Fighters come from all walks of life, drawn to the martial arts and to fight-sport competition by all manner of different factors and influences. While some have trained since their youth and others are relative latecomers, few can say that they were effectively born to it or that MMA is the family business.
The 21-year-old Jack McGann is one such. He entered his teenage years around the same time as his father, Anthony McGann, was becoming established as one of sport’s premier managers, having created The Wolfslair team and guided it to prominence alongside his business partner Lee Gwynn.
McGann Jr. grew up surrounded by top-tier fighters, household names in the Mixed Martial Arts world. Some days The Wolfslair mats would feature the likes of Quinton ‘Rampage’ Jackson, Cheick Kongo, Michael Bisping and Ricco Rodriguez working out alongside other international-level fighters and competitors in the UK’s better domestic leagues.
“In the summer holidays as a kid I used to go to the gym every day and even if I wasn’t training I was watching everyone. All the big names were there. But then when Quinton [‘Rampage’ Jackson] used to be there for his training camps at The Wolfslair he used to stay at our house, so I didn’t really see him as this big name, he was just a mate,” he recalls.
Nonetheless, someone like ‘Rampage’ Jackson is a powerful friend to have when you are a young aspiring fighter and McGann learned more than a few things from him.
“That cover and roll thing he does, he taught me that, although I don’t use it so much any more because I am more of a rangy fighter. But he passed on so much knowledge about other stuff, not just the techniques but the business and the mentality and dealing with fans, all the things he has learned over the years. He’s a really great guy, anyone who meets him will tell you that,” he says.
This Saturday, McGann – sporting a 6-0 record at just 21 years old – will step up into one of those leading British domestic leagues as he makes his debut for BAMMA (British Association of Mixed Martial Arts) at BAMMA 17 in Manchester, England against Kayvan Fallah (5-1).
At time of speaking to Bloody Elbow on Thursday, McGann is still chirpy. Weigh-ins are taking place at 4pm Friday so he isn’t stopping his food and water intake as early as he usually has to. He’s feeling good, although he isn’t especially looking forward to the Friday morning salt bath and says that speaking to him after that will be a different experience.
“You’ve got three fights – the camp, the weight-cut and the fight itself and if they are done right then the fight should be the easiest part. And if you’re a real professional then you’re not really doing “camps” anyway – you should be training all the time, twice or day or once a day at least. When you’ve got a fight coming up all that changes is your diet and your intensity; you work harder and you spar harder,” he says.
McGann is remarkably calm, a trait noticeable in each of his sextet of professional fights to date. “I think because I have done this since being a kid I don’t really get nervous or anything. If you do that you’re just wasting energy. I think you have trained hard enough then you don’t need to sit there, in the days before a fight, wondering what is going to happen,” he says.
“I had my first fights at 13 years old at the Liverpool Olympia, which holds about two thousand people, so that was a pretty big stage to begin with and that got me used to fighting in front of crowds. Trying to put chokes and triangles on with head-guards and shin guards and stuff on wasn’t really the best, but it was all good experience. But when you do something as a kid I think that confidence sticks with you.”
His father Anthony says that McGann Jr’s unusually mature mentality is not something which has come around by accident. Rather, it is a product of being around The Wolfslair from a young age, keenly observing things and listening to input from his seniors. The key lessons were mental, not physical.
“What Jack learned most of all was that the fighters are only human, vulnerable and at times even weak. He learned that there’s no substitute for hard work and drive. He learned the single biggest killer of performance is a fighter’s ego but most of all he learned that he could do it, just like anyone else out there,” says McGann Sr.
“On the technical side, he’s learned diets, weight-cutting, the various styles of boxing and their merits, he’s a gold medalist in BJJ, he learned to wrestle off many different coaches and he’s also done some judo.”
With a clear sense of pride, McGann Sr. also notes that Jack “even went to Thailand alone at age 18 for a camp in Bangkok just to sharpen up his Muay Thai game.”
The camp in question was Kiatmonthip, on the outskirts of the Thai capital. The team is notorious for it’s hard training: one online review makes the observation that “the training here would break the average man… it can be a little too much at times.”
