With all the hype that surrounded Cris Cyborg versus Amanda Nunes in UFC 232, you would’ve been forgiven for thinking that it was the main event. The fight between these two seasoned veterans captured the imagination of a worldwide audience. The excitement of the build-up left me in no doubt that there is a huge appetite for women fighters in MMA and the UFC. However, women still remain drastically under represented in the sport.
One notable exception to this trend in Ireland is the formidable Sinead Kavanagh. The SBG professional took time out of her rigorous training schedule to chat with me earlier this week.
Sinead is preparing to take her rightful place on the card of Bellator 217 in Dublin on February 23rd. She will be facing Olga Rubin (5,0,0.) Sinead will be going into this fight with a professional record of 5 wins and 3 losses.
Chatting to Sinead about her professional career to date, I was reminded of the old expression “lies, damn lies and statistics.”
Her record does not tell the full story, and I would offer a word of caution to anyone hoping to face her. Underestimate this woman at your peril.
Sinead’s most recent defeat came against Janay Harding at Bellator 207 and is perhaps the best example of an outcome not truly representative of the facts. In the first round, Sinead sustained a cut above her left eye from an elbow. The cut man was not able to get the bleeding under control, this left the doctor with no alternative but to stop the fight. Naturally this was hugely disappointing for Sinead, who had gone into the fight in
“When it’s out of your control, it’s hard to get your head around it.”
I asked Sinead what she had done to get her head back in the game after that result. With only a few short months between events, the Dublin fighter doesn’t have the luxury of wallowing.
“You just have to keep going. Talking to John (Kavanagh) and he was telling me, Bellator signed me, they love me. It was out of my hands. There was nothing wrong with my skill. I wasn’t knocked out… I was winning that round. The judges gave me that round. From there you just have to prepare for the next fight. Keep moving on.”
Both of Sinead’s other losses came by way of decision. One unanimous and one split. As a spectator, the split decision would seem to be the most painful way to lose a fight. To my mind, it would be like losing the World Cup final on penalties. I asked Sinead how it had felt for her.
“To be honest, I won the fight. It was two rounds to one, I thought. I lost that one on split decision and it was a kick in the teeth…When you know your hand should be raised, and it isn’t…It’s hard.”
As part of her current fight camp, Sinead will be joining some of her SBG team mates on a training camp in Iceland. The team will be spending a couple of weeks preparing in Gunnar Nelson’s gym over there. Honing their skills and making the final fight night preparations, away from the distractions of everyday life.
Sinead has been around combat sports for much of her life. She began karate at age eight. From there she transitioned to kickboxing. Eventually taking up boxing after the birth of her son. I asked Sinead what had prompted her to make the move to MMA four years ago.
“To be honest, I was just sick of boxing and corruption. It was either pack it in or try something different… In MMA you’re in there, you’re fighting, you can do damage and you can stop a fight. That’s what I love.”
With over two decades of striking behind her, Sinead’s stand up is very strong. I was curious about how she has evolved to incorporate the ground elements of MMA, specifically wrestling and Jiu Jitsu. She laughed as she said,
“Tough at the start. I didn’t do wrestling till about a year and a half ago. I said, ‘I better give this a go.’ But now I love wrestling. My Jiu Jitsu is good now. It was tough at the start…But once you get the jist of it, it gets easier.”
Boxers have a strong aversion to ending up on the canvass. However, it’s a huge part of MMA. I asked Sinead how she manages to override that long held instinct.
“I’m still like that. You’re not taking me down. I am standing up. I will do everything to just stand up.”
A common thread with the female fighters I have spoken to is the difficulty they have with getting fights. I asked Sinead if this is still the case at the professional level.
“I just have to train. I only got one fight last year…Now with Bellator meant to be doing more shows in Europe, hopefully there will be more fights. It was only last year that it happened. I wasn’t happy just getting the one fight.”
Sinead struck me as woman on a mission. She seems single minded and determined. Her girlfriend is a personal trainer and has taken up the role of personal chef for Sinead. Prepping all of her meals during her current camp. The Irish woman would appear to have everything in place as she looks to continue to make a name for herself on the international stage. What’s next for the 32-year-old?
“In 2019 I am hoping to make an impact. The Champion Julia Budd called me out. The rest of them are like sheep now, everyone is calling me out. Eejits!”
I can only imagine how it must feel to be called out by anyone, let alone someone of Julia’s calibre. Sinead doesn’t seem affected by any of it. She is extremely grounded. She gives me the impression that no matter what stage she is on, she will just show up and perform. I asked her how she handles it so well.
“I just laugh at it. At the same time, it’s fire for my belly. It makes me say ‘alright. You called me out, let’s get it on.’”
It was after Julia’s fight when she claimed the women’s World Title that the call out came.
“That was a big shock. I was like, wow! She’s around years. She has fought Ronda Rousey, Amanda Nunes and all the rest.”
If and when this fight happens, I for one, want to be sitting cage side!
Sinead is probably the first MMA fighter I have spoken to who doesn’t seem overly concerned about making weight. There is no Bantam weight division in Bellator, so the only realistic option for her is to fight at featherweight (66kg) which is comfortable enough for her.
I am all for seeing more women taking their place in the cage, both at amateur and professional levels. I asked Sinead if she had any words of wisdom for those who might be thinking of trying it.
“Do it! You only get one chance in life. Start now. Why not?”
I personally can’t wait to see Sinead in action next month. It is a huge privilege to get to chat to these fighters coming up to such a momentous time in their careers. Sinead has sponsorship opportunities available, should you wish to take this exciting journey with her.
Written By: Arwen Sheridan