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18 Feb, 2020 14:54

Leah McCourt: Meet the Conor McGregor stablemate on the brink of MMA superstardom (PHOTOS)

Leah McCourt: Meet the  Conor McGregor stablemate on the brink of MMA superstardom (PHOTOS)

Ireland's Leah McCourt has been catapulted into this weekend's Bellator Dublin main event following injuries to top stars James Gallagher and Peter Queally, but who exactly is the latest featherweight queen on the Bellator books?

For some people, the term 'the Irish curse' has a very particular meaning but McCourt - who calls herself 'The Curse' - will have a very different definition of that when she steps into the cage on Saturday to make up a hastily-arranged main event, following the removal of hometown heroes Gallagher and Queally from the main event and co-main event respectively. 

McCourt, 27, has come from an inauspicious background to become one of the hottest properties in the hotbed of mixed martial arts in Ireland, emerging from the same SBG umbrella which unleashed Conor McGregor into the combat sports orbit.

The single mother, who hails from a council estate in Belfast, won gold at the IMMAF World Championships in 2016 to add to European and world titles in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. And if you need more accolades to fully appraise McCourt's potential, one needs only to look at the black belt she holds in Judo as evidence of that.

However, things weren't always looking quite so rosy for the Bellator main eventer. After winning three fights in three days to claim an amateur world title in the summer of 2016, McCourt was defeated in her professional debut under the Cage Warriors banner in 2017. It was this loss which convinced McCourt to uproot herself from her training base in Belfast and travel to Dublin to train under the stewardship of Conor McGregor's striking coach Owen Roddy.

That decision has led to her winning three straight fights, including two finishes in her first two fights for Bellator. That form, coupled with the unfortunate injuries which hampered this Saturday's card, has seen her transplanted to the main event - something she says makes the two hour commute between Belfast and Dublin all the more worthwhile.

"I've been doing this for about two-and-a-half years now," McCourt told Sky Sports of her cross-country training regime. "Isabella (her daughter) loves Bellator and she is so proud of me. She is coming to this fight, but she has never been before. She usually watches my fights with my mum on TV after I have won.

"It's just sponsors, training, medicals, meetings, running from Belfast to Dublin, I don't have one second," she explains. "A lot of other boxers and fighters go away for eight-week camps and can just train and relax whereas my life is just non-stop. To be honest, that's just the way I like it. After the fight I think it will sink in for what has happened and what I have achieved on my journey to get here, but at the minute there's a big task in hand and a lot of commitments.

"I'm exhausted 24-7, that's just like my norm. I don't know what's it's like not feeling exhausted. Getting in the cage is the easy bit. You can usually see me lying on a cushion fast asleep before a fight because I'm usually so relaxed. The actual fight is the easy bit."

McCourt's opponent this weekend, Germany's Judith Ruis, comes into the fight with a 6-4 record and a plan to quieten the raucous hometown support which comes with an Irish person fighting in Ireland but it is an unenviable task for a fighter making their promotional debut. McCourt, one suspects, won't be overawed by the occasion, but can the same be said of her opponent who has very much been placed into the role of sacrificial lamb? 

Bellator's repeated investment in the Irish mixed martial arts market has seen them snap up the majority of talent available in the region. Gallagher, Queally, Kiefer Crosbie and co. have all been successful additions to the roster but another potential star is poised to announce herself this weekend in a featherweight fold currently ruled over by Cris Cyborg. 

McCourt's SBG teammate, Conor McGregor, solidified his status as a world-beater when he shockingly dethroned Jose Aldo in 13-seconds a few years ago and with McCourt presumably focused on another seemingly immortal Brazilian legend in Bellator featherweight champion Cris Cyborg, all McCourt wants is an opportunity to impress.

She gets that stage on Saturday night.