Me & Johnny
I’ll preface this by saying I didn’t know him that well.
Or for that long, to be honest.
But for the brief time I knew Johnny Lyons it made a difference.
First time I spoke to Johnny was in March 2014. Neil Seery had made his UFC debut the night before in London. I was over to watch and cover the fight for some media outlets.
Early Sunday morning I was on my way to Heathrow to fly home. At around 0900 I’d to jump off the Tube and run upstairs and find a quiet street so I could talk to Johnny on his flagship ‘Now Thats What I call Sport’ show on Dublin’s 98FM.
I’ve always been a bit of a Neil Seery fanboy — I’ve trained in the same gym as him for a number of years and really admire him as an athlete. Neil had lost a unanimous decision to Brad Pickett the night before at UFC Fight Night 37.
After the formalities and intro’s were out of the way, I proceeded to gush with praise for the way Neil performed after taking the fight on short notice.
Johnny wasn’t impressed…
“Yeah, but Fergus… He lost. Am I missing something here?”
It’s fair to say that Johnny wasn’t an MMA fan at this point. But that would change.
Though he wasn’t an MMA fan, Johnny totally understood that a portion of his audience were. Philip Egan, who had got me the time on Johnny’s show had told me that if all went well and if Johnny thought I knew my stuff I’d become a regular on his show to cover the big MMA events.
Thankfuly, I didn’t make a total balls of it and Johnny had me back on many times.
In the beginning it was genreally when Johnny was away. So Phil Egan and Steve Doyle would be manning the studio and they could deal with the MMA stuff.
Phil Egan comes to a local MMA show I am involved in called BattleZone Fighting Championship. I asked Johnny to come along to one and to be honest, even though he said he was coming, I didnt think he’d show up.
At this point, I’d never met Johnny in the flesh. I’d never even seen a picture of him. I had an image in my head, based solely on his voice, of what he might look like.
On fight night I was cageside sorting out tables or something, then BOOM…
“Hey Gussie, my main man. Ha ha… Rock’n’Roll baby. How are ye doing?”
This huge guy, in a trench coat, jeans and boots, that could have passed for a hit man or some sort of heavy if he wasn’t smiling so much seemed delighted to see me… I’d no idea who he was…
But then it clicked, that voice was unmistakeable… Johnny Lyons was in the house.
After the pleasantries were exchanged the first thing he said was that he wouldn’t be staying for all of the event. It didnt matter, he was here. He could stay as long as he liked and leave when he wanted. I was delighted he came.
When the show kicked off, he took it all in. “Who’s he?”, “What’s he doing?”, “Are they allowed do that?”
The questions flowed. He chatted to everyone. He thoroughly enjoyed himself AND he stayed to the very end.
He rang the next day to say thanks and said he was blown away by the event, how professional the set up was, how tough the competitors were and how respectful and sporting everyone was after the contests.
“I’m in man, I’m in to MMA, When’s the next BattleZone?”
He was converted.
For the rest of the times that I was on his show it was in studio with Johnny.
The thing I used to enjoy the most with Johnny was the two hour phone call before the show.
I was usually in studio with him for between 5 or 10 minutes. The last time I was on with him we did a marathon 18 minutes previewing a Conor McGregor fight.
Regardless of how long I was on for we’d have a marathon chat on the phone on the Thursday to line everything up for the Sunday. We’d talk MMA for some of it but the rest of it could have been about music, what you were doing, where you went drinking, where you went to school, what you thought of a result or a particular game or some sports guy.
What became apparent during our chats was that Johnny was a perfectionist. I had a feeling he was quite particular from the time I spent with him in the studio — the endless clearing of the throat, the meticulous scritping and timing of his show and the constant checking in with the production team around the timings of each segment.
Judging by the questions he was asking about MMA his interest had gone way beyond it just being content for the show.
During one of our epic conversations he was curious about some of the grappling that happened in a fight and what one guy was trying to do to the other. I explained as best I could and he finally admitted “I get the stand up aspect because I used to box but when it goes to the ground I have no idea what’s going on. Ye see, now that bothers me… Not knowing what they are doing.”
Done deal, Johnny was going to come out to Team Ryano where Neil and I train and he was going to get on the mats for some Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.
Sadly, it never happened.
He died 19th August 2015… way, way before his time.
Like I said at the top, I wasn’t in his close circle of friends, I didnt see or talk to him that often.
But I miss him.
I’m gutted we don’t have our monster phone calls.
I’m gutted I never got to show him some jiu jitsu and, most of all, I’m gutted I’ll never share a studio with him again.
But I had my time with him and I’ll never forget it.
Thanks for everything, Johnny.
Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam.