The Irish Mixed Martial Arts Association featured fighter and coach of the week is professional MMA fighter and Head Coach of IMMAA gym SBG Drogheda Paul Byrne.
Paul’s infatuation with all things martial arts began at a young age from watching action movies which encouraged him to enroll in boxing, karate and a variety of different martial arts disciplines sporadically throughout his childhood and teen years. While working as an apprentice carpenter his colleague Peter Sheeran introduced him to the sport of Japanese Jiu Jitsu which they would train together after work. After finishing a training session one day Peter introduced him to the exciting new sport of MMA when he produced a VHS tape of UFC 1. Paul recalls becoming instantaneously drawn towards the Muay Thai aspect of the sport in particular. He began to train in Muay Thai at a local gym while continuing his Japanese Jiu Jitsu training at Peter’s house and the pair began to introduce some ground work techniques into their training regime. After competing in multiple Muay Thai fights Paul flew to England to fight for the BKBU heavyweight kickboxing title in 2004 and although he had initially planned to travel to America to train in MMA, he had fallen so in love with Muay Thai that he changed his plans to travel to Thailand instead where he spent three weeks training and fighting in a Muay Thai gym in Bangkok. Having enjoyed his time there so much that he decided to return for another 6 months during which he fought in an additional 5 Muay Thai bouts.
Upon returning to Ireland he won the Irish super heavyweight kickboxing title in 2009 and in 2010 made the transition to MMA by training under Conor Dillon at No Fear MMA before switching to the GI training centre under Wayne Fagan. When the GI training centre closed down Wayne advised him to join SBG, run by Head Coach and IMMAA President John Kavanagh. Paul recalls “I sent John a message asking him if I could join up and he invited me to come along to the gym and jump in with the training. Everyone was really welcoming and friendly so I loved it there straight away”. From July 2010 to November 2015 Paul accumulated an impressive, undefeated 6-0 record in MMA before succumbing to his first defeat against Ronan McKay on Clan Wars 23 followed by two subsequent losses. Speaking of this time in his career Paul stated “Nerves had started to take over and get the better of me at that point and I didn’t perform as well as I felt I was capable of doing.”
Fully committed to his training Paul kept up his classes at SBG as well as a job working in security when he received a life changing opportunity from Head Coach and IMMAA President John Kavanagh one night. He claimed “I was working on the door of a Cage Legacy MMA show when John approached me and asked if I would be interested in opening an SBG affiliate in Drogheda, and I jumped at the chance. Fighting has always been my passion and the opportunity to train the next generation of up and coming fighters was something I simply couldn’t turn down.” Since its establishment in 2018 SBG Drogheda has grown to build a strong community of members and fighters and offers classes in Muay Thai, gi and nogi Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, K1 style kickboxing, wrestling and MMA. When asked about what makes SBG Drogheda a great place to train in, Paul replied “It’s all about the vibe here. There are no egos once you step through the door, just a genuine, solid bunch of sound, hard working individuals pushing themselves to be the best that they can be.” As the Head Coach of SBG Drogheda there is no doubt that Paul has put in phenomenal work and effort into building the gym into the success that it is today but he insists that it would not be possible without the guidance and support of one person in particular claiming “I wouldn’t be in the position that I am today without all of John’s help. He’s a great coach and friend and I’m very grateful for the opportunities he has given me. And of course all my teammates at SBG, I can’t thank them enough for all the time and effort they’ve put in with me over the years.”
When questioned about what he considers to be the highlight of his MMA career to date Paul answered “It would have to be my fight against Conor Cooke on Bamma back in 2015. I won by stoppage in the first round and it was one of the best experiences I’ve had in the cage. I felt great going into that fight, I had prepared well and put in a good camp and I think it was my best performance so far. But as a coach the best thing for me is seeing the progression of my students, not just in their techniques but in the improvements they’ve made to their lives too. I’ve had some members who have had severe weight problems when they first joined and have now lost a lot of weight and are living healthy and active lifestyles.” Speaking of the obstacles he has faced throughout the years Paul stated “I suffered a bad knee injury during one of my fights and there was always a constant worry afterwards about not wanting to injure it again.” Discussing the benefits of training in MMA he claimed “I found it really gives people direction in their lives, it helps them to focus on their goals and stay on the right track and out of trouble.” And when asked what advice he would give to a young person who is hoping to pursue a career in MMA he replied “Just enjoy it and have fun. There’s no point in putting yourself under too much pressure to the point where training is a chore, just keep showing up and it’ll all come together in time.”
As a skilled and technical striker Paul’s inspiration within combat sports came from watching one of boxing’s greatest legends, he claimed “Mike Tyson was one of the greatest boxers to ever step in the ring and I really admired the dedication he had to his training.” Although he has not fought MMA in over two years Paul is adamant that his competitive career is not over yet claiming “I definitely want at least one more MMA fight.” And discussing his plans for the future he stated “I’ll be focusing on growing the gym, not just the number of members but developing my students’ skills further. We’ve got some members with really great potential to go far in this sport so I’m looking forward to watching their progression and we plan to invest in a cage too. One thing I’d love to do is get some fighters over to the IMMAF Championships, I think it’ll be a great experience for them .”
As a valued member and supporter of the Irish Mixed Martial Arts Association Paul spoke of the importance and benefits that come from affiliating to the national association claiming “IMMAA has a great community of gyms and coaches who are all working towards bettering the sport for our athletes. It gives a clear pathway for fighters to progress and make it all the way to the amateur world championships.” The Irish Mixed Martial Arts Association would like to sincerely thank Paul and his members at SBG Drogheda for their ongoing support and we wish them the very best of luck and skill as they continue to grow and contribute to the Irish MMA community as a whole.