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John Kavanagh

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John Kavanagh is an Irish mixed martial arts (MMA) and grappling instructor, as well as a black belt in jiu-jitsu under Matt Thornton, holding this same rank in kenpo karate. A former International Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Federation (IBJJF) European Open champion as a purple belt (2005), Kavanaugh became revered as one of MMA’s leading coaches through his work with UFC fighters such as Conor McGregor and Gunnar Nelson. Coach Kavanaugh is also widely regarded as Ireland’s first BJJ black belt.

John Kavanagh Jiu-Jitsu

Full Name: John Raymond Kavanagh

Nickname: N/A

Lineage:  Carlos Gracie > Helio Gracie > Carlos Gracie Jr > Rigan Machado > Chris Haueter > Matt Thornton > John Kavanaugh

Main Achievements:

  • 1st Place IBJJF European Open (2005 purple)
  • 2nd Place FILA Grappling Games (2007 brown)

Favorite Position/Technique: N/A

Weight Division: Peso Pena (70,00 kg / 154.5 lbs)

Team/Association: Straight Blast Gym, IRE

John Kavanagh Biography

John Raymond Kavanagh was born on January 18, 1977, in Rathfarnham, a Southside suburb of Dublin, Ireland, where he grew up.

The interest for martial arts started early for Kavanagh, who began taking karate lessons at the age of 4, influenced by his father. John would carry on practicing this sport for many years, earning his black belt when he was 12. This love for the striking game carried through to his adulthood.

Kavanaugh first moved out of his parents’ house to study mechanical engineering at the Technological University of Dublin, a time when he also started working as a club doorman to pay his expenses. During this transitional period, John is said to have studied Geoff Thompson’s street fighting phylosophies – one of the most well known British authorities on the subject.

A major turning point in John’s views on martial arts took place when he was 18 years old, a time when Kavanaugh was assaulted by 7 individuals who heavily beat him to a life-threatening condition. The episode made Kavanaugh question is own combat skills. This coincided with a time when the young Irishman started watching the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), becoming heavily invested in the promotion’s first champion, jiu-jitsu ace Royce Gracie.

Studying during the daytime, training during the afternoon, and bouncing at the night, Kavanaugh’s curiosity drove him towards MMA and its various fighting styles, getting together with a few friends to test and drill the techniques they observed. A few in this group also started competing in the cage, particularly John and Dave Roche – a former bare-knuckle boxer who joined Kavanaugh’s workgroup.

In 1999 Kavanaugh had his first official taste of jiu-jitsu at a workshop in London, England, with John Machado. Kavanaugh was grappling for a while by then, but never with proper instruction, and the finner details of a highly-skilled black belt are said to have fully captivated John. During the following months, the young Irishman saved every penny he could get a hold on, and by early 2001 he had gathered enough to visit the Machado school in California, where he stayed for a few weeks. It is assumed that it was ait this point that John earned his blue belt, though this could not be 100% verified by BJJ Heroes.

Later, in November 2001, Kavanaugh fought for a South African MMA promotion (Pride and Honor), outside Johannesburg. He lost his fight, but at the event’s after-fight, John met BJJ black belt Matt Thornton, who was there cornering a fighter. The two connected and trained the following day. Kavanaugh kept in touch with the American grappling coach from then on, visiting his gym Straight Blast Gym in Oregon, USA, while also bringing Thornton to Ireland for a few workshops during the following years. This partnership would lead John to open an affiliate academy to Thornton’s team, Straight Blast Gym – Ireland (SBG).

In late February 2007, during one of Thornton’s visits to Kavanaugh’s SBG academy in Dublin, Matt promoted John to BJJ black belt, this way making Kavanaugh the first person to reach the rank in the Republic of Ireland.

Throughout his career, John has been involved not only with SBG but also with the foundation of the Irish BJJ Association and the Irish MMA Associaton. His many achievements led Fighters Only magazine to award Kavanaugh the Coach Of The Year title in 2017, at the World MMA Awards.

Photo by Mark O’Brien.

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