On Thursday morning, Bellator officially announced a massive fight between ranked featherweights Leah “The Curse” McCourt and Sinéad “KO” Kavanagh. The matchup, which will take place on Friday, February 25, in Dublin’s 3Arena, was first reported by Irish journalist Petesy Carroll and also by SevereMMA.com.
For Leah McCourt, it is a no-brainer answer when asked if the Bellator 275 contest vs Kavanagh is set to be the biggest domestic fight in Irish MMA history:
“Of course!” McCourt told MyMMANews.com
Long before the reign of a notorious UFC superstar, the domestic Irish MMA scene was alive and kicking with compatriots battling it out weekend after weekend in promotions such as Cage Contender, Battlezone, Man of War, and more. It was the breeding ground for a generation of Irish fighters who tested their abilities by going toe to toe with one another, and the cream would rise to the top. Ask those who were around at the time, you’ll be regaled with tales of instant classics like the Philip Mulpeter vs John Donnelly war in 2012. As time went on and the likes of McGregor, Seery, Pendred, Daly, Holohan and company had announced themselves (and an entire country) on the world stage, there was a growing consensus that it was more beneficial for Irish MMA if fighters competed against opponents from overseas. That way, more could make it to the top without stunting a fellow countryman’s growth.
While young Irish amateurs and fledgling pros routinely compete against each other still, it is less common now to see two Irish prospects square off in the cage. Whether that be down to an increased number of opportunities to fight abroad, lack of events in the Republic of Ireland, or any other reason, that is a conversation for another day. There have been some notable matchups between bigger-name fighters in recent years. Paul Redmond and Norman Parke headlined BAMMA 28 in 2017, Myles Price and Norman Parke fought on Brave CF 13 in 2018, and Myles Price and Peter Queally squared off at Bellator 217 in 2019. However, these matchups have been the exception rather than the rule.
Undoubtedly, Leah McCourt vs Sinéad Kavanagh is the biggest domestic women’s fight in Irish MMA history. There is an argument to be made too though, that it is the biggest domestic fight, period.
“There’s no other two males who have been ranked so highly in their respective divisions and fought each other, especially in Ireland. You can’t say it’s not! I think it doesn’t really matter the wording around it. Everyone’s going to know on the night when we walk out and fight. It’s going to be electric. It’s going to be such a special moment for Irish MMA!” McCourt explained to MyMMANews.com
McCourt sits at number 4 in the Bellator women’s featherweight rankings, just one spot separating the former IMMAF champion from number-5 ranked Kavanagh.
Though the strongest women’s featherweight division in the sport, there is an experience gap between the top and the bottom of the Bellator women’s 145lbs rankings. McCourt is unbeaten since 2018, crafting a six-fight win streak since suffering her sole loss in her pro debut. Despite her undefeated Bellator run, the 29-year-old Team Torres BJJ fighter has yet to claim the marquee win that would announce herself as a true contender to both the top of the division and the rest of the world. A fight vs Sinéad Kavanagh, the most recent title contender in the division, represents just that.
“Yeah, I think so! I think that’s why I wanted the fight, to really take that challenge on and test myself. Sinéad’s dangerous from the first bell to the last second of the fight, and being in there with that threat is something I need to deal with if I want to keep progressing up the ranks” McCourt told MyMMANews.com
“It’s just something I’m so excited about, especially to fight somebody of Sinead’s level and capabilities. We know what she’s going to bring out in me. I think it’s a great fight for both of us and for Ireland as well. We’re both two top females in the best promotion with our best division in the world. It has to happen in Dublin. It was going to happen one day, so I think there’s no time like now for it to happen”
While Leah McCourt and Sinead Kavanagh are not direct training partners, they have enjoyed a friendly relationship over the years, traveling to spar each other on numerous occasions. McCourt was even in Kavanagh’s corner for the Dubliner’s TKO win over Olga Rubin in Israel. For McCourt, taking this fight made sense and it will be all business:
“I did her corner in Israel. I’ve supported her up until this fight, and I’ll support her after. It’s not gonna make any difference. We’re both professional athletes. I’ve never had any personal feelings going into a fight towards anyone. We’re both professionals. We both love to fight, and I think it’s more about the occasion and the night and Bellator’s commitment to putting on those big fights for the Irish crowd because they’re so supportive of us every single show. There’s never a show that’s not totally electric!”
“There was no big deal or big drama. We both work hard. We both fight hard. We both support each other’s careers. I just think it was a perfect time, especially in the current climate. It’s such a risk bringing opponents over from America or Europe and having the COVID testing, and there’s always that feeling in your stomach of will the fight go ahead? Will one of their team test positive? It’s like, well we [McCourt and Kavanagh] both drove down to spar each other so why not drive down to Dublin to fight each other in the 3Arena and get paid for it?”
The matchup between McCourt and Kavanagh adds to an already stacked Bellator 275 card which sees middleweight champion Gegard Mousasi defend his title against Austin Vanderford in the main event. Elsewhere on the main card, number-5 ranked Peter “The Showstopper” Queally returns to lightweight action to face Kane Mousah, and Wexford’s Brian Moore is set for a homecoming performance when he faces number-9 ranked undefeated bantamweight Jornel Lugo.
McCourt believes that the Irish fans are in for a treat come Friday 25th February, and that McCourt vs Kavanagh will be the matchup to watch:
“It’s going to be fireworks. I think the fans are going to be on their feet. It’s going to be so back and forth I think. We’re going to steal the show. We’ll steal the show!”
BELLATOR 275: MOUSASI VS. VANDERFORD MAIN CARD:
Middleweight World Title Main Event: #C-Gegard Mousasi (48-7, 2 NC) vs. #1-Austin Vanderford (11-0)
Lightweight Bout: #5-Peter Queally (13-6, 1 NC) vs. Kane Mousah (13-4)
Women’s Featherweight Bout: #5-Sinead Kavanagh (7-5) vs. #4–Leah McCourt (6-1)
Bantamweight Bout: Brian Moore (14-8) vs. #9-Jornel Lugo (7-0)
BELLATOR 275: MOUSASI VS. VANDERFORD PRELIMINARY CARD:
Bantamweight Bout: Brett Johns (17-3) vs. Khurshed Kakhorov (8-0)
Lightweight Bout: Charlie Leary (17-11-1) vs. Davy Gallon (19-7-2)
Featherweight Bout: Ciaran Clarke (4-0) vs. Abou Tounkara (7-2)
Middleweight Bout: #5-Fabian Edwards (9-2) vs. Marian Dimitrov (10-2)
Welterweight Bout: Stefano Paterno (13-4-1) vs. Luca Poclit (6-1)
Strawweight Bout: Danni McCormack (5-0) vs. Stephanie Page (5-3)
Lightweight Bout: Junior Morgan (3-0) vs. Darragh Kelly (Pro Debut)
Featherweight Bout: Scott Pedersen (1-2) vs. Nathan Kelly (3-2)
Andy Stevenson is an MMA writer, interviewer, and occasional podcaster based in Dublin, Ireland.