By IMMAF.org lead writer, Jorden Curran
No great athlete can be defined by a single loss. There is no shortage of champions who were dealt defeat early on in their career, Cristiane ‘Cyborg’ Justino herself was submitted in less than two minutes for her professional debut back in 2005. That being said, it will be little comfort for Northern Ireland’s Leah McCourt who was under the microscope as the decorated amateur competitor faced professional defeat in her debut appearance with Cage Warriors on June 24.
Placed in a unique situation, McCourt stepped up to MMA’s professional realm as a decorated world champion both in mixed martial arts and Brazilian jiu jitsu. McCourt won the 2015 IMMAF European Open lightweight title before following up in 2016 to be crowned as the featherweight world champion in Las Vegas and finished the year by winning IBJJF Word Championship gold in San Fransisco.
Due to knee surgery, the 24-year-old had been out of action in MMA since she last triumphed as an amateur at the 2016 IMMAF Worlds last July. Despite this, she was in at the deep end for Cage Warriors 85 in Bournemouth, England, as she took on the enigmatic Rizlen Zouak – also making her debut, but as a two-time Olympic Judo veteran.
“I have no idea what happened,” McCourt stated on social media following the defeat. In the opening round Zouak took full control on the ground after early moments where McCourt’s height and striking range provided some opportunity while standing. The Moroccan thoroughly overwhelmed McCourt, living up to her own extensive grappling background, she tied up McCourt with crucifix side-control in round 2, rendering her opponent open to strikes and forcing a TKO stoppage.
On Sunday McCourt stated: “I put on the worst performance imaginable and let myself and team down. I have absolutely no excuses and couldn’t have been better prepared. I had never felt better going into a fight. No excuses, I love this sport and what happened last night will never happen again. I have no idea what happened. Thanks to everyone that loves and supports me.”
Once the experience has been fully digested McCourt may find she has taken on an experience with hidden benefits, albeit at an inconvenient time, but with great value nonetheless as any lesson she finds within can lend itself to growth and evolution.