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Dublin: 6 °C Sunday 20 October, 2019

After years spent being battered by corruption, Sinead Kavanagh is still fighting for the dream

Former national boxing champion is quickly establishing herself one of Ireland’s top MMA fighters.

Sinead 'KO' Kavanagh is looking to keep her undefeated record going tomorrow night.
Sinead 'KO' Kavanagh is looking to keep her undefeated record going tomorrow night.
Image: Gary Carr/INPHO

A SPARRING SESSION is taking place in Straight Blast Gym and there are two women on the mat. One of them is Sinéad Kavanagh and she’s working up a destruction effort on one of the male members of the club.

A visiting fighter from Iceland, who is spending two weeks at the gym before his next fight, leans towards me and says:

“The women are always emotional fighters. You can see it, they are shouting, they go all out. They’re the best fights.”

Kavanagh takes a knee between some of the sets to catch her breath, but when coach John Kavanagh announces the start of the next one, she suspends the agony and gets back to work, forcing her opponent into a clinch at one point.

When I ask for the identity of the man she’s just pummeled afterwards, Kavanagh admits she’s not quite sure. “There’s new faces all the time,” she tells The42.

Just another obstacle on the way to the top and she’s encountered many of those along the way. She previously boxed for years and in many ways, that career was laced with sequences of hoops to jump through.

Sinead Kavanagh Sinead Kavanagh is a five-time national boxing champion. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

She won five national boxing championships and competed in the Olympic qualifiers for London 2012. But after losing multiple fights as a result of dubious judges’ decisions, the Inchicore native decided to quit. And with no desire to look for another path through education, her future as a fighter reached a pivotal crossroads.

I was gonna give up (fighting altogether) because I was sick of the corruption of boxing and I wasn’t getting anywhere. I wasn’t getting treated properly. Going away and blatantly being just robbed blind in fights. It’s happened to me time and time again and it was heartbreaking because I wasn’t getting anywhere, I wasn’t getting funding. I knew I had talent but it was just washed down the drain.”

“I tried (to complain) but it was just the judges and the referees. I was pushing for funding and trying to get funding. That was hard with the young fella (her son, Leon) and being on the dole. It was just broken promises all the time and they were telling me, ‘Oh, we’ll get you this,’ and you can only take that for so long. I took it for about 12 years. So after that I came away from it.”

She continues: “I was thinking, ‘what to do now?’ I knew I had this talent and I wanted to be a world champion. I was talking to my mate and we thought we’d give MMA a go. I walked into the club and I was a broken soul, just down in the dumps because I couldn’t get anywhere. John took me under his wing and gave me a few classes each week. He saw potential in me and that was it. I just keep growing stronger with him.”

The dream of becoming a world champion took time to form in her mind. She struggled to master the skills of jiu-jitsu — “and there was so much to take on” — but six months later, she started to hit her stride in MMA.

Source: International Mixed Martial Arts Federation/YouTube

In 2015, she reached the peak of the amateur grade by making the final of the International Mixed Martial Arts Federation (IMMAF) World Championships. She was defeated in the final by Canadian fighter Jamie Herrington when the referee jumped in and stopped the fight in the third round.

A dejected Kavanagh accepted the loss at the time but was puzzled by her opponent’s ability to absorb the punches when the crowd were recoiling at the sight of it. Her suspicions were later realised when Herrington contacted her on Facebook to admit that she had failed a drugs test and offered her apologies.

“I told her it’s water under the bridge and what’s done is done. You can’t reverse it. It is what it is. The only thing I feel disheartened about is, ‘Could I be in the UFC right now? Could I have gotten sponsorship?’ That’s the only thing, it’s the what ifs.

“I hit her two digs but I think whatever she was on kept her awake or kept her up because she wobbled, she was gone. I was thinking, ‘How did she stand that?’ The noise of them and the whole crowd thought the same. She fell to her knees. I should have been gold medalist but I got the silver.”

Kavanagh is the retrospective champion but the records won’t tell you that. Herrington was stripped of her title and issued a ban which would imply that Kavanagh would inherit the gold medal by default. But no such delivery arrived at the SBG gym even after John Kavanagh published their Dublin address on Twitter to help Herrington along with the posting process.

They could have reported Herrington’s conduct but after spending much of her earlier years surrounded by corruption, Kavanagh had come to the point where energy invested in chasing another injustice, was energy wasted.

I don’t know why. She was stripped of it. I know John wrote the SBG address on Twitter and nothing happened. It’s sad but you kind of get used to it. It’s amateur, that’s gone. As long as it doesn’t happen in my pro career, I’m happy.”

Her next outing takes place tomorrow night at the Bellator 169/BAMMA 27  event at the 3Arena. There’s been a change on the fight card which means Kavanagh will now compete against Elina Kallionidou (5-0) in a featherweight bout on the Bellator main card.

Prior to that, she was scheduled to fight Eeva Siiskonen at bantamweight and on the day we meet, Kavanagh is in a phase of serious fatigue in her pursuit of that weight limit.

Her natural walking weight is in the region of 72kg.  She was chasing 61kg at the time. For her last fight at BAMMA 26, Kavanagh missed the weight target by 0.8 of a pound, which underlines the magnitude of that punishing challenge.

Carbohydrates had been eliminated from her diet in order to make way for more protein and vegetable based foods, all the while committing to an intense training programme.

In short, she was functioning on minimum energy, which makes for an irritable person to be around. That’s something her 12-year-old son Leon and girlfriend Edele, who also has a son of the same name, willingly undertake.

(Edele) has to go through this weight-cut with me. She doesn’t diet but she cooks for me and stuff. She has to be around me being narky so that’s not nice. Cranky bitch I am and narky. I’d be jumping down people’s throats. Family and friends would have to nearly stay away from me.”

The unexpected change of fighter and weight divisions naturally takes some of the pressure off Kavanagh ahead of tomorrow night, but there’s still the minor matter of a 3-0 record to defend that would take her one step closer to obtaining a UFC contract.

Her first professional fight took place in Dublin last year, where she also became the first female to fight for the BAMMA franchise.

She didn’t give the crowd long to savour the moment, however, crushing her opponent Hatice Ozyurt with a lethal swing inside the first 15 seconds of the opening round of BAMMA 22. It was the ideal start to life in the professional ranks but as for creating BAMMA history, it’s not something she dwelled on for too long.

“That’s exactly what it is. Move on. It’s nice for that moment but that moment is gone now and let’s make a new one.”

Sinead Kavanagh in action against Kataryzna Sadura Sinead Kavanagh fighting Kataryzna Sadura at BAMMA 26. Source: Gary Carr/INPHO

Since then, Kavanagh has added another first-round win to her record (Katarzyna Sadura), along with a split-decision victory over Zarah Fairn Dos Santos of France. First round slaughters are nice work if you can get it, but Dos Santos was a much stiffer assignment.

“She gives me the fear. She was big and strong. I don’t know how she made the weight. I looked tiny towards her. She was tough and I had to dig deep to win that one. It was three awesome rounds. I think I showed my skill there and that I have that determination.”

At the end of our chat, I produce a piece of paper with the results of her three BAMMA outings to date. I ask for a prediction for tomorrow night and the response is defiant:

“First-round KO.”

This girl goes all out.

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