I guess you could say that Andy Ryan has been on my radar right from the beginning of this writing enterprise of mine. My first ever Interview in MMA was with an Irish featherweight fighter called Andy ‘The Carlow Kid’ Murphy . Andy Ryan’s name and Gym, Team Ryano, popped up in glowing terms.
At the weekend I finally had a chance to catch up with the man behind Team Ryano. He was busy in Wales working the Cage Warriors academy finale that was on the under card of Cage Warriors 100.
Meanwhile, back at the ranch, I was trying to negotiate a Lunch-time breakfast roll, Americano and an iffy phone connection. Thankfully the skies cleared, the connection behaved and a great conversation unraveled itself.
The first thing to note (that i didn’t know) was that Andy runs the Cage Warriors Ireland set up and is responsible for gathering the best young amateur talent on the island and offering them an opportunity to get their feet wet beneath the Cage Warriors umbrella.
Cage Warriors have these academies all over the UK and Ireland and the idea is that young, talented men and women get the chance to compete against each other and if successful move onto the Cage Warriors end of year finale show.
So for example at Cage Warriors 100 the under card had 8 Academy finals. The contestants were competing on a really massive stage. All in all – a really smart talent development move from Cage Warriors.
The Genesis of MMA in Ireland can probably be traced back to less than a dozen pioneers. Andy Ryan of Team Ryano would be one of them. Team Ryano today has the two gyms Andy operates himself (Donaghmede and Finglas) and a sprinkling of affiliates that are dotted around the island. For my money outside of John Kavanagh’s SBG – Andy comes next in terms of size and reach. His voice is an important one and indeed one I should have spoken to earlier.
” I started in Judo as a kid in the 70’s. I competed all over the world with that. I won a good few Irish titles along the way. In 2000 I actually retired from Judo. I called it a day.
I had been messing with MMA, I had done Kurash and I had done Wrestling in the late 90’s. Then MMA started popping up more.. It was great.. most of the shows were up the North and you just turned up, there were mats on the ground and your man would say just line-up everyone.
He would go around and break people into groups and say “You three are fighting each other” – It was a bit of craic and we were learning”
Andy at this stage was a retired athlete jumping into it. He was never too serious about becoming an MMA competitor. It is here though that he developed the love for Jiu-Jitsu as it is very similiar in aspects to Judo.
He continues relating the story of how that small smattering of MMA enthusiasts used to operate back at the dawn of the sport.
” In the early days, There were different guys in different areas, I remember that there were only 5 jiu-jitsu groups in the entire country. I actually found a video from 18 years ago, it was from a grappling tournament in the basketball arena.
There was myself, Phil McCann (wrestling coach), John Kavanagh, John Donnelly and a load of faces actually competing in this tournament run by an American and the rules were made up on the day. It was great and a great bit of craic”
” On the same video there is Hoger (Roger) Gracie, basically one of the best ever Jiu-jitsu competitors in the world giving a seminar and training with us in Dublin as a young fella, a young blue belt he was. That must be Gold!. I must put it on a DVD and get it out there on-line”
It is clear Andy Ryan is a lover of the whole spectrum of martial arts and not just one particular discipline. He speaks fondly of these early days , of a time when they were just a bunch of guys trying different things out, learning and figuring it out as they went. Coaching is clearly his passion.
He moves seemlessly into chatting about his fighters. Whether this is about James Sheehan who he has difficulty getting a fight for, even though Bellator want him but a certain superstar in that organisation doesn’t want to fight him or the lorry load of kids and young amateurs under his wing.
Amateur MMA in Ireland
As we talk about the different amateurs and their records it leads us to the part of the conversation I think we both know is coming. Amateur MMA in Ireland. Particularly Amateur MMA in the South.
I approach the meat of our conversation like a man treading on thawing ice with two hot water bottles strapped to the soles of his shoes. I don’t want to blow either of us up but I do want to see where we can go with it.
Me: The Amateur scene. Is it hard to get fights for amateurs
Andy: It is. It Is. But it’s been like that awhile. For me I threw in 3 guys into Liverpool recently with a weeks notice for a fight. They can fight every week, It’s amateur, big fucking deal they are gonna learn from it. The problem is amateurs nowadays they are having a full training camp. Putting up posters and banners of themselves. And they probably have fought 4 times in three years. what other sport does that!
So there is a bit of that but also the hassle with scans and all that is putting people off. Rules changes and the expense are other things.
