Breaking Barriers: In-depth with new pro Cathy McAleer ahead of debut

Cathy McAleer didn’t have to go from far from her doorstep to experience the negative attitudes surrounding female fighting.

Opinions seem to have changed on this island and around the world of late with some people pointing to Katie Taylor as the poster girl in that regard but the experienced combat sports success story has been fighting stigma as well as opponents across a storied ring career.

From when the 40-year-old first elected to go into competitive battle she has witnessed literal and dealt with metaphorical frowns.

While these may have eased somewhat as public opinion shifted over the years, some detractors still exist despite the fact she has won various accolades including three world titles in karate and kickboxing.

Some have successfully distanced themselves from the unwanted and undeserved criticism and, while the popular puncher has brushed most of it off, she seems hurt by one objector close to home.

McAleer’s claimed when speaking to that she has often felt ‘shunned’ for her choice of sport and revealed her father has refused to watch her trade leather in any of the combat sports she has excelled in.

All that history and indeed degrees of hurt will make becoming an official member of the professional boxing family at the Shorts Sports and Social Club this weekend all the more poignant and rewarding.

“I feel in the past it was shunned upon if a female took up a fighting sport and I fought I had a lot comments and remarks from a teenager right the way through,” the honest Belfast woman explained, “I just loved it so much I didn’t care what others thought.”

“I must say my own father has never seen me fight and has missed out on a major part of my life. He was invited a final time by my coach to the Odyssey Arena for a title fight that was live on Sky TV. I won by knockout in 37 seconds and he refused to come…”

“He said ‘there’s enough people watching’. It’s shame but it’s never stopped me and three world titles later and here I am about to have my boxing debut on Saturday. I am sure he’s read about it in one of the papers,” she adds with a kind of defiance that proves McAleer is fighter outside of the ring too.

With Taylor’s achievements in both amateur and pro, the success of a number talented amateurs at present, the fact Christina McMahon has fought to a high level in recent years, with Lynn Harvey carrying the female torch on small hall Dublin shows as well as the fact Siobhán NĂ­ Laoire debuts on Celtic Clash 7 – some may argue their has been a significant shift in all things female boxing.

There now seems to be a wider respect for the talents that decorate women’s boxing but there is no getting away from the fact that when McAleer takes to the ring on a show along side the likes of Luke Wilton and Tommy McCarthy this weekend she will be the first Nothern Irishwoman to fight professionally in 18 years.

Not since Carrickfergus welterweight Deirdre Nelson outpointed Bulgarian Tzanka Karova at the Ulster Hall back in 2000 has there been a Northern Irish pro – and while McMahon and Harvey have boxed in Belfast in recent years – McAleer ends something of a drought.

Considering the John Breen-trained puncher wants to keep busy, an 18 month nevermind another 18 year wait looks unlikely, but the fighter does feel a sense responsibility in terms of staving off another dry spell by proving following a fight dream is possible regardless of sex.

“I was shocked to hear this,” she responded when speaking about the 18 year gap 

“I couldn’t believe I was the only female professional boxer in Northern Ireland. There is so much talent here and I am totally proud to be in this position. I am proud to be representing my country as the only female professional boxer.”

“Things are changing and about to take off but I feel this will help many others see it’s possible. I hope this shows some of the young talent they don’t have to give up dreams and to work hard and commit to what they love.”

cathy mcaleer

While there is a strong message for female fighters and boxing as a whole in there, this Saturday is about McAleer herself. There is genuine excitement as to what she can bring to the table and talk of her power has pricked up ears.

The fighter herself enters a fourth discipline, but the one she first loves and is brimming with enthusiasm and feeling bouts of customary nerves.

“I am excited and nervous at the same time!” McAleer exclaimed.

“It comes in bouts of – ‘I can’t wait it’s going to be unreal atmosphere’ to then seeing how big the support is and thinking ‘it’s really happening, I’d hate to let anyone down’.”

“Overall I can’t wait and I will give it 100% and more for a dream to actually coming true for me” she added before confirming despite her fighting past she will realise a life long dream on the ‘Back in Belfast’ card.

“I always dream’t about being a professional boxer and here it’s really happening. That’s the most unreal feeling I can’t even explain. Dreams do come true if you believe, you set goals, dedicate and work hard enough.”

“Three world titles and I drew for a fourth in K1, which I hoped for a rematch but it didn’t come. However, I am getting an opportunity at a fourth discipline boxing ! Maybe that’s something that’s never been done before?”

Despite pointing out she has felt shunned by some over the years McAleer’s venture to boxing has experienced a host of support and not just from her most famous supporter, sister ‘Ringside Rosie’.

“I know my crowd and support is so strong and right behind me. I couldn’t ask for a better bunch of people and how supportive they have been. They know martial arts and fitness is my life and if am not training I am helping others achieve their goals and dreams,” she continued before revealing some little antidotes that prove that love is out there for her.

McAleer described how “even some of my clients have been so helpful, dropped me in steaks and chicken to help me through last few weeks of eating so clean. One ordered my favourite desert, cheese cake, for after show, as they seen how dedicated the training and clean the eating has been.”

“Each sponsor I’ve called and thanked this week and I couldnt tell you how much I appreciate them helping me get off the ground. GMB, Herbert, Smith and Freehill, SAC Compliance, PantherSolutions and Belfast Budget Car Sales. I couldn’t have down it without them.”

It seems the wider press have also picked up the story, too, something Lynn Harvey also found during her more active times.

“There was a huge reaction when the news got out I was trying a fourth discipline after winning three world titles. I have had great coverage and support form all over the world through Karate, kickboxing,friends and family. I have had great coverage in the Sunday World, a double page spread, Belfast Live, The Irish Times, BBC and Spectator.”

“It just snowballed as soon as word got out – so many calls, interviews, good luck messages and emails form around the world.”

It’s now down to McAleer to back up the hype this coming weekend and she has been working hard with legendary coach Breen to ensure she performs to her best.  

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“I’ve been working with John non stop on speed, technique, power and movement,” she detailed.

“I’ve enjoyed every minute of it and I couldn’t ask for a more genuine and passionate guy to manage and coach me. John is a real gentleman and it’s an honour to have the opportunity to work with him.”

“I must also mention my sparring partner Ruadhan Farrell! He stepped up and sparred me without a question and every night religiously turned up and helped me prepare. A great boxer and so dedicated, I can’t thank him enough for his help and pushing me hard each night even if some nights I was shattered.” 

Indicative of McAleer’s love for combat sport, she won’t be just hoping for a win for herself on Saturday.

Two of her karate students compete earlier in the day in Portugal and she is keen to ensure they get to keep up with her performance.

“On the same day two of my own karate students, Josh Moore and Lucy Ouldfield, fight out in Portugal. I never miss an event ! They are so understanding and excited to keep me informed on their progress.”

“I hope someone videos or live streams my fight so they can watch mine on the iPhone as they travel as normally they’d attend every event of mine too.”


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