Young McGann enjoyed it though, and feels the benefits to this day. He’s one of the few fighters around who makes good use of the knee to the body as part of his regular non-clinch striking arsenal. He’s also rather surgical with it once the fight does move into a clinch phase, and it is a painful weapon.
“I was in Bangkok for three months and I think all the stuff we did there just stays in your head. These days I don’t really work my knees much in training, I just think I see the opportunities for them because of all that time spent on them when I was out in Thailand,” he shrugs.
A teenage Jack McGann hanging out with Quinton ‘Rampage’ Jackson at The A-Team movie premier in London, England, 2010.
Father and son are clearly very close; there is both a mutual affection and a mutual respect. Ironically though, young McGann has found that his desire to impress his father – common to all young men – means that he can sometimes struggle with focus when he is under his eye.
“I am not allowed in the gym when he spars and he doesn’t like me being at his fights. These days my only involvement in his training and fighting is that I manage him. I feel like if I am around him at crucial times I actually bring an element of pressure that he doesn’t need, so generally I watch the tapes afterwards or sometimes I will sneak into the venue unannounced,” McGann Sr. laughs.
That isn’t the only pressure the young McGann has faced. His father pushed The Wolfslair into being a household name in the MMA world but it took a lot of time and effort. It also required extensive periods away from the family home.
“The Wolfslair’s success came at a price – family life is hard in a world of constant camps and travel,” McGann Sr. acknowledges. He has a lot of respect for how his son overcame the emotional tribulations this involved, making the situation work for him rather than letting it overwhelm him.
“Over the years Jack realized [how much time The Wolfslair’s success required from me] and he just made it work. he has literally grown up in the middle of it all, he’s watched all the guys succeed and fail. In the fight game the results are generated long before the fight and Jack has watched who made mistakes and who got it right. The kid has seen more in our business than most twice his age.
“We have a close bond and as a child he was pushed very hard. It was a father/son thing. I did my job with Jack as a boy, now his coaches are Aaron Wilkinson [Wolfslair fighter from TUF 9], [decorated English boxing coach] Bobby Rimmer, Carl Prince and Karl Tanswell [SBG Manchester coach and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu black belt] continue with Jack as a man.”
McGann Jr concurs.
“My dad is like my best mate, I have a great relationship with him. When I was a kid I used to have this thing where I couldn’t train in front of him, it would make me self-conscious. But it’s great having him around, he has forgotten more about the fight game than most people will ever know,” he says.
“I listen to him a lot; he doesn’t get involved so much on the training side but on any other subject to do with fighting I can talk to him for hours.”
On Saturday night, McGann’s fight with Kayvan Fallah will open the BAMMA 17 main card. McGann has the better record but he believes his opponent possibly has the edge in experience, given that he has been fighting since 2004.
“I’ve had more fights than him but you could say that he is more experienced because even though he’s taken a lot of time off between fights, he has been in the gym all that time in between. He’s a good wrestler, good leg-kicks, he’s a dangerous guy and it is a good test for me,” he says.
“I have trained my arse off for it and I am looking forward to it. He’s always fought at 77kgs (170lbs) as well so I think he will be a big lightweight. If I wanted to fight at 77kg I wouldn’t even have to cut any weight to get there. He’s definitely the toughest fighter I’ve faced so far. That’s how I’ve trained for it.
As for future plans and long-term hopes, McGann is keeping his focus tight. “I would say this is what I have wanted to do when I was young and it has all come together now, I’ve got my dad as my manager and I am in a really good position and I am happy. Right now I am not looking any further than this fight on Saturday. I’m not even thinking about Sunday morning, y’know? I want to do well in BAMMA, that’s my goal for the immediate future.”
(Pre-fight thanks: “I’d like to thank my two sponsors, HPN Supplements and Banned Fightwear, and thanks to all the lads at The Wolfslair, SBG Manchester, Daywalker’s MMA and Bobby Rimmer’s gym. And of course to the coaches who have helped me in this camp.”)
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