Invicta atomweight Catherine Costigan speaks to SportsJOE about her promotional debut and her MMA journey
"A chess match."
That's how Catherine Costigan looks at fighting.
The Limerick native recently penned a deal with Invicta FC which will see her attempt to improve her undefeated professional record to 6-0.
The signing was announced just two weeks ago and we got the chance to speak to the atomweight who is ready to take her explosive fight style to the US.
"It actually all came down to my new manager Scott Davis," Costigan said. "I never had a manager in my whole life so this is an entirely new experience for me.
"I was trying to be careful to avoid a Paul Heyman type manager, although he can be quite good at getting the job done [laughs].
"But I ended up with Scott from Sky High Worldwide who look after UFC fighters like Renan Barao and Claudia Gadelha. He has some great connections with Invicta and is good friends with matchmaker Julie Kedzie so that's kind of how we got the ball rolling."
Just when the deal was announced, the wheel instantly went into motion for Costigan to fight at Invicta FC 13 which takes place the night before UFC 189 in which Conor McGregor meets Jose Aldo for the UFC featherweight championship. And she was absolutely delighted when her promotional debut was confirmed for the July 10 event.
"Invicta are a business the same way that the UFC are a business and their job is to put bums in seats. With so many Irish already travelling over to see Conor's title fight with Jose Aldo, it just made sense for me to be at that event.
"But we played our part, for sure. We didn't sit down on our asses and not campaign for me to be on that card.
"I'll chase absolutely everything. If you tell me that I can't do something, that will just motivate me to find a way.
"Like before my neck fusion surgery, doctors said to me 'Ah just retire,' and 'Are you really that good at MMA?' and I responded by saying 'That good? I'm world class!' and I was back in five months.
"I'm that type of fighter. I just figure things out so I knew from day one that I would get myself onto that July 10 card."
The veteran is undefeated in her mixed martial arts debut with a 5-0 record and is confident that the Irish fans who have their flights booked for Las Vegas to see McGregor v Aldo will come out in their droves to whet their appetite with an atomweight showdown.
"It's pretty much just been announced and I'm already getting texts and tweets from people looking for tickets," Costigan revealed.
"I hope it doesn't come across as cocky but I do have a massive following here. After one of my fights at Cage Warriors in Dublin, the interviewer said 'This is the Catherine Costigan show' because so many people come out to see me fight.
"People know what I bring to the cage. Conor's going to deliver in July and I'm going to back that up by delivering the night before.
"I'll do my job of hyping up the travelling Irish contingent so that they'll be raring to by the time UFC 189 rolls around."
While the venue for the fights, as well as Costigan's opponent, has yet to be announced, the Irishwoman has her eyes set on one fighter in particular.
"I've called out Amber Brown (4-1). She's ranked number four right now and I'm certainly focused on taking that spot.
"We don't know yet what the venue will be but that really doesn't bother me. I'll fight her in the Vegas desert or in the back of a casino. It's no problem to me.
"I'm used to going to shows where there was literally no ladies changing room and we'd have to get into our gear in the toilets.
"I've already sort of geared my training towards Amber but we really have a plan for each of the top ten atomweights.
"My coach Dermot McGrath has been with me for almost 20 years and he knows exactly what I'm good at so he has me prepared for all comers. I'm aiming for that world title in 2016."
Costigan has no plans to take her training camp to Vegas as she is confident in the training available to her at home.
"It'll always be Ireland because all the facilities I need are right here and I've set everything up to get my best training done here," Costigan said. "Financially I don't have too many sponsors like you'd see with other fighters. I've one main sponsor, Dr Dave's, who have been great to me but that's pretty much it."
The chance for Costigan to do her thing on the UFC stage is contingent on one of two scenarios. 1) The UFC introduce an atomweight division or 2) She moves up to strawweight where she will compete in the same weight class as fellow countrywoman Aisling Daly but Limerick's Costigan is quite happy where she is for the timebeing, although she would be surprised if the UFC don't bring the 105lb division sooner rather than later.
"The success of the ladies' TUF last year gives me confidence that the UFC would consider setting up another reality series with women in it and the 105lbers would suit that brilliantly.
"We're fast and we're exciting. My favourite fighter is UFC flyweight champion Demetrious Johnson because he can do it all. He's a chameleon and adapts as the fight plays out. I truly feel I'm at that same level."
"I'm pretty sure that Dana White will be in attendance for the Invicta on the Friday night so it's all about me performing, making him open his eyes and say 'OK, who is this girl?'
"I'm not in a rush to move up to 115lbs to fight in the UFC because I want to dominate my division first and take that atomweight title. We'll see how it plays out but that's my goal right now."
The bright lights of Las Vegas are a world away from Costigan's humble beginnings in mixed martial arts and she revealed that a certain movie star was the catalyst for her decision to give combat sports a go.
