From having Conor McGregor join one of her kickboxing demonstrations to training under top MMA coach John Kavanagh to deciding to turn pro, it’s been a whirlwind year for Deirdre Begley. KIERAN McCARTHY tells her story
WALKING away from the chance to win a senior international kickboxing gold medal was one of the hardest decisions that Deirdre Begley has had to make.
She felt she was close.
Silver was the colour of her medal at the 2016 WAKO Senior European Kickboxing Championships. One year later at the senior world championships in Budapest, the Bantry fighter brought home bronze, beaten in her -60kg category semi-final by the then reigning world champion.
This was meant to be her breakthrough year when the six-time national champion finally got her hands on that gold senior medal.
The 2018 WAKO European Kickboxing Championships held in Slovenia last week were her target early in the year.
But Deirdre (23) never travelled.
The West Cork Kickboxing Club trio of Lily de la Cour, Tony Stephenson and Ian Hurley were there representing Ireland. Coach Ian Kingston was there too. Her father, Shane, travelled as a referee.
But Deirdre was in Dublin, working and training.
She has decided to follow a different path, opting to explore a fighting career in Mixed Martial Arts (MMA).
Last year she considered herself a kickboxer. That was her number one. MMA was second. But there’s been a changing of the order since.
‘Originally this year I had planned to go to the Europeans, and even when I learned that the Amateur MMA World Championships were falling the week before, there was still a time where I thought that I’d do both,’ the 23-year-old explains.
‘As it went on, I knew I had a choice to make between the two sports. It came down to which did I want to have the better shot at.
‘It was choosing where I want to go with my fighting career.
‘In 2016 I came second in Europe and last year I came third in the world and both times I was beaten by the world champion. The last time I fought her, it was so close, so I was confident that if I went with the kickboxing this year that I would have won it.
‘Knowing that I never got the senior gold medal and that I wouldn’t compete at that world level again at kickboxing, that was a really hard decision to make.
‘Even now, it still sticks that I won’t have that but I’m confident with MMA that I will have bigger wins in professional and that I am going to have an MMA world title.’
Deirdre, still a member of West Cork Kickboxing Club, is making a name for herself in the world of MMA. She had a shoulder injury at the start of the year that sidelined her but she’s made up for lost time since. At the end of October in Newcastle, she won the Machine MMA flyweight title after a second-round corner stoppage when her opponent, UK fighter Faye Rodgers, couldn’t continue.
The flyweight finished third in her weight at the Amateur MMA World Championships in Bahrain and she has the IBJJF Dublin International Open on December 8th to look forward to.
It’s onwards and upwards for Deirdre, who has also decided to turn pro in 2019.
‘It was always in the back of my head that I wanted to fight for a living,’ she says.
‘It was only when I moved to Dublin and I started training with John Kavanagh in SBG that I realised that I was at that standard where I will do well in the pro ranks.
‘With MMA you are putting your body through a lot. You take a lot of damage so when there is that option to turn pro, it’s worth taking.
‘I probably would have stayed amateur with kickboxing if it was going to be in the Olympics in the next few years but it doesn’t look like that’s going to happen. If you are good enough to make money in MMA, why wouldn’t you?
‘The chance to make a living out of something that I love doing is too tempting.’
Since Deirdre moved to Dublin with work and linked up with John Kavanagh’s renowned Straight Blast Gym (SBG) in the capital, her all-round game has improved.
She was a world-class kickboxer from all those years with West Cork Kickboxing Club, and also a very strong boxer.
‘My wrestling and my jiu jitsu have come on leaps and bounds,’ Deirdre says.
‘The wrestling coach in the gym, Sergei Pikulskiy, is unbelievable. He’s from Moldova and is one of the best in the business. He’s at another level, the best wrestling coach in Ireland and he’d be very well regarded across Europe.
‘John would be there for the sparring and he gives me feedback. He takes the jiu jitsu class on a Monday and he is in the gym a lot so if you have any questions, he’s there. He sorted out my weight cut for my last fight. He will help in any way he can.’
Kavanagh also pointed out a few areas where Deirdre can improve. After she tore her AC in her shoulder in March, she focussed on improving her kicking.
‘John pointed out in sparring that my lead side kick was something that could really do damage in MMA so I worked on that. He has pointed out a few more things that I am trying to work on. I have a different style, there wouldn’t be a lot of female fighters similar to me,’ she says.
Kavanagh is one of the world’s leading MMA coaches and also the head coach for Conor McGregor, who is a regular in the gym in Dublin.
‘I was taking part in a kickboxing session in the gym, I was demonstrating and all of a sudden McGregor joins the class,’ she says.
‘I was thinking in my own head that I’m here demonstrating to McGregor and he knows it all. When you see someone at his level and then he’s watching me show a couple of techniques on the pads, it was surreal.
‘He was in the gym quite a bit before his last fight. He has only ever been a gentleman, always says hello, he came over after one of my sparring sessions before when I was fighting a pro, Sinead Kavanagh.’
Moving to Dublin and joining SBG was the best move Deirdre could have made.
‘For a long time you would underestimate yourself but in the last year I am really after seeing my potential,’ she says.
‘I am in the best possible place to achieve the best success. I am doing well. There is a great support team. Great training partners. Great coaches.
‘I don’t want to come to the point when I’m older and look back with regrets, saying I did this and that, but I never tried going pro.’
Deirdre will fight at flyweight, 56.6kg. She walks around at 61kg so she doesn’t have too much weight to cut. For her last fight, she says it was the easiest weight cut of her career, after John Kavnagh got Tristan Kennedy from Lockhart & Leith Ireland to look after her.
‘It was the lightest I have ever fought. I didn’t have to do any bath, any sauna, anything like that. It was the easiest one yet. There is no reason to be cutting an extreme amount of weight. I felt the best I ever felt,’ she said.
Luke O’Mahony in Exceed Fitness in Ballincollig looks after Deirdre’s day-to-day nutrition, and her S&C coach is Leon Lynch, also in Exceed Fitness. Her boxing coach, Eamonn Scully, is also based in Cork, so there’s a strong Rebel core to this Bantry fighter ready to take the MMA world by storm.