|Venue: 3Arena, Dublin Date: Friday, 23.9|
|Cover: Live coverage on BBC iPlayer and the BBC Sport website and app from 6pm BST, with the main card also live on BBC Three from 9pm BST|
Leah McCourt’s fight against Sinead Kavanagh in Dublin in February has been called “the greatest Irish fight of all time”.
It pitted two friends at McCourt in Belfast and Kavanagh in Dublin in front of a rowdy Irish crowd.
The event was a notable occasion but for McCourt the pressure proved too intense as she was stretched beyond three grueling rounds.
She collapsed after the defeat, which came just 16 days after her positive Covid-19 test.
“I was sick for days, I couldn’t breathe for long stretches. I pushed my body to the extreme limits. I put everything I had in there,” McCourt, 30, told BBC Sport.
“As much as I was looking forward to the fight, I definitely feel like there’s a lot of expectations in it.
“I don’t want to take anything away from Sinead because that was her night but I wasn’t 100% myself physically and it definitely took its toll.”
McCourt meets Brazilian Dayana Silva in her first fight since losing to Kavanagh in a featherweight bout at Bellator Dublin on Friday.
Unlike previously, where she trained in Ireland, McCourt has chosen to prepare for this fight at the next-gen gym in Liverpool alongside UFC’s Molly McCann and trainer Paul Rimmer.
McCann will be in McCourt’s corner Friday night. McCourt says Rimmer was a huge influence, teaching her to enjoy fighting and all the challenges that come with it.
“Sometimes I feel like I carry the weight of the world on my shoulders as I juggle fighting and promotion, Isabella [her daughter]my business, travel, training – I do everything myself,” she says.
“He [Rimmer] said I have to enjoy it, have fun training, have fun sparring, otherwise what’s the point of doing it?
“Instead of worrying so much about the outcome, enjoy the process. I think it helped me to do a lot better in this camp.
“I feel like I’m really looking forward to this fight, to going in there and fighting and I’ve never had that feeling before.
“I always just wanted to get it over with. I want the weigh-in done so I can fight and make it. I’ve always trained to try to finish on the first lap. But, [this time]I want to be there to the end if I have to.”
“The energy in Liverpool is unbelievable”
McCourt’s loss to Kavanagh was only her second in eight professional fights and followed a six-fight win streak.
In 2020 she became the first woman to headline a major MMA event in Europe when she defeated Judith Ruis at the Bellator 240 in Dublin.
McCourt had planned to train at Liverpool ahead of their loss to Kavanagh but the Covid-19 pandemic made that logistically impossible.
Now after coming off one loss, she says the way McCann rebuilt her career in the UFC to enjoy a three-fight win streak after back-to-back losses inspired her.
“Molly has had her losses and look at her now, she came back and learned so much from it,” says McCourt.
“I’m logical. I understand that your career will not only be an uptrend and you will have setbacks. You have to try to take what you can and build on your performance and training and add to everything.
“[The camp] was great. The energy in Liverpool is just the salt of the earth folks. It’s very similar to Belfast. My dad is from Liverpool, my grandma lives here so I stay with her or with Molly for most of my camp.
“We are best friends. We both crawl out of bed sore and crying in the morning, but we still drag each other to training sessions.”
“Silva is a good test for me”
McCourt’s opponent Silva comes into the fight after beating Janay Harding in April.
The 32-year-old has won ten fights and suffered seven losses in her 13 years as a pro and McCourt is weary of the threat she poses in the cage.
“I think she’s an extremely tough opponent. It’s a tough fight,” she adds.
“She’s aggressive and just hit Janay Harding. [She lost to Julia Budd but] I don’t think she lost that fight. It’s definitely a good test for me.”
McCourt says hitting Silva could spark a delicious rematch with Kavangah.
“I would love to win this fight and fight them [Kavanagh] again in February,” she says.
“Me and they did such a good thing, such a good effort. We deserve a main venue, maybe in Belfast this time.
“It’s not about getting the win back, but because it was such a good fight, why not do it again? But we will see.”
First, however, a Friday night in Dublin.