By IMMAF.org lead writer, Jorden Curran
Some of Irish MMA’s most impressive amateur veterans will be in action on the highly anticipated card of Bellator 217, taking place in Dublin on February 23 and showcasing a vast crop of the nation’s best home grown talent.
Among the wave of Irish standouts to have joined the Bellator organisation back in 2018, and who are now set for the Feb. 23. fight night, Northern Ireland’s Leah McCourt features as the event’s most decorated amateur veteran and will take on her third professional outing against Hatice Özyurt of the Netherlands.
At the international level McCourt took the women’s amateur MMA ranks by storm, first winning the 2015 IMMAF European Open tournament title at lightweight before entering as a featherweight for the 2016 IMMAF World Championships in Las Vegas where she also secured the gold medal and made history as the first athlete to win gold in two weight divisions.
McCourt’s professional debut in 2017 saw her taste defeat against Olympic Judo veteran Rizlen Zouak, before bouncing back in June of 2018 with a stylish effort to edge victory in a superfight of Amateur MMA champions, taking a split decision win over France’s Manon Fiorot – the 2017 IMMAF bantamweight gold medalist.
Sinead Kavanagh earned a silver medal for the Republic of Ireland in the featherweight bracket of the 2015 IMMAF Worlds. After a semi-final KO strike put away the USA’s Lindsey Lawrence, defeat in the final to Canada’s Jamie Herrington was overturned to a no-contest, due to Herringon failing a post-bout doping exam, testing positive for amphetamine.
Upon turning pro Kavanagh’s popularity has increased, beginning with a 2015 ‘KO of the Year’ stoppage under UK based promotion BAMMA, before later moving to Bellator where her repetition has grown with displays of courageous determination and grit, warranting her place on the Bellator 217 main card where she meets undefeated Israeli Olga Rubin.
2015 IMMAF World Championships veteran James Gallagher features in the headline slot of Bellator 217, taking on the USA’s Steven Graham. The full potential of Gallagher as an amateur prospect was never fully seen, as after his first two years of amateur experience, he entered the 2015 IMMAF Worlds at age 18, but was forced to withdraw due to injury after submitting USA man Sam Agushi. Turning pro shortly after, the SBG Ireland product was earmarked as an Irish prodigy by Bellator and was recruited in 2016. He now boasts a 7-1 pro record.
Bellator 217 also plays host to the progressing pro careers of Kiefer Crosbie (2015 IMMAF European Open veteran) and Sam Slater (2015 IMMAF European Open and 2017 World Championships veteran).
Team Ryano’s Paul Redmond, former UFC contender, is also back in action with Bellator. Redmond has been a part of the Republic of Ireland’s amateur success in recent years, serving as a coach with the Irish MMA Association (IMMAA) national team at numerous championship events.
Bellator 217 takes place on 23 Feb. at the 3Arena in Dublin, Ireland.