Me: If promotions are going to be the vehicle to get amateurs fights and brain scans are here to stay for arguments sake. You need to be selling a product that can afford to pay for them
Andy: The problem is, so say in Ireland right. Professional boxers in Ireland have to sell a certain amount of tickets to cover their purse. MMA guys have struggled selling them. I ran 19 Battle Zone shows, I ran Cage Warrior shows and the hassle sometimes running events is a nightmare. I have had fellas pulling out after they have weighed in. You do need one or two big local names to push an event.
Me: I understand the promotions side and there are reasons and costs. I suppose for me the jump from selling 600-700 for say Cage Legacy, the majority attending are connected with clubs and family. It’s the MMA community. The jump from those numbers to 1,500 to 2,000 isn’t massive. Last night in Castlebar (Ray Moylette fight) was like an event (non boxing people gave it a go).
Andy: People were going for a Night out (the Moylette Fight) and I do agree with you there. I always say that when people are going for a night out it’s that night out. We are getting dressed up and we are going to this event. Some people might do a night at the hotel as well.
Me: I only started looking at this through the interviews we have been doing and people complaining about X,Y and Z. I am on the fence. I don’t necessarily have a problem with scans other than it is very unfair given the demographics the young fighters are coming from in MMA – that they have to pay the cost element. That is the biggest cost in terms of money and time and the extra cost of it on top of all the others.
Andy: As far as I know it is a once off 150 euro scan. Now listen I don’t push it. All my lads have it (Team Ryano). We have actually had one guy who has had brain surgery from it and another guy who can’t fight. So I do understand the in’s and out’s of it. It would be great if there was some method of making it cheap. As amateurs I think it should be an advisory thing and not necessarily pushed.
I’ll tell you what I am against though. I am against the stopping of the likes of that show in Navan. That was a joke, that should have gone ahead. Them Guys were doing everything by the book. They had all the doctors and medicals same as the North. Good people running the show. So what’s the Problem you know.
IMMAA should concentrate on their own stuff and that’s great but don’t bully everyone else because there needs to be other outlets for other people.
Me: I agree with you and as far as I know Battle Arena and these others are following ISKA rules or an International bodies rules set.
ANDY: Listen there could have been a boxing show or a kickboxing show going on that night with not 1/8 of the medical stuff them lads had in place. At the end of the day MMA is being picked on. For me there needs to be a line drawn between Professional MMA and Amateur MMA.
Next year the IMMAF Europeans are coming to Belfast. Wait until you see how that is set up. It is not like an MMA event at all. It’s like a martial arts event. Athletes competing all day long. There is no hassle. No Pressure on fight records.
Me: I agree with you on the amateur vs Pro thing. Like the downside of Conor McGregor is that anyone in Ireland that hear’s the words MMA thinks it’s all prize fighting.
Andy: Yes. I would say the same, look at amateur boxing and professional boxing. Look at what goes on in professional boxing (negatively). they are two different sports and that’s the way it should be.
Me: But basically the IMMAA clubs have their rule-set and medicals they follow and promotions that they go to or whatever?
Andy: Here is what I am saying there are only a certain amount of kids that are gonna make it through the qualification and go to those events (IMAAF European and Worlds) but they should be other events they are allowed to go to. You see it all the time in the other sports. Kids doing an ISKA kickboxing event one week then they are doing an Irish or some other association event the next week. It should be opened up a little bit. Spread the sport a little bit and stop trying to confine it. You know what I mean.
Now I do understand that IMMAA is under pressure from the sports council and from the Minister. I do know that.
Me: I do recognize that things would be a lot easier probably if the sport was Sports Council recognised and funded at amateur level?
ANDY: Listen they don’t want to recognise it. They don’t want another governing body. What they want is Irish MMA to go under IMMAA and the Irish Martial Arts commission and shut your mouth and do what your told and we don’t want to hear anything about ye.
What they don’t realise is that what Irish mixed martial arts are trying to do is get the sport a legitmate , recognised , standalone Olympic sort of community like boxing , judo and wrestling
Me: That is the key getting Olympic recognition or World championship recognition isn’t it?
Andy: Yeah i think so. If you look at the guys on IMMAF they were in involved running the Olympics. They know how that world works and it’s great to have them involved. When people look at IMMAF and Safe MMA and think they are all big stuff – they are different. Safe MMA is an advisory board they have no power. People are using them to stop shows.
Me: Say I was setting up an MMA promotion in the morning and I wanted to use the ISKA rule-set (no brain scans) But I still wanted to do all of the other medical stuff do I need to use SAFE MMA
Andy: You know that SAFE MMA don’t push Brain Scans that is only an Irish thing. So say if I do a Safe MMA backed event in the UK. They don’t say you need a brain scan I don’t need a brain scan. The promotion sets the medical standards. They just back them up. That it is an Irish doctor, that is Safe MMA Ireland. If I run a show up the North of Ireland I can have the same SAFE MMA show up the North with no scans and there is no problem. Safe MMA will sign off on it.
