Following the recent generous donations Irish frontline medical staff received from MMA star Conor McGregor, in this week’s featured article we are looking at some of the ways in which Irish MMA gyms are giving back to their local communities. 

In May of 2018 owner of SBGI and President of IMMAA Coach John Kavanagh announced that he would be providing free self defense classes for women at his gym in Dublin in response to a particularly terrifying period of time in Ireland due to the vicious murders of two women within one week. These classes take place each Saturday morning at 11am and are taught by Jaqueline Almeida, a female purple belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu who initially believed the classes would be focused on the technical aspect of self defence but has seen them develop into much more, stating “We are not just there to teach and learn, we are like a family, we share, listen and act as a support system for one-another in the class. Many of the women who come to these classes have previously been the victims of childhood abuse, bullying or domestic violence, by learning to defend themselves in a safe and friendly environment it helps them heal from their past experiences and to feel empowered. We have even seen one of our members find the strength and confidence she needed in order to leave her abusive partner.”

The current season of Wimp 2 Warrior contestants at SBGI have also embarked on a fundraising challenge for St Michaels House which raised €6,346. St Michaels House provides support services to people with intellectual disabilities and their families in the Dublin area. The challenge involves a different member of the programme running 4km every four hours for one week. Head Coach John Kavanagh kicked off the challenge with a 4k run at 4am and SBGI professional mixed martial artists Pedro Carvalho, Peter Queally, Will Fleury, Richie Smullen and Blaine O’Driscoll have also participated and contributed.

In late 2018 Head coach Owen Roddy of SBG Charlestown ran a free scholarship training programme for youths in underprivileged areas. Choosing 30 teens from the Ballymun youth club he provided them with weekly MMA training classes for the duration of 10 weeks, at the end of which 2 students were selected to receive a free one year scholarship to SBG Charlestown. Owen stated “We really enjoyed running this course and plan to do it again in the future. Some of the students from the programme are still training with us to this day. MMA is not an easy sport to learn, they are forced to face problems and challenges but through their training they learn that they can overcome these challenges by persevering and putting in that extra bit of effort. The learning process teaches them to find solutions to problems instead of giving up.”

SBG Cork City, run by Head Coach and IMMAA treasurer Liam-Og Griffin and his sister Marlene Griffin are participating in one of Ireland’s first integrative self defence clubs for disadvantaged youths in cooperation with Tusla child protection agency by providing martial arts classes to children who have been exposed to traumatic childhood experiences, substance abuse or are living in emergency temporary shelters. The children are provided with free transport to and from the classes, healthy snacks and drinks and get the opportunity to be a part of a positive and interactive programme which not only teaches them effective self defence techniques but also serves as an outlet to express their thoughts, and emotions. These classes are voluntarily taught by social worker and former Wimp 2 Warrior contestant Frankie Condon who claims “We have seen some remarkable improvements from the children involved in this programme including improvements in behavior, discipline, sleep and ability to focus. These classes provide the opportunity for the children to become involved in a fun and practical activity with people of a similar age and benefits their ability to build trust and relationships. The coaches and athletes at the gym serve as positive role models for the children to look up to and the friendly, relaxed atmosphere provides an ideal opportunity to open up about their feelings.”

SBG Cork also provides free self defense classes for women each Tuesday evening at 19:30 taught by Coach Aeilish O Hanlon who has proudly represented Team Ireland at the IMMAF MMA championships on three separate occasions and secured a Bronze medal for Ireland at the 2018 European MMA championships. Aeilish believes the Ladies only classes provide a platform for women who may have struggled in the past to blossom both mentally and physically and provides a safe, fun filled environment where mixed martial arts are performed in a way that regardless of what level, age, size or background, you grow mentally and develop at your own pace. She claims “I find it extremely heartwarming when a member who can’t make eye contact, is shy or has low self esteem with time, is the life and soul of the class having found their voice. That’s what happens when women support each other but more importantly when you’re supported by the right people and find your tribe. What’s learned in class translates to the outside world whether it be at work or home. It gives females a set of tools, to not only defend themselves, but to speak up, be counted for and allow them to proudly be exactly who they are.”

SBG Portarlington, owned and operated by professional mixed martial artist Philip ‘The Honeybadger’ Mulpeter and his wife Alvina have organised a Go Fund Me fundraising account to help towards covering the cost of lifesaving treatment for 13 month old Dan Donoher who was diagnosed with a rare genetic neuromuscular disease called Spinal Muscular Atrophy (SMA) Type 1 and Scoliosis. The life expectancy of an SMA type 1 child is 18-24 months.  A groundbreaking treatment is currently only available in the USA and costs 2.1 million dollars for a once off infusion. The fundraiser was an outstanding success which far exceeded their initial goal of €2,000 by raising €12,757 contributing to the ‘Do It For Dan’ campaign to reach its target on April 27th 2020. Philip and Alvina have also generously offered the opportunity to win a one year free membership to SBG Portarlington for each contributor who donated to the fund. Alvina stated “Dan is a gorgeous little boy that is the same age as our daughter Poppy, so I suppose that pulled on our heart strings straight away. We’re good friends with the Donoher family and would know them from the community. Both Aisling and Niall (Dan’s parent’s) are very well known and respected in the GAA community as both of them play for Laois. I suppose we just wanted to try and do our bit to help so we have a great following through our gym social media and Philip’s athlete social media also. We aimed to reach €2000 and we couldn’t believe it when Conor McGregor had donated €10,000 only a few hours after we created the go fund me. He’s a very generous guy and we’re delighted for the Do it for Dan campaign.”

In January 2020 SBG Killarney run by head coaches PJ Lucey and Mark O’ Brien organised a fundraising Brazilian Jiu Jitsu open mat rolling session in aid of their member Nikki Reidy’s brother Dylan who is currently battling cancer. PJ stated “We heard about his illness and felt we could contribute. This is one of the most important concepts in our club. An investment in people. Dylan doesn’t train with us but that shouldn’t matter. We hosted an open mat, set up an event page and invited people to come along and donate. We raised €680 in the 2 hour open mat to help Dylan with his cancer treatment.”

These are only some examples of a vast array of charitable contributions led by the Irish MMA community across a wide range of clubs. The Irish Mixed Martial Arts Association are incredibly proud of the generous contributions which Irish MMA gyms have made towards their local communities and look forward to some very exciting initiatives set to take place in the future.

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