By Caoilte de Barra
On Friday the 25th of February, Bellator will return to Dublin, Ireland with a card stacked full of IMMAF alumni. Every time the promotion returns to the Emerald Isle, plenty of former IMMAF medalists fill the card, this time boasting seven IMMAF alumni.
The card is headlined by a Middleweight title bout between reigning champion Gegard Mousasi and Austin Vanderford. However, the Co-Main Event between Sinead Kavanagh and Leah McCourt is grabbing headlines. Both women have served as the Main Event and Co-Main Event on one previous occasion.
Kavanagh made it to the final of the 2015 IMMAF World Championships. She lost a decision to Jamie Herrington but was overturned to a no-contest after her opponent committed an Anti-Doping Rule Violation. In the build-up to the fight, Kavanagh has been training with the 2018 IMMAF World Champion and former opponent of Leah McCourt, Julia Dorny. Speaking at the media day, Kavanagh believes she is prepared for anything in this fight.
“She’s going to try and take me down like everyone else does, it’s nothing new, I’m prepared for this. I’m buzzing and it’s been so long since I fought here. I’m really looking forward to people watching me fight. I’m ready for this. I went toe-to-toe with the best in the world, it didn’t go my way, but I’ll be back and correct my mistakes.”
“I’m good on the ground, I just haven’t been able to show my skills because my wrestling is good. If it does go there, I think I am well prepared to deal with her skills.”
McCourt won both the 2015 European Open and 2016 Worlds before pursuing a career as a pro. McCourt has thrived as a pro, winning her last six bouts and putting her name in the title mix. A win here could have major title implications. McCourt noted how proud she is of how much attention the fight has gotten.
“I’m really proud that this fight has gotten the recognition I think it deserves because it’s such a big fight and there’s big repercussions after for whoever wins. There will be big opportunities and I always say once you step in the cage, your life and the outcomes can change so much after. It’s nice to get that respect because I think people take for granted what we do sometimes.”
Further down the card, 2017 World Silver Medalist Danni McCormack hopes to remain unbeaten in a tough fight with France’s Stephanie Page. McCormack has remained active with the amateur scene as an IMMAA Youth Team Coach, helping bring through the next wave of talent.
Former World Champion Lee Hammond will be making his promotional debut on the card. The SBG Ireland fighter turned pro in 2021 following an amateur career that saw him compete at various IMMAF events over four years, collecting three medals in total. He believes all his experience before turning pro has helped him.
“The experience of all this is good for my career, whether it’s media, weight checks, all this is important to my growth. All of Conor’s camps have been a great experience for me, I mean look around, there are cameras everywhere, I’m ready for the big stage. I feel comfortable everywhere.”
Elsewhere fan-favourite Ciaran Clarke will be entering, hoping to build on his undefeated pro record against yet another tough opponent. The final two alumni are Scott Pederson and Nathan Kelly. Both fighters will be making their promotional debut and will meet one another in an Ireland vs Wales clash.