Northern Ireland

Leah McCourt: Martial arts world champ says daughter was inspiration

Leah McCourt
Image caption Leah McCourt wants to raise the profile of women's mixed martial arts

A County Down woman who became a mixed martial arts world champion at the weekend says her inspiration came from her six-year-old daughter.

Leah McCourt, 23, from Saintfield, was crowned amateur world featherweight world champion in Las Vegas.

She said it was the "most extreme way to test your body in combat".

Ms McCourt told BBC Radio Ulster's Good Morning Ulster that chatting to her daughter, Isabella, on the phone "kept me motivated".

She overcame German Julia Dorney through a technical knockout in her final to add the accolade to the European Open title she won last year.

Starting out in judo, where she earned a black belt, Ms McCourt switched to Muay Thai after her daughter was born.

Mixed martial arts (MMA) is a combination of judo, boxing, wrestling and jujitsu.

"It is so mentally tough because you could be coming out against a boxer, or somebody who does wrestling," she said.

Overcoming major knee surgery in February, Ms McCourt worked hard to make her weight before the tournament, dieting and taking salt baths to get down to 65 kilos.

Describing the sport as "the most extreme, difficult, technical thing to do", she admitted that, "to the untrained eye, it does just look like you're going in and fighting. It is the most realistic, lifelike way of a fight".

Ms McCourt wants to see more female mixed martial arts competitors from Northern Ireland.

"It's a really fast growing sport, but there's still not much profile for women, but I'm hoping to change that," said Northern Ireland's latest world champion.

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