Me: That’s a key distinction I need to make then between SAFE MMA and SAFE MMA Ireland?
Andy: Yeah…They are great guys in SAFE MMA and it is a great thing to have. The whole idea of Safe MMA was that when you were putting on a card and there might be 10 fighters you are going through. You might across someone and say.. Hey hang on a minute wasn’t he knocked out two weeks ago…. he shouldn’t be fighting. So with Safe MMA we have the records, so that when it happens we can say that’s grand he’s banned for 45 days on medical grounds.
That’s what the organisation was for originally. Guys having safe medicals so that we know they are OK to fight. Safe MMA Ireland isn’t a governing body it’s an advisory body. Same with IMMAA. IMMAA has no power.
The professionals they are fighting at a higher level, fights go on longer, the referee might let them develop longer. OK they need the scans like professional boxing.
Me: So when you send a fighter to the UK you use SAFE MMA UK?
Ryan: I go through SAFE MMA UK for all my fighters it’s just when they are fighting here they have to deal with the Irish branch of it. So I still send all my fighter results to the UK. I don’t send them to anyone in Ireland. The lads pay the money to the UK. It’s just people here are being threatened with this SAFE MMA..I mean what is It! …. like you know. I can go to the UK and compete on shows with no SAFE MMA and no one will stop me. It’s only in Ireland.
It’s like the minister Shane Ross on the news. (re: Battle Arena in Navan) – He said ‘ I have no power to shut this show down but I am shutting it down’ – I mean that is wrong isn’t it?. Hang on a minute here! He is stopping something he knows he can’t stop. I mean that is wrong. It’s worrying.
Those lads didn’t do anything illegal and IMMAA are not recognised. It would be different if IMMAA were recognised by the government and all the clubs come together and say yeah this what we are doing and going as an associaition. You know what I mean. But it is not there at the moment (recognised)
Me: I see what your saying. It’s just that when I see what Clan Wars are able to produce up the North and don’t get me wrong I like Declan Kenna and what Cage Legacy are doing but we should be able to pull off those type of big shows down south multiplied by two.
Ryan: Yeah Clan Wars put on a great show don’t they. Listen I have been running Battle Zone shows the last 15 years. 19 Battle zone shows. I stopped putting them on because it was a nightmare. Our last show the minister said we went overboard with safety. I mean how can you go overboard with safety?
The stuff I had in the local sports hall was the same as you’d have in the 3 arena and yet we were told that’s overboard. That’s too much.
But definitely I think the future for Irish amateur MMA is IMMAF. We are getting guys and girls winning world medals, championship medals. That’s great, you know what I mean…Build on it.
Me: Am I right in saying if IMMAF (one of the world governing bodies) was actually running Irish MMA no-one would have a problem really.
Ryan: Yeah. In IMMAF if you go to the world championships you don’t need a brain scan. It’s only in Ireland and the 26 counties. Which is a bit crazy.
Me: How hard a decision is that to reverse out of do you think (brain scans)
Ryan: It’s just….I think the thing people are getting mixed up on is that – I remember when that decision was brought in. We were told that it was an advisory position.
So I said as a club that I would get them done and some other clubs did the same. So now remember…..i had three lads and one lad who after getting the scan done got brain surgery after..So that was mental.
I think it is something that could be done. I think we could do it as an advisory thing and then if you go on to the World championships you go ahead and get a full medical with it included and work it that way. But remember we are under pressure from a government that doesn’t want MMA in Ireland.
Me: Finally, let me get to that side of it. Like when Brolly wrote that article in the Sunday Indo. It brought home to me that a lot of people don’t understand the sport and more worryingly don’t want to understand it and quite easily could jump on a bandwagon to ban it.
Andy: What people don’t see is, say take a look at my gym in Finglas. I have 100 lads training they are not hanging around the streets. they are not in trouble. They all are getting good discipline. Work ethic. Helping each other get work at Christmas, Part-time jobs. Why would you want to stop that. My Gym is in the middle of Finglas you couldn’t get any more working class and I see what it does for the kids.
They are a great bunch of people up there. Coolock, Donaghmede and Finglas and they all learn respect.. I have a good few guards in the gym they mix in the gym. So when these young guys go out into the Street and see them they have a little bit more respect. Hang on a minute these guys are our own we train with them and that is great. It gives them that social thing as well with them. At the end of the day this what MMA is about and I do think Irish MMA needs all the clubs working together as we are all doing this type of work.
In conversation with Andy Ryan of Team Ryano.
In Conversation with Andy Ryan