An Interview with Bellator’s Leah McCourt
By Dan McConnell
Leah McCourt is a Northern-Irish featherweight fighting out of SBG Charlestown who currently holds a 2-1 record in her professional mixed martial arts career.
The top prospect has had a very successful amateur MMA career going 6-1, fighting for Clan Wars in her early days in 2014, until making the jump to compete at IMMAF which is the International Mixed Martial Arts Federation and is becoming one of the most important amateur organisations in the sport today.
Leah turned professional in 2017 featuring on the Cage Warriors 85 card in Bournemouth which was headlined by Oskar Piechota and Jason Radcliffe. The 145-pounder later went on to fight at CW94 in Belgium featuring Ilia Topuria and Brian Bouland as the head-liners, winning her first professional bout via decision over Manon Fiorot in June 2018.
McCourt who has a high-level jiu-jitsu background and is her bread and butter, was snapped up by Bellator MMA making her debut at Bellator Dublin in February of this year. A first round TKO victory over Hatice Ozyurt kick-started new life within a new organisation.
From this victory in February, McCourt has spent a lot of time honing her skills travelling from the likes of Liverpool to Thailand. A growing friendship with former Cage Warriors champion and now UFC flyweight Molly McCann has blossomed, and the possible development of a funny fight nickname along the way.
As previously mentioned, McCourt made her Bellator debut in February of this year, in which I was given the opportunity to interview her before the contest.
With the recent announcement of her next fight under the Bellator banner, I wanted to know her thoughts on her latest fight.
“So obviously the announcement is out that I’m fighting Kerry Hughes on the next Bellator Dublin card, it’s an exciting fight, she is experienced, she’s tough and I’m really looking forward to the test. I believe it’s going to bring out the best in me and show my true skills.”
This will be the featherweight’s second fight with Bellator, and being on the Dublin card again can only help increase her fan-base and show the world what McCourt has to offer!
From her last fight McCourt has been to Scotland, Liverpool, London and now in Thailand to train her skills and learn from the best in the world which can only improve her game. I wanted to know how these experiences, especially training at the renounced Tiger Muay Thai gym has been like, and her general experiences of Thailand.
“Yeah I travel a lot to compete and to train, I was in Liverpool working with a new strength and conditioning unit at the University of Liverpool, I have been working with UFC star Molly McCann obviously me and her are very good friends.
“I was over being a sparing partner for her in her last fight for the UFC, so I was getting work done in Liverpool with my own testing at the university and sparring with Molly which was great. I was also over at Bellator Birmingham and London as a fan just watching the shows.”
As you can tell McCourt has been quite busy this year but never rests even when she isn’t fighting for the professional MMA organisations. A fighter who is always wanting to learn and train from the best around the world.
“I have been competing in Jiu-Jitsu at the ADCC trials in Poland, I got bronze beating a black belt world champion, lost out in the semis so it was a great experience to get over there. I hope to get out to the ADCC World Championships soon.
“My Dad lives in Thailand so I’m over here with my daughter and getting training in at Tiger Muay Thai which is an unbelievable place, with unbelievable coaches and world class fighters from right around the world training and pushing each other. It’s been really great to be in this environment.”
I wanted to expand on McCourt ’s training in Thailand, asking her what this experience is like on a day to day basis in a different environment and also what benefits does she think she will get out the training with a different team and lifestyle that she has dedicated herself too.
‘So yeah, I’m over here in Thailand training with the Tiger Muay Thai team. I will train 2-3 times a day, I’m living right across the road from the gym usually I have a two-hour journey to training in Dublin.
“Life is so easy here, so relaxed and it’s a great atmosphere everyone trains hard just like my own team at SBG Charlestown. Everyone trains and pushes one-another, and when your pushing to the top the atmosphere is good. The only real difference is the weather and not having to drive too far to the gym, so it’s a bit less stressful than my normal week at home. I’m out here for nearly four weeks and I’m really enjoying it so far, training with different bodies and different styles so it’s great.
‘I don’t notice a difference in mentality, you know if your used to training with people who want to get to the top everybody is in there pushing and working hard. That’s the environment you need to be in not somewhere people are taking it easy and it’s my responsibility to push myself as hard as I can.
“I could go into session and half ass them being over here, but ask anybody I go into every session and work as hard as I can trying to improve in all areas.”
From our previous interview, we discussed a potential fighters nickname and something surprising came up during our chat. From our further social media interactions and Leah’s recent bad luck where she had not one but two flat tyres in one day, I wanted to find out was this nickname being made official yet?
“Yeah for those who don’t know, my friend Molly McCann gave me the nickname ‘The Curse’ and I actually haven’t ever had a fight name. It suits me down to the ground, she says if something bad is going to happen it will happen to me!”
“A lot of bad and unfortunate experiences come my way no matter what’s happening. One day I’m going to write a book of literally, the craziest stuff that happens whenever I go anywhere whether it’s competing or fighting. People just say ‘typical Leah’ I don’t believe in good luck or bad luck, there is a lot of obstacles thrown in my way and it’s my job to overcome them!”
I wanted to ask McCourt about the announcement that she is set to compete at Grapple Kings against Helen Harper in October, and to judge at the Northern Ireland health and fitness awards in September.
‘So yeah I took a match at Grapple Kings, I kind of compete whenever and as much as I can. I want to keep my jiu-jitsu level high which I love and is my background. It will be exciting to compete at this event as my head-coach Owen Roddy is competing against Brad Pickett, so it will be great to compete along-side him.
“I just like keeping busy, keeping active and pushing myself I’m not doing it for anybody else I just want to make the best version of me that I can be and the only way to do that is to keep testing myself competing and putting myself in situations where I need to test myself.”
I wanted to know if these experiences add to her overall game and what is her thoughts on women’s MMA right now. There is a gradual progression but a huge under-representation in the sport overall.
“I think a lot of women are interested in MMA and want to watch it, but not a lot of people including males want to fight and that’s okay they don’t have too. As long as people understand and appreciate the work that goes into training. I don’t think everyone that does MMA has to be a fighter, you can train it and enjoy it and do it as a hobby.
“You can learn techniques and skills, that’s what I base my ladies’ classes around it’s not about the fighting aspect it’s about getting confidence, meeting people and making new friends. There is such a culture of partying, and I love the girls coming in to learn and not being stuck on their phones or obsessed with social media. It’s just pure learning martial arts and something they can actually use to defend themselves.”
McCourt’s next women’s class has been set for the end of July, and I would certainly encourage anyone interested to attend these classes and to contact her to book in.
“My next ladies are on the 22nd of July at Queens Sport in Belfast, I run a six-week course for girls to come along. I will teach them self-defence, learning different aspects of martial arts and really learn about what MMA is and how it is the best way to defend yourself in a real fight!”
“I tell them if they’re in any vulnerable situations people aren’t going to stand and box a woman, their going to grab you and pull you just like a real MMA fight so it’s just good to learn simple techniques to defend yourself.
“Whenever the women come along half the class is pad-work and the other half is grappling with the overall aspect of self-defence. There is a lot of girls who keep coming back who are progressing and constantly learning.”
McCourt will aim to take her professional record to 3-1 when she returns to action at Bellator Dublin on 27th of September. There is no doubt the Northern-Irish women is a trail-blazer for women’s MMA in the UK and Ireland, and I can’t wait to see her back inside that Bellator cage in the 3 Arena.