The Scottish Hit Squad’s breakthrough 2015-2016 has been one of the biggest stories in Scottish MMA in recent times.
A team that has been around the MMA scene for as long as any (if you’ve been to a Scottish MMA show, you’ve seen a Scottish Hit Squad fighter), recently the team has reached new levels, culminating in home grown talent Paul “Bearjew” Craig winning the BAMMA World Light Heavyweight Title. The future seems bright for the Coatbridge based outfit; but like most other “overnight sensations”, this success story took years to come to fruition.
In the first of our written series on the team, undoubtedly the second biggest team in Scottish MMA now, we caught up with head coach Brian Gallacher for a brief overview on the gym – where they’ve been, where they’re going and how they got there.
Unbelievably when you considerthe success of the gym, they have only had a full time gym for 2 years. The Hit Squad has had fighters on shows since I got in the game 7 years ago, so to continue plugging away without even a full time facility is the first of many examples of the commitment of the team. “Previous to that we had a team of guys that trained together in a sink or swim environment which wasn’t the best” Brian admits.
It can’t be a coincidence that once they got the facilities, the results soon followed.
You can find the Hit Squad’s outstanding facility at 36 Whifflet Street , Coatbridge ML5 4EL
One thing that has always impressed me about The Hit Squad is their arsenal of coaches and the variety they all offer. Brain has assembled a very diverse coaching staff, all with their own unique skillsets and coaching styles.
Brian Gallacher is the MMA head coach and the BJJ no gi Coach. The nucleus of the team, you won’t see a Hit Squad fighter at a show without Brian there. Just talking with Brian, his passion is infectious. Brian competed in amateur boxing from the age of 13 and is now 30, having trained each individual aspect; Muay Thai, Wrestling and BJJ before getting into MMA. If you speak to anyone on the Hit Squad, one thing is immediately clear – the respect and love that they have for Brian.
“I decided early I wanted to give my full attention to coaching.”
The Hit Squad has reached greatheights recently, but it wasn’t always that way. When I asked Brian if he ever considered packing it in, the response should have come as no surprise
“Never! I love MMA. When I was working I got up at 4:30am went and done a 12 hour shift and then went to the gym got home at 10pm.”
With an attitude like that from the head coach, it’s no surprise that work ethic and commitment are two things present in all the Hit Squad.
James Gallacher is one of the BJJcoaches; although he competed in boxing at a young age, Brian jokes that he “won’t be getting boxing PTs off him anytime soon” but is quick to praise the impact James has on the team’s ground game; “James helps everybody from day one”. James is also involved in game planning for MMA.
Lawrence Murphy is the team’s head Boxing Coach. Lawrence was the first World Champion to join the Hit Squad; he won the WBU world title in 2003. Lawrence and his family also have a very successful amateur boxing gym in Viewpark and Brian speaks very highly of that facility also; “for a place with a very small population they turn everyone of their guys into good boxers.”
Marcos Nardini is the head BJJ coach. Marcos is a first degree BJJ blackbelt under Amal Easton and a name familiar to anyone remotely involved with BJJ in Scotland; as Brian says
“If you have rolled with Marcos you will know how good he is. If you haven’t – book him for a seminar or pop along to one of his classes. Its great having a competitive black belt at the gym; not just a good coach but a good training partner.”
Marcos has won Gold at the IBJJF European Championships Gi and No Gi. ADCC trials. 2 x British champion and countless others. It is a credit to the Hit Squad that they have acquired the services of such an outstanding BJJ coach, and the improvement in grappling from the entire fight team over recent years is evidence of this
David McDonald is the Head Wrestling Coach – David has won British championship 2x Irish championship 2x English championship 3x Scottish championship 4x. Brian always looks for more than just aptitude for a sport and explained to me the reason he chose David as the wrestling coach; “David is a very talented speaker, really good at explaining technique and never puts on a boring class.”
To have a wrestling coach of that ability is not common in Scottish MMA and one could look at Chris Bungard’s recent fight with Craig McIntosh as an example of how the Hit Squad is improving their wrestling, through David’s classes.
Steven Houston is the head Muay Thai coach; he has helped train 15 different champions at all levels – World, European and British. By now, you’ll know that Brian won’t have just anyone coaching at his gym, and always has his reasons;
“What made me want Stevie as a coach was that he trained Christopher Shaw at the time, a very exciting fighter whose style would transfer over to MMA well. He is your stereotypical striking coach; a bit crazy…. I’ll pay for that!”
