An Interview With Bellator Bantamweight Kerry Hughes
By Arwen Sheridan
Bellator bantamweight Kerry “Rocksteady” Hughes (3-4) will be facing Northern Ireland’s Leah “The Curse” McCourt (2-1) in Dublin on September 27th.
Coming into Bellator 227 after a year’s break from competitive MMA, Hughes is hoping to halt a three-fight losing streak.
Broadly speaking, combat athletes fall into one of two categories. Either their sport is their number one focus and everything else must slot in around it, or their career or family commitments take priority.
Hughes falls firmly into the second group. She has an extremely demanding and rewarding career that will always be a priority for her. This has meant she hasn’t necessarily been able to take some of the short notice opportunities that have come up.
Hughes is very pragmatic about this. The English woman is happy to fight when she can make her schedule work, but she isn’t “chasing” matches.
Hughes seems unconcerned about having had some long periods out of the cage. Some of these layoffs have been due to injury, while others were the result of last-minute fight cancellations.
Living in Tottenham, Hughes started Muay Thai at age thirteen. She maintains it helped to keep her out of trouble.
“I was looking for something to do to keep myself occupied…I find team sports extremely frustrating…It was very useful, kept me out of a lot of trouble during my formative years.”
After a few years Hughes suffered an injury and came away from the sport. She would be in her late twenties before the allure of combat became irresistible once more.
“I got really fat and out of shape. I started coming back to sport, but was really struggling to stick with it…I was going to the gym every day, but I was like ‘this is ****, this is so dull,’ and then I was like, ‘I really used to love Muay Thai,’”
Hughes found a local gym to try and within a month she was there every day. There was an MMA gym in the same building and she started training in the discipline a short while later, when she was 28.
“Before I knew it, I had been matched for a fight.”
She admitted to her coach that is wasn’t actually too sure of the rules, his advice was “for you, at the minute, don’t get taken down!” It turned out to be sound advice and Hughes went on to win the fight convincingly.
After three amateur wins, Hughes went professional. She explained that the decision at this stage was more to do with facing L.J. Adams, the next UK bantam weight on her hitlist, than about seeking a professional bout. By the time Hughes faced Adams in UCMMA 35, she had already signed a three-fight contract with Cage Warriors for their newly launched female division. She won that first fight by unanimous decision.
“I never even planned to fight when I came back to it…I am quite a laid-back person. I tend to just go with it.
“I was interested to get to the heart of where this relaxed attitude to both her fighting career and life in general came from.
“I was in a controlling, abusive relationship and when I left that I had this thing that I will never say no to anything that’s a fun opportunity. Because I spent so long having to say no to everything…If someone gives me a random thing that I have never done, I am like ‘yeah, go on!’”
This explains how Hughes found herself marching 200 miles charity in July. Initially she agreed to do 100 of the 500-mile event to support a close friend who was taking part. However, she found herself so inspired by the rest of the group, by their willingness to endure suffering, that she felt compelled to complete 100 more alongside them.
Hughes likens this gritty determination to that which is required for combat sport.
“Their mental resilience is unreal…That is a lot like fighting…I still remember my first MMA fight. I was warming up for it and I was like ‘I’m not so sure about this, I don’t want to do this.’ I was panicking. But then the cage door closes and you’re in there now, so you either do it, or you get filled in.”
Naturally as her career progressed and she gained experience, the prefight butterflies lessened. She counsels, however, that is not always easy to shut out external forces and attain the clarity of mind the sport requires.
“There was one fight I had, and my head really wasn’t in it. My life was falling to bits and exactly that thing happened. The cage door shut, and I didn’t engage with it because I was too busy thinking about a million and one things going on, and it was over surprisingly quickly!”
Rocksteady’s Bellator debut has been a long time coming. She had been due to take her first fight for the promotion in February of this year. Hughes had been matched with Ireland’s Sinead Kavanagh. In a strange twist of fate both women had to withdraw from the fight due to hand injuries.
Hughes has always wanted fight in her hometown of London, but that card was full, so 227 in Dublin was the next opportunity. She was expecting to be matched with Sinead again, but it turned out that McCourt was the opponent Jude Samuels had in mind.
On the women’s side of the sport, the pool of fighters in each division is small. Individuals cannot rule out being matched against any of the other women at some stage. Hughes is certain that she will face Kavanagh in the future, but for now The Curse is firmly in her sights.
“This will be the first time Leah has fought that I haven’t been cheering her on…It has been interesting watching her coming up…I know she’s a good girl…I have got mutual friends with her…Stylistically it has the potential to be a very good matchup”
Having started in Judo, McCourt would be considered a natural grappler, while Hughes would be a natural striker. “Different sides of a game of chess.” Of course, both women have expanded their skill sets from where they began, but you would have to imagine the oldest instincts will be the strongest.
“I don’t have a flashy game piece that I am going to roll out it he first ten seconds and smash with it…Our job as fighters is to deal with whatever is put in front of us…I can pretty much guarantee it’s not going to be over quickly.”
Something tells me this one might go to the judges!
Looking beyond September, Hughes will be waiting to see what Bellator have in mind for her and hoping to coordinate it with her work commitments.
Hughes wanted to say thank you to her team and coaches at Primal Combat Academy, the guys and girls at Jacksons, especially Harry St. Leger and Dave Matthews.
She also want to thank her sponsors Combat Dollies, Belvis Cars, Fierce Nutrition, My Sport Consulting and Fireteam Fit for their support.