Exclusive interview: The 24-year-old Irishman secured a first-round knockout at Madison Square Garden this month as he stepped into the Octagon for the first time
Many fighters mentally visualise key moments in their career, but it is rare for those moments to materialise just as conceived.
But the 24-year-old Irishman displayed precocious composure all throughout fight week this month – still just 23 at the time – both in his expert navigation of interviews and when he stepped foot in the Octagon for the first time.
A wave of hype crested on 6 November at Madison Square Garden in New York City, as Garry’s promotional debut arrived at UFC 268, on the undercard of one of the biggest fights of the year. While the former Cage Warriors champion’s encounter with Jordan Williams was slightly rockier than anticipated in the opening moments, Garry delivered the first-round knockout he had promised – with one second left on the clock.
With five seconds remaining in the first round, he slid out of an onrushing Williams’ reach. With four left, he propelled a piston right hand onto the American’s chin. Three left, the follow-up shots arrived. Two, the referee arrived. One, victory was sealed, Garry remaining undefeated at 8-0.
“It wasn’t pretty, I wasn’t happy with my performance,” the welterweight tells The Independent, “but at the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter. When the referee raised my hand, it was because I sparked the other guy unconscious.
“He didn’t know where he was, and that’s all that matters.”
Garry’s bout was one of the most anticipated of UFC 268, which is an achievement in itself, considering the card was headlined by two title fights and opened by what inevitably played out as a fight of the year contender between Justin Gaethje and Michael Chandler – a teammate of Garry at Sanford MMA in Florida, where the Irishman is now based.
That was the result of Garry’s confident, articulate appearances in pre-fight interviews throughout the week, the undefeated youngster’s ability to talk being harnessed with great intention.
“Me and my missus run my management company,” Garry says. “We want to design our brand and everything we do to be a level above everyone else; to be more efficient, to do interviews better, to look better at the venues, to just be better.
“We want to take over this game.”
Garry’s brand is thriving, but for as much as that can be achieved by sustaining certain levels outside of the Octagon, winning is the most essential element for the fighter nicknamed ‘The Future’.
I mention the sole defeat of Garry’s entire fighting career, a split-decision loss during his time as an amateur, and he raises his hand to his lips. “We don’t speak about that!”
I sense he’s half-joking, because it is intriguing to wonder how someone as self-assured and successful as Garry would respond to a loss in the UFC, but the Irishman won’t entertain the thought of it – in spite of Williams’ brief, early success against him.
“It was only one round, mate,” he says. “If there was two more, I would have won in one of them.
“If we’re striking, right, I could be at 10 per cent and I’d still be better than most people. He was 100 per cent in on everything he was doing and I was kind of half-a***d, and he was still having trouble landing on me.
“I got it done in 4:59, left it a bit late in the first round, but most of my finishes come in the second round. The first five minutes for me are like a game, it’s like: ‘Right, let’s feel what they’re doing, let’s take a couple of shots and give a couple.’
“I know I’m better than everyone, I know I’m better than the guys I’m against. I’m just a better athlete, I’m a better fighter, my IQ is better.”
That IQ was on full display for the finish against Williams, which Garry breaks down as incisively as he dissected the American.
“At one point, I realised that his coaches told him to throw the straight left, then throw it again – because he’s a southpaw. And I was like: ‘Uh oh, uh oh. You’ve done that twice in a row now, mate. If you do that again, something’s gonna happen…’
“I heard the 10-second clapper, and I was thinking: ‘Do it, try it.’ I stepped back, and that was it.”
At this point, you might be thinking what many MMA fans have thought about Garry: young, confident Dubliner; great record; talks a phenomenal game and remarkably backs it up.
It all sounds very Conor McGregor, which is ironic, given that Garry’s mother wrote her son a letter before his MMA career began, firmly insisting that ‘being the next McGregor is not a career plan’.
But for all the fans suggesting that ‘the next McGregor’ is exactly what Garry is, for all the similarities between the pair, ‘The Future’ has his own distinct personality and aura.
“It’s amazing to be compared to the person who inspired me to fight, who I remember staying up late to watch,” Garry says. ‘If I can emulate anything he’s done, I’ll be over the moon, but I’m on my own journey. There are a lot of similarities, but I’m about to set my own legacy.
‘But if people want to say I’ll be the next biggest star, f*****g right. I’ll take it.”
McGregor in fact recorded several voice notes on Twitter immediately after Garry’s successful UFC debut, congratulating his compatriot on the win while offering feedback.
“I did have a good laugh about it, because it was brilliant. I haven’t spoken to my coaches about it, but I did like what he said. ‘Go with venom!’” Garry says, impersonating McGregor.
It is likely one of only a few times you’ll see or hear Garry impersonate the former UFC champion, for the 24-year-old is on his own journey, and it is already compelling.