Leah McCourt had a star-making performance at Bellator 227 in the 3Arena, Dublin, Ireland.
The early start to the event resulted in a slow build in atmosphere. However, by the time Leah McCourt made the walk to the cage, the crowd was nearly at capacity. It was clear that the Ireland native was never going to lose to her opponent Kerry Hughes. Her impassioned support, which included UFC flyweight Molly McCann screaming encouragement from press row, simply wouldn’t allow it.
Sure enough, McCourt thrived off the rapturous applause. She dominated the stand-up exchanges, controlled the grappling battle and secured the victory via rear-naked choke at 2:14 of the opening stanza. The victory made it three wins in a row, two under the Bellator banner and two first-round finishes on the bounce.
More importantly, it saw her maintain serious momentum. She may be a relative unknown in other parts of the world, but on that night in the Irish capital, she was a superstar.
McCourt has one of those stories that is impossible not to be captivated by. Adversity has not only shaped her as a fighter, it has shaped her as a person. It doesn’t matter what the world throws at her, she just gets on with it. Her doggedness will see her through. In this sense, her moniker ‘The Curse’ seems very apt.
She didn’t have the best introduction to martial arts. Her father enrolled her in judo when she was a child, but she hated it. Her passion was horse-riding. So at age 11, she quit judo to focus on competing in equestrian events around Ireland.
Unfortunately, a severe allergy meant she had to hang up her saddle and riding crop for good. She couldn’t go near a pony without her face breaking out in lumps and her breathing being hampered. So she went back to the fight game and became a judo black belt.
After the birth of her daughter Isabella at 17, she turned towards Muay Thai and, eventually, MMA. Two years after taking her first striking lessons, she won gold at the 2015 International Mixed Martial Arts Federation European Open Championships before winning another gold medal at the IMMAF Worlds the following year.
She is 3-1 as a professional fighter. That ‘1’ on her record really sums up her character. Losing her professional debut via strikes only spurred her on to come back with fire in her belly. She hasn’t lost since and has improved with each subsequent outing.
A few weeks prior to her Bellator debut, she suffered a shoulder tear that limited the rest of her fight camp to sprinting and throwing jabs. At the beginning of this fight camp, she was also hospitalized with a cyst in her stomach. She still won the bout. The doctor ruled her opponent Hatice Özyurt unable to continue fighting at the end of the first round.
McCourt has one of those spirits that are impossible to waver. There may be more speed bumps on her path, but that won’t stop her from reaching her destination. She’s already a star in Ireland and if Bellator play their cards right, she has the potential to become a global star for them too.