Vinny Connolly Strange Wolves Galway on Developing MMA and Podcasting
We spoke with Vinny Connolly (far left), one half of the head coaching team at Strange Wolves Galway. One of Ireland’s longest established Mixed Martial Arts clubs. We chatted about the origins of the club which is based on Ireland’s west coast. His views on the sports development over the years since he first started training. And the next stage in the sport and the clubs evolution. Plus a little bit about podcasting for good measure.
Can you tell me a little bit about yourself and your own introduction to mma?
I started off in Taekwondo and a crowd of us who were doing that got together with another karate guy and started rolling. We bought a book, a Brazilian Jiu jitsu book when we saw the UFC. We’re talking 15 years ago next month you know. And John Kavanagh was around doing seminars, he might’ve been a blue belt at the time or he may just got his purple belt. But we actually brought him down to Galway for a seminar or two.
The original guy who set up Point Blank Mark Leonard, it was himself, myself, a guy called Tom Haddock who runs an MMA club in Galway but it’s out of a Thai boxing gym. Another guy called John Murphy and another guy called Barry Commins. So we started rolling in Galway and out of the five of us, four of us took fights.
Mainly I wanted to learn self-defense and how to fight, the competition side of things was fun to do with friends. But that wasn’t really my bag, I wouldn’t have been an ultra-competitive guy. My last fight was about 8 ½ years ago.
I’m a primary schoolteacher in my day job and I never considered it a career, I just considered it an extension of my Taekwondo. Learning to do self-defense, having fun and a bit of competition.
During that time almost always training with a group of friends in a training group rather than a club. And Mark Leonard went off and founded Point Blank as a commercial club. And I founded Strange Wolves with a friend of mine as a noncommercial club.
The name Strange Wolves, where did that come from?
It just… I suppose it was just me trying to pull a fast one on the rest of the training group at the time. Because Connolly means Hound of the Sea in Irish. And it was mistranslated to me some time ago, when someone told me it was some type of wolf or a strange wolf and I thought I was a cool phrase.
So it’s in this translation of my name in Irish which I brought to the lads as a good name for the club and they didn’t know that and they thought it was a good name. They didn’t realize I was trying to name it after myself. So it just stuck… It was better than gay sailors which was one of the other suggestions that was floating around.
…and the club itself…
We have our own grading system in the club which is kind of unique to MMA clubs. We’ve kind of go bronze, silver.. gold wolf and black belt. So bronze wolf is you can enter amateur competitions. Silver will be in semipro competition and gold wolf is pro MMA. And black belt is if you’ve won a pro MMA fight and rolling at a purple belt level. So that’s kind of how we do it.
And obviously it’s a slow burning process and it might take us ten years to produce our first black belt, we haven’t produced any yet. So there’s no hurry and there’s no pressure to fight, we try to keep it like a jiu jitsu club. I always liked the jiu jitsu casual, friendly atmosphere. It’s not just about the competition. And we kind of want to run an MMA club along the same lines as a jiu jitsu club if that makes sense. We do a lot of no-gi jiu jitsu as well anyway.
Do you feel the speed of development has changed in the last few years. What you see at ground level in your own club?
Well there’s two things there and I’m glad you mentioned to speed of development. Because there’s a speed of development of athletes coming into the sport. And there’s a speed of development in the growth of clubs. If I could be allowed to address those two separately.
So the first one, athletes who are joining MMA clubs now progress far quicker than we did, say when I started off. I don’t know if its because of computer games or access to more instructionals. Or is it because they’re watching MMA before they start. But for example if a guy comes down to a club now and he’s been watching the UFC at all, he knows what a triangle is, know what I mean.
And as regards to the growth of clubs, obviously it has boomed because Conor McGregor is such an icon. A likable guy, an amazing athlete, probably one of Ireland’s best international athletes at the moment. And in Strange Wolves because we’re not professional coaches and we have other jobs. We’re not in a position to be professional coaches unfortunately. We’re not in a position to cash in if you will, we can only take on 15 beginners at a time once every three or four months.
So we’ve kind of ended up redirecting people to other clubs in the area once our courses are full. But I have heard from other clubs that there memberships are off the hook with beginners. But alot of beginners are not necessarily staying in it.
I suppose the other aspect of that is, even if someone only trains MMA for two or three weeks and then they never go back to it. It’s still part of their life, it’s still something that they recognize isn’t just for thugs. So you can kind of come out of the closet now if you are in MMA guy.
I like to ask you about the new Strange Wolves podcast. Why a podcast and why now?
Why the podcast? Well I suppose we use to have a pre-training coffee in a local coffee shop every couple of weeks. And I heard Tom and Marcus chatting and I just said to them, “you guys should do a podcast, you’re really funny.” And it just grew from there and the next thing, I happen to have a recording device. They’re calling up to my house and I was involved as well.
It came about as an accident I would say. We enjoyed the first one and just with each of us having different schedules, once a month seemed like a fair enough time frame to get everyone in the same room. But if it becomes popular or we get a little bit more organized, we might do it more regularly.
The other thing is we don’t necessarily want to do a podcast where we are discussing the nitty gritty of MMA. We just wanted to replicate, sort of the locker room banter. And we don’t want to make it sound in any way puerile, not intelligent. Because lots of locker room banter can be quite clever. And I’ve heard lots of things discussed in various changing rooms about socioeconomic situations that would amaze people on the outside. The once a month seems enough time to gather enough stories from the world of MMA. But who knows!