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James Gallagher promises ‘abso-f******-lutely’ his swagger is back, anticipates title shot after win at Bellator Belfast

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After nearly two years off and a weight class change, James Gallagher had to get his feet wet when he returned to Bellator this past August.

Gallagher knocked off the ring rust, but he didn’t look his sharpest in pulling off a split decision win over James Gonzalez. Looking back at the performance, he makes no excuses, but he promises that’s the last time fans will see that kind of fight out of him.

“I didn’t have that swagger back in myself,” Gallagher, who on Friday faces Leandro Higo at Bellator Belfast, told MMA Fighting. “But I did what needed to be done and got the win and that’s all that matters. Abso-f******-lutely, the swagger is back for this one.”

Almost immediately after he got that win under his belt, Gallagher returned to Thailand, where he’s been training and adapting to his new home at featherweight. Gallagher started his career at 145 pounds, but he eventually felt like he needed to cut weight like every other fighter in order to stay competitive.

While he certainly found success at bantamweight, the now 27-year-old Irish fighter admits he was probably always better off competing in the featherweight division.

“It wasn’t until I had like seven fights that I went down to 135,” Gallagher explained. “I’ve never been beat at 145. I think I’ve got about eight or nine 145 fights now, and they’ve all been wins. So it’s kind of like, go back to what’s not broken.

“I walk around at about 77 or 78 kilograms (170 pounds), so [135] is a f****** long, long way from that. It’s just a lot healthier. When I’m in training camp, I feel like an athlete, not f****** someone that’s just starving themselves to make a weight class. I feel like I can focus on technique, sparring rounds, getting proper strength and conditioning training, and just feel a lot better. I just feel like I was injured every other training session [at 135].”

Now healthy and happy at 145 pounds, Gallagher is anxious to defend that undefeated featherweight record, and he hopes a title shot will be waiting for him later this year.

Gallagher was originally matched up against Jeremy Kennedy in a bout that was billed to determine the next contender for reigning champion Patricio Pitbull. After Pitbull’s fight at the PFL vs. Bellator card was scrapped, promotion officials opted to shift him to the Belfast card to defend his belt against Kennedy.

That left Gallagher without an opponent, but it didn’t take long for Bellator to match him up against Higo, a fighter he’s been scheduled to face in the past when both competed at bantamweight. The shifts didn’t really matter to him, because the way Gallagher sees it, the stakes are still the same.

“I don’t give a f***,” Gallagher said about the change in opponents. “Not one issue. You’re fighting Leandro Higo now. OK, let’s go, whoever the f*** is in there, he’s going to get it. That’s how it’s been. I’ve just been training so hard, putting in the work, and I just feel like I’m a new kind of athlete. I’m looking forward to going in there and showing it, so I don’t give a f*** who’s standing in front of me. They’re going to see the best version of me.”

“That’s exactly what it is. That’s exactly what’s going on. I’m going to go in and beat Leandro Higo and I’m going to fight for the belt next.”

Any time two well-known grapplers face off, there’s often a stalemate that leads to plenty of exchanges on the feet. But Gallagher guarantees that won’t happen with Higo. Whether the Brazilian wants to go to the ground with him or not, Gallagher said his opponent will have no other choice.

“He’s good at what I’m best at,” Gallagher said. “There’s a difference. He’s good, I’m the best.

“He’s going to have no choice. I’m going to get on top of him, elbow him in the head, take his back and choke him. He’s going to have no choice — whether he welcomes it or not, that’s what’s going to happen. I’m going straight into those exchanges.”

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