One of West Cork’s top kickboxers will fight for an MMA women’s title next month. Deirdre Begley chats to KIERAN McCARTHY about her new adventure
‘I WAS always a better boxer than a kicker,’ Deirdre Begley explains.
‘In my weight category for kickboxing I was always strong. I could always take a punch. Even the boxing has stood to me, too.’
Her fighting background is impressive, just last October she won a silver medal at the WAKO Senior European Championships, she has also boxed with UCC, and now this Bantry woman is packing a punch in the world of MMA (Mixed Martial Arts).
Deirdre is keen to stress that kickboxing is still her number one, and last weekend she clinched gold at the nationals in the women’s -60kg light contact to qualify for the world championships in Budapest later this year, but she’s also interested to explore what the world of MMA can offer her.
‘Kickboxing is still number one, without a doubt,’ the 22-year-old said.
‘I have a love for kickboxing. Ian (Kingston, coach), the whole gang, they’re like a family.
‘I’m just looking at the future, too. I couldn’t make a career out of kickboxing. Maybe the MMA might open up opportunities in the future, I don’t know.’
One opportunity has already presented itself because on July 22nd in the Neptune Stadium, amateur fighter Deirdre will fight Rosa Walsh (De La Riva club in Cork) for the Cage Legacy women’s bantamweight title.
With one fight, and one win, under her belt, against Silje Wahl from Norway in March, she has made an impression in her short time in MMA; her striking background is serving her well.
‘Before that fight I was a lot more nervous than I was for any kickboxing fights but I was still really excited,’ said Deirdre who trains with Aaron Maguire in BJJ Cork.
‘I had training behind me, in jiu jitsu. I had the stand up, the striking from the kickboxing, and I took to the wrestling naturally enough, so it was just the jiu jitsu that needed a bit of work.
‘I felt very well rounded going into the fight.
‘She was a bit heavier, so much taller and she was strong. She got me on the ground a few times but we had drills done on how to escape, practised maybe 50 or 60 times in a training session.
‘I listened to my coaches, followed their advice. And I won by submission. No one thought that would happen so I was ecstatic after.
‘Soon enough after they scheduled my next fight, a title fight next month. That will be an exciting fight because the girl I am fighting is predominantly jiu jitsu and she doesn’t have any real stand-up game or wrestling. There’ll be a nice mix there, a really interesting fight.’
She’s regarded as one of West Cork Kickboxing Club’s top performers and it’s easy to see why.
Going back to her junior days Deirdre finished second and third in the world at different championships, and stepping up to senior has seen her continue to be in the mix for medals, coming third at the Irish Open in 2015, there’s also a third place at the WAKO World Cup in Italy, and then came her silver at the European seniors last October in Maribor – but she wants more.
‘I have my eyes set on gold at the worlds; it’s one that I haven’t got my hands on yet. That’s the aim. That’s the dream,’ she said.
By winning the national title last Sunday Deirdre’s on the plane to Budapest this winter, and before then she hopes to have competed at the MMA world championships in Bahrain – an ideal warm-up for the WAKO world kickboxing championships, she feels.
‘I’d be at a very good advantage in MMA because of my kickboxing. I’m at a very high level for striking and I’ve competed internationally in big competitions so that’s an advantage for me,’ she explained.
‘In kickboxing you are limited enough because there are only so many punches and kicks that you can throw, but with MMA it’s kinda unlimited; you have your jiu jitsu, wrestling, the ground-work, and more, and I just took to it really well.
‘I’m at that stage in kickboxing where I am competing at a really high level so MMA is like a really fun hobby.
‘I am hoping to go away to the MMA Worlds in Turkey in November. It’s a few weeks before the kickboxing worlds so it falls nicely and will help me in terms of preparation, cutting weight and being sharp.’
Last year ahead of the European seniors she competed at the Bristol Open and she felt that served her well, helped her form, and she’s also eyeing up the competition in Bristol this October to kick-start what she hopes will be a fruitful few weeks.
Deirdre came through that first fight against Silje Wahl (flown over from Norway for the fight) unscathed.
There’s a perception that MMA is too violent, too dangerous and too brutal, and it’s a debate that’s ongoing – but Deirdre’s standing up for MMA, saying she sees no difference in physicality between it and kickboxing.
‘There is a stigma surrounding MMA, we all know that,’ she said.
‘My parents were a bit wary at the start, and Ian (Kingston) would have been the same. But they saw from my first fight that I was well able for it.
‘I came out of that fight with no injuries and I think what helps me is that I have such a strong background in kickboxing. I didn’t get hurt because I am so used to it. I am at a good level for it. Maybe if my striking wasn’t as good going into MMA I would get hurt more, I don’t know, that’s impossible to say.
‘Saying that, we wear seven ounce gloves and there is a lot to be said for that.
‘I’ve noticed no difference in physicality between the MMA and kickboxing.’
Living on Wilton Road and working as a Credit Analyst with AIB on Fr Matthew Street in Cork city, Deirdre doesn’t get home to Bantry as much as she’d like; that’s where MMA helps out, it allows her train in the city during the week.
But home is where the heart is and it’s also where her greatest support is, too.
Her parents, Shane and Fiona, and siblings, Brian, Sean and Grainne, know kickboxing inside out, as well. Shane is a well-known referee at national level and his pointers and guidance are priceless, Sean won bronze at the junior worlds last year while Grainne, the youngest, won gold at those championships, too.
‘It’s a great support system to have because they know what it takes in kickboxing, the training, the dedication, the effort,’ Deirdre said.
‘When I’m cutting weight I could be a bit cranky, or if something doesn’t go right for me in training, they understand it all because they experience it themselves. Our parents are very understanding, they’re great support.’
And now they’re backing Deirdre as she branches out into MMA and fights for a title next month, hoping to enjoy as much success here as she continues to have in kickboxing.
• Three West Cork Kickboxing Club members have won national titles and qualified for the world championships in Budapest later this year. World champion Lily de la Cour has qualified for -50kg light contact, Deirdre Begley has qualified for -60kg light contact and low kick, and Catherine McGregor will represent Ireland in the -55kg veteran category.