Pursuing a Career In The Toughest Sport In The World
By Philip Dillon
Sean McConnell is a 22 year old amateur MMA fighter who trains six times a week, sometimes twice a day in the hopes of becoming a professional MMA fighter. He trains out of SBG Charlestown and turned his shed into his own personal gym known as 'Boxblock Dublin' where he works on his own skills from home and does personal training for a number of clients. Alongside this, Sean is doing a social care course and hopes to gain a degree in the field over the next few years.
McConnell entered MMA at 19 and came in with a plethora of combat sports experience. Sean was a cadet European WTF taekwondo champion at 12 years old and his accomplishment was noticed by the Irish Sports Council. They carded(funded) Sean so he could compete in tournaments across the world, something the Council had never provided for someone that young before.
Sean with his gold medal in WTF taekwondo in 2009.
From the age of 14, Sean focused solely on a new sport, boxing. He joined St.Sabers boxing gym on Dorset street, a gym that Olympic bronze medalist Darren Sutherland previously trained in, someone who Sean looked up to growing up for how he carried himself inside and outside the ring before his tragic death.
After four years boxing Sean admitted he missed aspects of taekwondo and decided to try out MMA, “I put everything into boxing and trained every night after school. I am still obsessed with it but I really missed kicking. MMA was booming at the time and I always had an interest in trying out new martial arts”.
Sean started training in SBG HQ on the Naas road where he was introduced to Owen Roddy, Conor McGregor's striking coach. Roddy also owned SBG Charlestown, a gym that was on the North side of Dublin which was an easier commute for the Killester native. Sean received more individual attention with Owen once he joined SBG Charlestown and that had an impact on his early progression in the sport. Owen Roddy has been through everything in the sport and Sean is grateful to be apart of his gym , " I have learned so much from Owen. It's great having someone in your corner who has been to the pinnacle of the sport. He is so relaxed on fight night and puts so much positive thoughts into your head before you go out which is what you need".
Sean with his head coach Owen Roddy Image: Instagram @MconnellMMA Picture taken by Paul Fogarty
Sean has a record of 1-1 so far as an amateur fighter. His first fight ended with a TKO victory that was set up with an impressive headkick . The 22 year old tasted his first defeat in the sport in June. An impressive start to a fight that ended instantly after McConnell was caught in an armbar after dropping his opponent. The submission caused ligament damage to his arm and ruled the fighter out of action from June 2018 to January 2019, "I hit him with a nice right hand and thought I could steamroll him but I went in with no technique and got caught on the ground.I did not sleep the night after the fight, I was fuming because I couldn't go straight back into training with the arm injury. Looking back on it, it was a learning curve that I needed to see where I need to improve my game".
Sean's 1st fight. Credit:Fightstore Media
MMA is still a developing sport in Ireland, especially in the amateur ranks. In Dublin, rounds are only three minutes long and you must wear shinguards and a T shirt in fights. Northern Ireland have similar rules to professional MMA in the amateur ranks and a lot of fighters will go up north in search of fights. There is only a couple of amateur promotions in Dublin and fighters can find it tough to get booked regularly.
This is the case for Sean who has had four opponents pull out of fights in the last year. He was scheduled to fight on Saturday March 23rd but his opponent pulled out four days before the fight. Sean is hoping that he can be more active in the next few months so he can get more fights under his belt, "it has been frustrating not getting fights and I feel that it has halted my progression . You can train as much as you like but you need to gain experience fighting in front of a crowd under the bright lights. I want to be fighting every few weeks because I know that is how I will improve". Luckily, Sean has been booked on a fight card in Neptune Stadium in Cork on April 13th so he finally has the chance to compete again.
Although Sean has had a tough year with injuries and booking failures, he is still living and training like a professional. He has a clean diet year round and has converted the shed in his back garden into a gym known as 'Boxblock'. Sean uses the gym for extra training sessions, he also has a personal training qualification and uses his equipment to train clients inside the gym as his part time job,"it was important to me that I make my own money and I can work off my own hours with this. I have also been working on shots with my brother in here and noticing them work in sparring which is great to see". It is something few fighters will have in their own backyard and shows the dedication Sean has to his training.
MMA is an extremely tough sport mentally and physically and very few make it to the professional ranks. Sean is putting all his effort into making that step up but even when you make it, the money is tough to live off of at the start of your career. He realizes that it is wise to have another option and he is currently doing a course in social care, "I want to pursue this as my career and continue to progress. I know that this could end at any time from an injury so I am doing a course in social care that I love which hopefully will lead to a degree just so I have something to fall back on. I have been on work placement with Prosper Fingal, an organisation that works with people who have intellectual disabilities. I got the chance to work with a young lad with down syndrome in the gym and I really enjoyed the experience". MMA is a violent sport but that does not mean the people in the sport are not nice, caring people outside of the cage.
Sean is doing a course that involves giving back so much to help others, a course that many would not expect someone who wants to punch someone in the face for a living would pursue. It is a great option to have for the future but he has time on his side to make his fight career his full time job. With his vast combat experience, Owen Roddy's guidance and his commitment to training, Sean has all of the attributes needed to make it far in Mixed Martial Arts.