This weeks IMMAA featured fighter is Preston McKevitt of Team Ryano under Head Coach and IMMAA vice-president Andy Ryan.
Prestons love for combat sports began at a young age when he hoped to grow up to become a professional boxer, inspired by watching the Rocky films. He recalls “I used to have backyard boxing matches with the local kids my age. I had asked my ma if I could join the local boxing club but she wouldn’t let me so I continued to box out on the streets for a few years. Growing up I played a lot of GAA and at the age of 11 or 12 I started playing rugby. Around the same time my friend asked me to come along with him to an MMA class at Primal MMA (now SBG Charlestown). I did one class and absolutely loved it so I went home to ask my ma if I could join but again she said “No way”, so I got my nanny to sign my waiver and used to save up my lunch money to pay for the classes instead. I did my first jiu jitsu tournament after only two weeks of training and I won second place so I was hooked on the grappling side of things from there on. We had two Hungarian coaches called Victor and Lazlo who I spent a lot of time training under, so I ended up following them when they left Primal MMA to coach classes at Kyuzo.”
After dropping out of school at 15 Preston joined the army which required a lot of time spent travelling, forcing him to temporarily cease his training. After spending some time pursuing his interests in GAA and Rugby he returned to Kyuzo to resume his MMA training and accepted the opportunity to fight on only two days notice. Preston went on to win his MMA debut on The Fight Before Christmas promotion via decision. Shortly afterwards he suffered a torn ACL injury during a charity rugby game which meant ceasing his MMA training for a period of almost three years in order to cater to the injury and recover from surgery. He recalls “After my knee injury I made the decision to quit rugby as the risk of injury was too high and there wasn’t much of a career path for me in the sport. When I finally got back to my MMA training after my injury Barry told me all about the IMMAF’s. The tournament didn’t exist back when I started training in MMA in 2010 and it seemed like an exciting opportunity so after three months of being back training I tried out for the squad sessions and got picked to be a part of the Irish team.”
In June of 2019 Preston travelled to Rome as part of the Irish international squad, unfortunately he was defeated in his preliminary bout via rear naked choke but he still looks favourably upon the experience, stating “The IMMAF’s were an amazing opportunity and something I consider myself very lucky to have been a part of. The level of professionalism was unbelievable and it was great to go over as one whole Irish team rather than separate individual clubs. I ended up sharing a cabin with some of the fighters from SBG Cork, who I had never met before but we all hit it off straight away and I got to know them really well while we were over there. It meant the world to me to be able to represent my country at such a high level.”
When asked what he considers to be the highlight of his MMA journey to date Preston answered “I can’t pick out one particular moment but for me just finding the sport and falling in love with it is a highlight in itself. Coming from a kid who used to dream about being a boxer to becoming an actual fighter who competed at international level is like a dream come true.”
Discussing the biggest obstacle he has faced throughout his journey Preston said “That would definitely have to be my ACL injury. I lost out on so much time training, both before and after surgery and it still affects me to this day. Once you’ve experienced a serious injury like that there’s always that constant worry in the back of your mind about aggravating it and having to take more time off training.”
Speaking of what led him to switch gyms Preston stated “Barry, my head coach at Kyuzo, was retiring from MMA and he knew I wanted to continue in the sport so he recommended that I train under Andy Ryan, who’s a friend of his. I already knew Andy at that stage because he was one of the Irish international coaches at the IMMAFs and had cornered me in my last fight so I reached out to him and he invited me to train at Team Ryano. All the lads were really welcoming from the start and I settled in right away. One of the things I love about it is how seriously everyone takes the sport, there’s no bullsh*t or messing around, everyone who’s there is there for a reason and is working towards something.”
When questioned about who he looks to for motivation in MMA Preston answered “My old teammate and training partner Nate Kelly turned pro a few years back and is doing really well for himself which is great to see but without a doubt it’s the coaches I’ve trained under along the way who’ve made the biggest impact on me. My first MMA coach Owen Roddy was the one who introduced me to the sport in the first place and helped me fall in love with it. My wrestling coaches Victor and Lazlo really helped me improve on the grappling side of things. My coach at Kyuzo Barry Oglesby was a huge help and inspiration to me during my time training under him and now Andy Ryan is helping me to enhance my skills and better myself for the future so I’m very lucky to have had so many people to help me along the way.”
Identifying the benefits that MMA has had on his life Preston stated “I don’t know where I’d be right now without MMA in my life. It gave me a lot of discipline and direction and kept me focused and grounded at times. The benefits are endless really from both a physical and mental aspect. When I was younger and going out a lot, it was the thought of the effect it was having on my training that made me realise that wasn’t the lifestyle I wanted. When I came back to training after recovering from surgery I weighed 80kg whereas now I’m under 68kgs. I don’t drink anymore and I’m much more focused on my health and nutrition. I’m a completely different person now to who I used to be.I’ve gotten involved with some brilliant fundraising events for charity. For three years in a row now I’ve competed in a charity boxing event called Brawl in the Hall in aid of Pieta House and childrens hospitals. My life revolves around MMA now, It’s all I want to do and when I’m not on the mats I’m at the local gym working out, swimming, running or doing anything I can to build up my cardio. Even through the lockdowns I made sure to keep my fitness up with the outdoor training sessions Andy organised for the gym and my own home workouts and running. I think not being able to get into the gym to train for so long made me realise how much I miss it and give me and even better appreciation for the sport.”
In relation to his plans for the future Preston revealed “I’m currently studying to become a qualified youth worker because I love working with kids and young people and helping them on their journeys. I had a few amateur fights scheduled for this year that weren’t able to go ahead over the whole covid situation but I’m hoping to get a good few fights in the new year, build up my record and get back over to the IMMAF’s to represent Ireland again. In the long term my goal is to make it as a professional MMA fighter.”
The Irish Mixed Martial Arts Association would like to thank Preston for his ongoing support and achievements within the sport and wish him the very best of luck and skills as he continues to contribute towards the progression of Irish MMA.