Andrew Cameron; last but not least is Andrew. Andrew was at the first class Brian ever taught and has an MMA record of 5-1 and K1 record of 1-0. Andrew’s appointment to me shows that Brian looks for more than just credentials; “I chose him as he has very good understanding of the sport. I see huge potential as a coach and a fighter.”
Anyone reading that list of coaches will surely be impressed at what Brian has built. World class practitioners and coaches in every facet of MMA coach at The Hit Squad.
“When I started I wanted to surround myself with the best coaches from all over Scotland and I believe I have done that.
They say your only as strong as your weakest link and I don’t believe we have one!”
Can’t say fairer than that!
After we discuss the coaches at The Hit Squad, I was keen to chat to Brian about the competitors on the team. When I asked him to pick just 5 stand outs, he struggled as there were too many to mention. It’s pretty clear that Brian values a debuting amateur as much as a BAMMA World Champion.
Indeed, even when I asked Brian about one to watch, his answer embodied everything he is about as a coach – “I see potential in all my guys”
Clearly, Brian’s crowning achievement as a coach, certainly on a purely performance based criteria, would be coaching Paul Craig (@PCraigMMA on Twitter) to the BAMMA Light Heavyweight World Championship.
8-0 as a pro, with all 8 wins by finish, “Bearjew” has exploded onto the MMA scene, achieving all he has in just over 2 years as a professional. Using a devestating ground game (7 of 8 wins by submission) with a submission game off his back which makes him look more like a featherweight than a light heavyweight as his trademark, Paul is confident that the UFC is not far away.
As charismatic as he is dangerous (be sure to search for his BearBack podcast on iTunes), Paul is widely regarded as one of Scotland’s UFC stars of the future.
6-1, with 5 of 6 wins by stoppage and never having been stopped, Bungard feels he is ready for the next level and BAMMA is certainly his chance to prove that.
Brian considers getting Bungard to take fighting seriously as one of his crowning achievements; “I saw huge potential when he fought amateur and as soon as he upped his game we saw a new man”
What is so impressive about The Hit Squad, and Brian’s coaching, is the diversity of the achievements. They aren’t just enjoying success in high level professional MMA.
15 Year old Robbie MacGregor is a European Junior BJJ Champion – an incredible achievement which shows the gym is much more than just an MMA gym
The gym also changes the lives of everyday people in every day ways.
Brian identifies Chris Marzella who lost 6 stone in 6 months training BJJ with The Hit Squad as a particularly satisfying example of what the gym can do for people.
Titles and championships and Pro MMA records are all well and good but this quote from Brian sums up the importance and effect The Hit Squad can really have
“Over the last year I have had 4 people tell me they were mentally in a bad place before training at the gym who have said that the sense of community and family feel has helped them out a lot. That meant a lot.”
The fact that even after coaching World Champions, this meant what it did to Brian says it all.
To come full circle to the MMA side of things – I was keen to find out how the recent success from the likes of Bearjew and Bungard has affected the team’s mindset. Brian described it as a “big lift.”
“It lets the other guys know they can get to that level. Paul works hard he doesn’t miss any of the classes. If I ask him to come in early or at 6am he is there.”
I like that even in agreeing that success is possible, Brian is sure to remind that at the end of the day, it’s hard work that gets you there.
I was also keen to get Brian’s thoughts on how hard it has been to thrive in MMA when the perception has always been that if you want to do well you have to go to the Griphouse.
“I think the Griphouse is a great gym but I also think they sold that idea to everybody if you want to do well you have join them. Also they network really well, message the guys that are winning and they have recruited a lot of good fighters.”
When I asked Brian why, when other fighters have tended to switch to the DNFT to reach success, his fighters have not left the gym, his answer was simple
“My fighters trust their coaches”
Brian also identified the Misfits as another growing team alongside The Hit Squad and The Griphouse and feels that there are too many good teams now to only single out The Griphouse as a top team.
In closing, I asked Brian what makes his gym different and why someone should choose to train there
“Team spirit; I haven’t seen a gym that does an individual sport which has such a good team spirit.”
And as for why you should train there?
“I know if you show up to class we will make you a good fighter. All you need to do is give us your time. Martial arts is for everybody I would recommend you try us out and if it isn’t for you try a different gym out.”
Can’t say fairer than that!