The Irish Mixed Martial Arts Association are pleased to announce the establishment of the Irish Women’s Mixed Martial Arts Commission. This initiative was set up in response to the launch of the IMMAF International Women’s Commission led by chairperson Hayzia Bellem, IMMAF staff liaison officer Gosha Malik and committee members Sharif Bapu and Veronika Nabaltska. IMMAA were contacted by Ms Bellem who suggested establishing a national women’s association in order to promote the involvement of females within the sport and has graciously provided the committee with invaluable support and guidance in creating the Irish Women’s MMA Commission. 

The Irish Women’s MMA commission aims to promote and encourage female involvement within Irish MMA, not only as competitive athletes but in a wide variety of roles within the sport including coaching, judging, refereeing, corner-care, announcing and many organisational and promotional positions associated with the operating of MMA clubs, and events. There are certain unique barriers of entry for female competitors within mixed martial arts such as weight fluctuations during the menstrual cycle and the possibility of pregnancy which some event promoters and organisations may be unaware of or unequipped to deal with and so it is an objective of the women’s commission to outline these obstacles clearly and provide practical suggestions to alleviate these issues.

While MMA has previously been a male dominated sport we have seen a vast surge in the number of women within the sport in recent years. In Ireland and across the world women have been fighting, both literally and figuratively to break down barriers and pave the way for female combat athletes rights to be included and recognised for their hard work, skills and achievements within the sport. In January 2011 UFC president Dana White made the statement “Women will never fight in the UFC” but on February 23rd 2013 Ronda Rousey entered the octagon in front of a sold out crowd opposite Liz Carmouche to compete in the first ever female UFC MMA fight which commentator Joe Rogan described as a “gigantic cultural moment”. Today the UFC currently has over one hundred active female fighters, a number which is steadily increasing over time and slowly gaining the recognition which the athletes deserve. 

In Ireland in 2019 we saw two monumental milestones for Irish women’s MMA as IMMAA club SBGI member Katie Saul faced Aleksandra Toncheva as the Cage Legacy 12 main event at Neptune Stadium in Cork and UAMMA athlete and IMMAA club SBG Charlestown member Leah McCourt fought Judith Ruis in the first ever Bellator MMA female main event in front of a sold out crowd at the 3 Arena in Dublin which she described as a “celebration of women”.

As IMMAA strives for the national recognition of MMA in Ireland, it is essential that the accomplishments and contributions of females within the sport are recognised and celebrated equivalent to those of their male counterparts. In a recent interview with Peter Carroll, IMMAA president Coach John Kavanagh stated “I look forward to the day that my kids, your kids, Owen Roddy’s daughters and Andy Ryan’s daughters can all participate in MMA as a fully recognized sport. I think it’s amazing what the likes of Katie Taylor and Kellie Harrington are doing and it’s great that they’re celebrated nationally for their achievements in boxing, which is a fully recognized sport in Ireland.”

The Irish international amateur MMA team has proudly seen an increase in the number of female competitors in recent years. In 2015 only three female competitors travelled to Birmingham, England to compete at the first ever IMMAF world championships as part of Team Ireland. In 2019 the number of Team Ireland female athletes taking part in the IMMAF championships had risen to a total of 11 female competitors including 5 cadets and earning 2 gold, 5 silver and 3 bronze medals for Team Ireland. With the introduction of the Irish women’s MMA commission IMMAA will be hoping to see a further steady increase in the rates of female participation at both national and international tournaments in the coming years. 

The Irish Women’s MMA Commission consists of committee members Aisling O’ Connor, Deborah O’ Sullivan, Alvina Mulpeter, and Catherine Costigan. Each of whom were chosen to form the committee based upon their experience and contributions within the sport from many different perspectives and their passion to encourage female participation within Irish MMA.

The commission is led by IMMAA administrator Aisling O’ Connor who is also a membership consultant and children’s Brazilian Jiu Jitsu coach for IMMAA club SBG Cork City. “I used to believe I couldn’t have a career within MMA as I don’t compete, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. There are such a wide variety of career options available to women within the Irish MMA community and I believe the Women’s MMA commission will help to make women more aware of the opportunities available to them within the sport. Training in MMA and the people whom I have met through the sport have had such an incredibly empowering and positive impact on my life and I want to give other women the chance to experience that too and to be a part of such an integrative, encouraging and supportive sporting community.”

Deborah O’ Sullivan is a co-owner and coach of IMMAA club C-MAC Mulhuddart, a former Team Ireland IMMAF athlete and professional corner care cutwoman. “I always found the acceptance of female participation in MMA to be superb in Ireland. And the big shows like the UFC and Bellator lead the way in their treatment of female athletes. However, there are still places where female athletes are discouraged or even forbidden from participation. I feel strongly that the Women’s Commission should work to ensure the equal right to participate for everyone.”

Alvina Mulpeter is the co-owner, operator and promoter of IMMAA club SBG Portarlington and The Gaelic Athletic Martial Arts MMA and grappling tournaments. “I’m delighted to be asked to be a part of the first ever Women’s MMA Commission. MMA is a huge part of my life and it could be to many more women in Ireland. I hope that we can highlight the sport, the disciplines involved and inspire and encourage women of all ages to take part in the sport as a novice, amateur or professional athlete. There is also the potential to become involved in many other ways such as promotions, coaching, etc. I look forward to getting things going.”

Catherine Costigan is a seasoned professional mixed martial artist, coach and co-owner of IMMAA gym Pankration Kickboxing and MMA. “The Woman’s Commission I feel is to drive every female within MMA to the Idea of one day becoming a professional fighter, cutwoman, announcer, promoter, the list of opportunities is endless. We are the ones now that must create that idea in every female in Ireland and the World. Our Job now going forward is to set a new informative correct system that would help each female become one of those ideas.”

The Irish Mixed Martial Arts Association is very proud of the incredible contributions and achievements of women within Irish MMA and look forward to working alongside the Irish women’s MMA commission to promote and encourage female involvement and participation within the sport in the future.

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