"My Dad thought he was Bruce Lee [laughs]. He used to make me watch all of Bruce Lee's films growing up.
"To be honest, I was kind of a shy girl and no other sports really suited me. I wanted something a bit more individual and when I walked into my first kickboxing class, I just fell in love with it.
"It was me and about ten other lads and it stayed like that for about a decade. Girls would come and go but wouldn't last. It takes a certain type of person to stick with it.
"Nowadays it's much different with regards to training. Even myself, as a trainer, see more girls sticking with it because they see Ronda Rousey or Cyborg and know that women can succeed in this sport.
"I started when I was 14 and simply didn't stop until I earned my black belt under Dermot.
"Dermot was watching the early UFC and PRIDE events and he did the first ever MMA event in Ireland.
"He turned to me and said 'This is going to be huge Catherine and I want you to give it a go' and the minute I got on the ground and tapped out a guy twice my size I thought 'I like this'."
— Catherine Costigan (@alphafemalewar) April 13, 2015
It's not been all plain sailing for a fighter who had to fight through a serious neck injury for a large chunk of her career and Costigan reveals just how much she struggled.
"I suffered with my neck for about eight years because I was misdiagnosed the first time and if that hadn't happened I would have been fixed a lot sooner.
"My disc was literally crushed into my spine and I could have been paralysed by it and I never knew that.
"So if girls think that they can just smash through me now, they have no idea what I went through in almost ten years with my neck.
"Finally getting that fixed was so freeing and now I'm ready to unleash myself on the world."
Women's MMA is at an all-time premium in 2015, with UFC women's bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey arguably the biggest draw in the entire sport, and Costigan has admitted that she couldn't have predicted the levels of exposure that the females are currently getting.
"When I first stepped foot in that kickboxing class 20 years ago, there's no way I could have predicted how successful women's MMA would have become.
"I did learn from a lot of high level girls, though. I spent a lot of time with Rosi Sexton and saw her journey to the UFC.
"I always had the sense that someone was going to break through and back then it was fighters like Rosi, Gina Carano and Julie Kedzie who were laying the path for current females to make it on the big stage.
"Julie is now the matchmaker at Invicta so I can't wait to get to shake her hand and thank her because without them we wouldn't have had the platform that we had.
"A lot of credit has to go to Cage Warriors because when I got signed to fight for them in 2013, I finally got the feeling of a professionally run show and that was the promotion that got a lot of female fighters together and gave them the opportunity to perform."
It's almost universally accepted that female mixed martial artists are just as skillful as their male counterparts but certain members of the MMA community have stirred up controversy with their thoughts on the issue. One of the more high-profile nay-sayers is UFC legend Fedor Emelianenko who recently claimed that mixed martial arts is "a man's sport."
Costigan said: "That's his opinion and why would I even care or worry about it? When someone's so strong-minded in their view on something, nothing is going to change that.
"Is Fedor the president of the UFC? No, so I really don't give a second thought to his opinions.
"I respected him as a fighter back in the golden days of MMA but nothing he says is going to stop me or Ronda or any woman from achieving their goals in the sport.
"I'll prove him wrong, every time!"
Costigan is not just one of the most talented fighters to come out of Ireland but she is also a successful coach, a role on which she massively prides herself.
"I think of myself as a teacher first and a fighter second," Costigan said. "I love both equally but there's something special when you show students something that changes them.
"I coach four year olds and I'd never teach them anything violent because I'm a smart instructor but I do have kids who can shoot double-legs and it's incredible to see.
"I had one little girl the other day who was so shy when she started and would hardly talk but over the past few months, she's come out of herself and she can shoot single-legs and she's training with a smile on her face.
"And another kid, I started training when he was seven and he's fourteen now and he's whooping my ass. But he's the perfect size for me to train with so I can't believe my luck.
"He just had his first amateur MMA fight and he did everything perfectly. We didn't rush him and he listened to us for the whole fight. I'm sure someday he's going to be in the UFC."
For someone with four submission victories, it may come as something of a surprise to learn that Costigan is not ranked in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.
"I have no belt in Jiu-Jitsu and have never put a Gi on in my life but I train every aspect of the game and train hard every day.
"I'd say the best thing I learned was when I got with Rosi about six years ago and she told me 'there's no excuses for not being prepared in every way you possibly can,' and I completely agree with that.
"I look at every fight and when I see that I've done something good, I'll give myself a pat on the back, but I'm also willing to point it out if I've made a genuine mistake.
"Dermot is always very real with me and we will always work everything to the point that, when people ask me what my weakness is, I say 'I don't have any.'
"I train everything, literally everything. I've a massive cage in my gym that I bought about ten years ago. I spent €8,000 on it and it was the best money I've ever spent because it lets me work every eventuality that can happen when the cage door closes and I've someone staring across from me."
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