N.B. Interview first published on 1 November 2023.
Ian Machado Garry is nothing if not unapologetic. He is unapologetic in every kick he skims off foreheads, in every punch he pistons at jaws, and he is certainly unapologetic in every word he utters. And when the Irishman delivers the anecdote of the day – one of the anecdotes of the week in the MMA world – it is punctuated with a “there’s a piece for you to write, for sure”.
So, it will come as a surprise to some that the anecdote in question, on being banned from the UFC welterweight champion’s gym, is not delivered brashly. Machado Garry, his gaze occasionally drifting past me and fixing on the London skyline over an autumnal Southbank, selects his words with the same precision and intent with which he selects his shots in the Octagon. “I don’t want any s*** with any gyms... I love the guys at that gym, they were very welcoming, lovely and nice to me.”
It is not clear who Machado Garry’s critics want him to be, yet regardless, it seems he will never be that person. The 25-year-old, soon to turn 26, has been criticised for ‘trying to be’ Conor McGregor 2.0, and for what some deem an overinflated sense of self. But he believes a considerable reaction from fans will accompany what he is about to say, and a few hours after the first segment of our interview goes live, he is proven right. He is even proven right by the segment of fans who dismiss his significance in this sporting sphere.
According to Machado Garry, he is not allowed back to train with Leon Edwards due to “doubts and insecurities” in the welterweight champion and his coach. Team Renegade, where Edwards trains, suggests to The Independent that Machado Garry was “refused entrance” as he did not “add to the team’s culture”. Still, the gym’s statement praises the fighter’s career, just as he praises the environment there.
There is an irony in the fact that such an absorbing back-and-forth stems from a long chat in which Machado Garry and I mainly discuss family, travel and culture. Machado Garry has been refused entrance to gyms before but also enjoys what Renegade labels a “nomadic approach”, and as the gym notes: It has given him “great results”. Indeed, Machado Garry, his wife and young son will travel to Brazil just two days after our interview, but it is not just about learning within the four walls of gyms, or from the martial artists on their mats.
“It’s so beautiful, interesting, intriguing – seeing different cultures, different natural wonders, eating different foods. If you compare Iceland to Barcelona to England to Dublin to Brazil to America, they’re all vastly different and offer different positives and negatives. For growth as a human, to see all these things... it’s very, very cool.” Machado Garry’s enthusiasm is apparent not only in his words but his delivery. The fighter’s voice blares at times, and he often leans in, his hands almost gesturing either side of my face. I can see how that reach is useful in the ring.
“In Brazil, having a babá – a nanny and chef – is very popular for people with more than the average income,” he continues. “Their attitude as a country is, if you have money, why don’t you pay this woman who doesn’t have money, so she can feed her kids? She’s an amazing cook, why don’t you hire her? The level of open-mindedness from that, it’s so forward-thinking. I find that so empowering, so special, so beautiful.”
Machado Garry would use the same words to describe his experience of fatherhood, which began in his early 20s as he and his wife, Layla, 40, began raising their son Leo. Machado Garry has always had a clear trajectory in mind for his career, and he has followed that trajectory like he is magnetised to its track, but what of a family? Did he imagine he would form one so soon in life?
“I always knew I wanted to have a son. To watch a little version of me grow up, and to help him through life. Not to steer anything for him – I will always want him to be his own person – but my goal is to be a better example than my dad was. That sounds a bit like my dad was a d***, but he’s not!” Machado Garry laughs. “It’s evolution: I want to give my son more than I had. Then, my son’s son or daughter will have more than I gave to him. I want a best friend in my son, and I want my son to feel like he has a best friend in his dad. [It’s special] to have someone who looks up to you, who comes to you for fun. ‘Let’s go play football or a round of golf!’
“And then, from the moment I met my wife, I was hooked. I was done. I would’ve married her the next day. On the spot, I knew she was perfect. She is my biggest inspiration and mentor in life. I learn the most from her about religion, racism, culture, being a better father. When she says something, I hear it. I need to respect it. And I feel like I always knew we’d have a kid, but I never thought about time. I couldn’t be happier that I had a kid when I did, that I got married when I did. Time and age isn’t something my brain equates – I don’t see it as an issue or anything like that.”
Something else that Machado Garry doesn’t see as an issue is his impending fight with Vicente Luque, a former teammate, in December. While friends in other divisions refuse to square off in the cage, Machado Garry has no such qualms. And neither does Luque.
“I’ve never understood this,” Machado Garry begins. “Firstly, I choose to fight. It’s my job. Imagine you going into work, and saying: ‘He’s my friend, I don’t want to do a piece on him.’ What the f*** are you talking about? I would happily do my entire camp on the same mat as Vicente, I would spar Vicente to fight Vicente. I have no ego, no animosity. I suppose that’s because I’m confident in my own abilities. I can go in there and cause violence and damage to a person I like, because it’s my job and I try to do it for fun. For Vicente and me, it’s out of nothing but respect.
“I really, really like Vicente as a person, but at the end of the day, he’s ranked above me – and if I beat him, it adds more legitimacy to my run. Beating him, and doing it in style, does so much for my career. He’s a savage, and [his mindset] is the exact same: He knows that I’m one of the biggest fights in the division – in the entire UFC – right now. There’s a lot of hype behind my name, people are interested by what I’m doing. Both of us are true martial artists and see the benefits, more than we see: ‘Oh, but I’m fighting a friend!’
“One thing I’m learning at the moment is that even adults, people I look up to and am inspired by, don’t deal with conflict very well. We’re in such an alpha-dominated sport, but dealing with conflict is so difficult for most people in MMA. If you don’t like X, don’t just ignore it; have a grown-up conversation, explain it to me. I struggle a little bit sometimes with pushing people to be better. I don’t expect everyone in the world to be perfect, but... And I’m the 25-year-old! Why am I the one having to deal with this? But I’m included in this: I need to deal with conflict better.”
I sense that Machado Garry is hinting again at the situation with Edwards’s gym. And with the Irishman and the Jamaican-born Briton both set to compete at UFC 296 on 16 December, I sense that the situation will soon unravel itself further. Then, we will see how both fighters deal with conflict.
So. There was a piece for me to write.
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