Bellator 217: Female fighters must take risks says featherweight Leah McCourt

Leah McCourt ready for toughest fight yet

Belfast featherweight Leah McCourt says that female mixed martial arts fighters are under immense pressure to perform well in every professional bout if they wish to forge a successful career in the sport.

The former IMMAF amateur world champion will take to the cage at Bellator 217 in Dublin on Saturday.

"Every fight I am taking is a big step up," said the 26-year-old.

"There is no time for building records as a female in MMA."

McCourt will contest her third professional bout against Dutch fighter Hatice Ozyurt on a card which is co-headlined by Irish fighters James Gallagher and Peter Queally.

Following Ozyurt's failure to make the weight at Friday weigh-ins, the bout will go ahead with the Dutch fighter forfeiting 20% of her purse to the Belfast woman.

Having lost on her pro debut, McCourt recorded her first victory last summer having moved gyms to train with Owen Roddy, striking coach to former two-weight UFC world champion Conor McGregor.

The mother of one now incorporates a four-hour round trip from Belfast to her training base in Dublin into her daily routine and is hopeful that the dedication will be rewarded with future opportunities.

"Getting opponents is something I have struggled with throughout my amateur and professional career," she said.

"There is not a big pool of female fighters. I would like to fight three or four times a year but it is just not possible.

Leah McCourt
McCourt trains at SBG Charlestown in Dublin

"Getting regular fights, getting promoters to take you under their wing is something that female fighters struggle with.

"You are sparring guys constantly as there are no girls to spar with, but female fighters that can overcome these difficulties can rise to the top."

McCourt came into prominence in MMA circles when she took home Northern Ireland's only gold medal at the European Open in 2015.

Having claimed her amateur world title a year later, she stated her desire to make it to the top of the professional game.

"She seeks out the best in her field and goes and finds them. It is pure dedication and people that have that can get to the top," said Roddy.

"All eyes are on her now.

"She has the stage and all she has to go is go and perform on that stage. Once she does that, the sky is the limit."

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