SBG Wins UFC Title And National BJJ Gold

SBG Competitors Win UFC Title & National BJJ Gold


Conor McGregor Wins UFC Title; Amanda Diggins Wins American Nationals Black Belt Absolute

This last weekend was a fairly remarkable one for Straight Blast Gym. Conor McGregor became the first, home grown SBGi athlete to win a title in the UFC. He almost singlehandedly accounted for the biggest event in UFC history and is now set to be one of the biggest MMA competitors of all time.

On the very same weekend, but a stone’s throw from the packed MGM Grand in Las Vegas, SBGi Portland BJJ Coach Amanda Diggins was competing in the American National Jiu Jitsu Championships. She went on to win gold in the women’s black belt gi absolute division and medal in all her other divisions, taking on and defeating some of the best grapplers in the world in the process.

Further down the main card at UFC 189, Gunnar Nelson gave a display of effortlessly superior grappling to make short work of Brandon Thatch. Gliding back and forth from side control to mount before taking the back and choking his opponent in the first round, he confirmed himself once again as a top prospect in the UFC’s welterweight division.

McGregor and Nelson, of course, both train with SBG Ireland Head Coach John Kavanagh, one of Matt Thornton’s earliest BJJ black belts. Amanda Diggins is one of his newest, having been awarded her black belt late last year. Some might put this weekend’s collection of results down as coincidence, a few isolated incidences that just happen to be occurring at the same time. Those at SBG know differently – that it is only the start of a greater shift. Matt Thornton himself views the outcomes of this weekend as all but inevitable:

“Proud? That doesn’t begin to cover it. Happy? You bet. Surprised? Not in the least. Those of us who’ve been with SBG from the start understand that our epistemology and our culture, is unique. And while we welcome all the new comers into the rapidly speeding bandwagon, there is nothing that surprises me about the results SBG gets. I know how good our coaches and athletes are. Now, many of you do as well.”

‘The efficient man prevails’

BJJ is often defined as ‘the Gentle Art’. When asked ‘what is Jiu Jitsu?’ Matt Thornton prefers to define it as ‘the efficient art’ stating that it is about ‘surviving and eventually beating your opponent using as little force, and as little energy, as humanly possible’. It is an ethos that is implemented at every level of Straight Blast Gym, and one that we saw being played out in both McGregor and Nelson’s fights at UFC 189.

Gunnar Nelson’s efficient grappling saw him go from standing to securing Brandon Thatch’s back in under a minute, dominating his opponent with consummate ease and making Thatch look like a beginner on the ground. Conor McGregor showed efficient survival against Chad Mendes, enduring a large part of the second round on his back, before effectively escaping a guillotine attempt, returning to his feet and knocking Mendes out. After the fight, McGregor talked about that efficiency:

“[Mendes] secured one or two takedowns, but again, I knew the efficient man prevails… In a fight to the death, where there is no clock or no time limit, the man who is efficient is the man who prevails. So when I was on the mat, I was patient. I landed shots when I could, I stayed safe… every shot I was like, ‘eh-eh.’ That’s what I kept saying. ‘Nope. Nope. Eh-eh.’ So I felt I was preserving energy, being efficient.”

Efficiency is an aspect that is firmly ingrained in SBG coaching, from SBG’s founder, to its beginner students, to ifs UFC champions. Shortly after awarding Kavanagh his black belt in 2007, Matt Thornton had this to say:

“John… has a complete understanding of why BJJ works the way it does. What makes something a fundamental, why the positions, pressures, and moves of BJJ work the way they do… in short the scientific understanding of how grappling works. And it’s that understanding of BJJ that ensures John will be able to pass on his BJJ knowledge to the next generation of athletes. Ensuring that the future generation is able to take the game even farther then we have now.”

Eight years later, that future generation, led by UFC and BJJ champions, is doing just that…

‘There is no such thing as self-made’

After months of brash attitude and trash talking with the media, many were taken aback by the reaction of Conor McGregor upon winning the UFC interim featherweight title. Instead of jumping over the cage and roaring in victory, he is seen on his knees, moved to near tears by the moment. In a post-fight interview, McGregor said:

“I honestly believe there is no such thing as self-made. I believe it is a term that does not exist. For me it certainly doesn’t. The people who have been around for my whole career have helped shape this moment. This night and this moment is for them.”

McGregor was joined in the Octagon not by an entourage, but friends and family. He has trained under John Kavanagh for his entire career. Overnight stardom, it has always been clear to McGregor and Kavanagh, was actually the result of ten years of tireless dedication from a like-minded tribe of training partners and an understanding and supportive family.

On the other side of the world from Dublin, Amanda Diggins thanked her family, coaches and teammates for the part they played in her own success, winning gold and three silvers at the American Nationals. Across MMA and BJJ, the strong culture at SBG is made evident at every turn, and heralded as the key in every success. The fact that coaches and teammates flew from all over the country, and the world, to be in Las Vegas for the weekend, is further testament to this.


This weekend in Las Vegas provides evidence, if it were ever in question, of the effectiveness of Matt Thornton’s founding principles, and the applicability of ‘Aliveness’ across different genres of combat. It is the reaping of rewards after decades of tireless endeavor by like-minded people the world over. It demonstrated to the world what Matt and all at SBG already knew, that Straight Blast Gym is a unique and special place, pioneering new approaches and building strong relationships across the globe every single day.