the long run.”