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31st Jan 2017

Catherine Costigan is back from the brink and ready to reclaim her career with Cage Warriors

'The Alpha Female' has put in the work

Darragh Murphy

It’s been a long, long wait for Catherine Costigan.

532 days in between fights, to be exact.

There are not many fighters in Ireland who are more accustomed to the frustration of being restricted to the treatment room than Limerick’s Costigan.

A neck fusion surgery several years ago was followed by a herniated disc towards the tail end of 2015 and just as it seemed that ‘The Alpha Female’ was set to make inroads for Irishwomen in Invicta FC, misfortune derailed her progress.

“It’s been shit. I’ll be honest. But, with patience, everything comes together,” Costigan said.

A pair of potentially career-threatening injuries set Costigan back years but the good news is that she has an opponent, an Irish card and a new lease of life as she prepares for her most important fight to date.

Costigan will meet Wendy McKenna at Cage Warriors 81, the organisation’s long-awaited return to Ireland, on March 4 and she is thrilled to be a part of the Dublin card.

“With any show in a country as small as Ireland, you start to make friendships and get to know the players and I’ve known (Cage Warriors president) Graham Boylan for some time,” Costigan explained.

“I actually wanted him to manage me at one stage of my career because I’d seen how good he is at what he does.

“They reached out and I accepted. And, for my money, the matchmaker Ian Dean is the best at what he does in all of Europe.

“Finding 105lbers who match up well with each other is harder than you might imagine but Ian knows the fighters, know how we all pair up stylistically and know what will make the best fights for the fans.

“I think Cage Warriors were aware of how professional I am. I make weight, I put it all on the line and I bring it come fight night.

“I don’t shy away from the media or promotion side of things either so that’s obviously going to help but I’m just delighted to be a part of it because a trip up the road to Dublin is a hell of a lot easier on the body than a flight to the other side of the world.”

After compiling a 5-0 record between 2010 and 2014, Costigan was thought to be the woman who could lead the Irish charge for fighters in weight classes that were not featured in the Ultimate Fighting Championship and the fact that her Invicta debut coincided with a weekend during which thousands of Irish fans flocked to Las Vegas to watch Conor McGregor in action at UFC 189 would have come as a welcome boost as her entrance was greeted with a raucous roar at Invicta 13.

A first defeat on the brightest stage for atomweights may well have been a speed-bump but after accepting a bout opposite a late replacement, and one who failed to make weight, in BAMMA later that year, Costigan found herself on a two-fight losing skid.

“We knew the disc was herniated before the Celina Haga bout in BAMMA,” Costigan explained about her second career defeat.

“It didn’t show up in the first MRI but it showed up in the second and, to be honest, it was bothering me before the fight in Vegas.

“I could feel my lower back really starting to hurt all the way through the Invicta camp but I was in a tough spot. I knew for that level of competition that I couldn’t afford to take it easy on the mats but I also wanted to make sure I made it to fight night. It wasn’t ideal.

“I lost the fight against Amber Brown and it was costly in more ways than one. The medicals were really expensive and having to go out twice to the States, it all adds up.

“So I couldn’t not accept the Haga fight when it presented itself to me in BAMMA.

“Two weeks before that fight, the doctor gave me a cortisone shot after discovering the injury. On Tuesday I was up in Dublin for the 6 o’Clock Show and just a couple of hours beforehand I was in the Mater getting an injection into my disc.

“I don’t say this often but I fought Celine because I needed money and I shouldn’t have taken that fight once (original opponent) Simona Soukupova pulled out and once Celine missed weight.”

Costigan insists that retirement never became an option for her and that she’s since amended her training in the hope that she can remain injury-free because, in all likelihood, another surgery would bring an end to her professional career.

“I was out of bed two hours after the surgery because I’m stubborn,” Costigan laughed.

“Straight away I was on my fighter’s diet, eating the right foods and recovering. I’ll admit it was tough mentally because I had the pain in the back and I thought the surgery would ease that immediately which wasn’t the case and, with the lower back, there’s a lot of pressure on it every day.

“I’ve changed up my strength and conditioning training a little bit and looked up a guy who works with (UFC featherweight) Jeremy Stephens who focuses on functional patterns. He’s really ahead of his game in terms of training people with serious injuries and I bought into that.

“We’re not masters of it yet because I wasn’t able to fly over and work with him personally but he’s put me on the right path for sure.

“I’ve also worked alongside Rob Dawson of Mindsport Consulting Limited, who’s a great sports psychologist and really made me believe in myself again.”

Costigan has poured everything into the sport she loves and she is not embarrassed to admit that she is shouldering the burden of a career that has left her in need of some backing.

“I’ll be honest, I don’t have the money to go and train to the standard that I would like in an ideal world. I’m completely broke,” she said.

“Even after BAMMA, the fight that I took to hopefully help out financially, I still had bills to pay. Cage Warriors are paying me but I have to get all my medicals done again because the Las Vegas ones are not valid anymore.

“I was offered a huge fight before Christmas for €8,000 but it was against a girl in a higher weight class and no matter how much that money would have helped me, I wasn’t prepared to put my health at risk for a payday.

“I have health insurance but that doesn’t cover medicals for fights because they’re not a medical requirement. So I’m looking for sponsors and it’s tough. It’s really tough at times.

“As nice as it will be to get paid for this Cage Warriors fight, what I’m aiming to do here is to prove that I belong.

“I’m going to give Wendy all I’ve got and give my fans the thanks they deserve for sticking by me.”