Former UFC fighter Roman ‘El Gallito’ Salazar has agreed to step in on short notice and fight James ‘The Strabanimal’ Gallagher at Bellator 227 on September 27 in Dublin, Ireland.
Salazar comes in having lost three of his last four contests, whereas Gallagher enters with a 9-1 record. Salazar lives in Arizona, and trains out of Fight Ready MMA in Scottsdale, the home of Triple C–Henry Cejudo. Salazar has fought for several different MMA Promotions the last few years including LFA, Iron Boy MMA, WFF, and Combate Americas.
“They can say what they want to say about my record with all these close, split-decision losses,” Salazar said. “The one thing they can never say about me is that I show up not ready to drop some bombs on somebody. It’s going to be an entertaining fight. And you know I’m always looking to finish. I’m looking to hurt somebody and that’s what I’m going to do. There’s going to be some violence, that’s for sure.
For those who don’t know Salazar, you may be wondering, who is this guy, and why would Bellator have him step in to fight a guy like Gallagher? I’ve been following Roman for a few years now. He was kind enough to allow me to interview him back in 2016. He opened up his home to me, and I was able to get an inside look at him and his family. He’s an incredibly kind person and a class act. Since then we have loosely kept in touch, and I’ve run into him a few times at different events and watched a couple of his previous fights.
The question remains, though, how did this happen? “I threw it into the Universe,” Salazar said. “I opened up my phone, read an article by MMAJunkie that said James Gallagher is without an opponent. As a joke, I texted my old manager, and I was like, ‘Man, I’d fight this fool, I’d kill to fight this fool.’ So, he goes, ‘I’ll contact Bellator.’ I sent him back ‘LOL’, I thought he was kidding, I don’t work with him anymore, I now work with Sucker Punch. At about 6 am I heard my phone ringing, I was making coffee, sending my wife off to work, and it’s him. He’s like, ‘you got this fight’. I thought he was fucking with me.
I think it’s only fair to answer this, as Conor would say, “who the fook is that guy?”
“Isn’t that the most awesome thing ever. Nobody, that doesn’t come to Fight Ready, in the Arizona scene at least, knows who I am,” Salazar said. “It’s going to be my coming-out party.”
Salazar is taking the fight on very short notice, but he’s been in this position before. He took his first UFC fight on short notice as well. “I’m always ready to fight,” Salazar said. “What an awesome experience to be able to go fight in Dublin. I think their fan base is ridiculously awesome. I’m going to be public enemy number one for the first time in my career. I can’t wait.”
With three UFC fights under his belt, I had to ask, how monumental is this fight compared to all the rest? “It has to be the biggest fight of my career,” Salazar said. “Biggest fight, biggest payday. In Ireland, you know they’re going to sell that thing out. There’s going to be 40 thousand crazy Irish people that hate me for a weekend. I can’t believe it.”
In case you were curious, Salazar flies out Saturday. Usually, you’ll find his wife, Roachie, with him at all his fights, and sometimes even his daughter, Kaya and his son, Roman Jr. Unfortunately, due to the extreme short-notice nature of this fight, he’ll be making the trek out there without them. But there’s no doubt that they’ll be there in spirit. Salazar also will not be cornered by his coach, Santino De Franco, who will be cornering Henry Corrales, one of Roman’s teammates at Fight Ready. He will fight for Bellator in Los Angeles the very next day (September 28) at Bellator 228. Additionally, Paris Stanford, another one of Roman’s teammates is fighting in Canada at PFC 11.
“We’ve got coaches just split all over,” Salazar said. “We’ve got three fighters from Fight Ready fighting in three different countries in the same weekend.” In Salazar’s corner for this fight will be ‘The Jawaiian’, Kamuela Kirk, who I did a story on before his most recent fight on Dana White’s Tuesday Night Contender Series, which you can find here. Additionally, Angel Cejudo, yes, Henry’s brother, will be in his corner as well.
“He’s been getting me ready to fight Gallagher for years,” Salazar said of Kirk. “They have a very similar style. Same wide base, same things they do, really good at Jiu-Jitsu, so I was like man, it’s the most awesome thing ever to have you as a teammate and come.” Finally, rounding out the corner will be Master Paul McGowan, from Chandler MMA, who is actually from Dublin. Salazar hopes McGowan ‘keeps me from getting killed after I go beat up on this guy.’
The spotlight will shine very bright for Salazar in Dublin, maybe brighter than it’s ever been, but don’t think for a second that he is phased by it. He fought on the same card as Ronda Rousey, Amanda Nunes, and Tony Ferguson when he was in the UFC.
“I’ve seen them all,” Salazar said. “They were all there for media week before McGregor turned into McGregor. John Kavanagh, Conor’s head coach, will be cornering James Gallagher for this fight. “I’m an old dog at this, nothing surprises me,” Salazar said. “I’ve been under the lights. Doesn’t even matter. It’s going to be ‘boo this, boo that guy, we hate him’. At the end of the day, you should be thanking me. They got their guy on the card because I decided to ‘nut up’ and take this fight. It’s just an awesome opportunity. Luckily, for this, to me, it’s a younger, doesn’t really know how to deal with adversity type-of-guy. I can’t wait to use my old tricks to put this guy into deep water.”
While Gallagher certainly doesn’t trash talk to the extent of his counterpart, Conor McGregor, he still isn’t shy to mince words.
“He wished me luck,” Salazar said of Gallagher. “He told me, ‘good luck, I’m gonna’ need it’. “Those guys are all about the mind games. It’s mental warfare with those guys, I don’t take part in that. I’ve always let my actions speak in the cage. I’m a Mexican-ass Gangster, whenever it comes to people. Start running them lips, I’ll make sure to shut that down real quick. “He’s looking for finishes, doesn’t quite have the power to do it, yet. I thank God for Santino. I’ve had a Jiu-Jitsu ace for so many years in my camp that his Jiu-Jitsu doesn’t scare me at all.”
Gallagher has won 7 of his 9 fights via submission, 4 of which came in the very first round.
“I know that once I start cracking him, he’s going to want to take me down,” Salazar said. “It’s going to be a nightmare for him. Usually, people think, someone in a short notice situation is going to be out of shape. “Let’s press him, let’s get him tired. I’m always in shape dude. I don’t get tired. When I win, when I go out and beat James Gallagher and shock the world, everyone that’s not part of the Roman Salazar camp over here, I just jump to the front of the line. How crazy is that? They always say hard work pays off, be a good person, and here it is. In my lap. This is wild. What a crazy life, what a crazy story. I get to go be a ‘Rudy’ right now.”
Salazar’s message to the Irish fans? “Boo me for sure. I’m going to give them a show. Hopefully, they’ll be willing to drink a pint of Guinness with me after. I’m a big beer drinker and I love that whole culture. I love that they support their fighters so much. Nothing like it man.”
Cheers to that.
Bellator 227 takes place on September 27, in Dublin, Ireland. The main card will begin at 2:30 ET.