Not since Carrickfergus welterweight Deirdre Nelson outpointed Bulgarian Tzanka Karova at the Ulster Hall back in 2000 has Northern Ireland had a female professional boxer but this will all change on Saturday night.
At the Shorts Sports and Social Club in Belfast, Cathy McAleer will make her professional boxing debut at the age of 40. The talented puncher features in a four-round contest versus Bulgarian Teodora Hristova on the Holywood Road as part of Boxing Ireland and Team Alio’s ‘Back in Belfast’ card which is headlined by top flyweight contender Luke Wilton.
Sports fans may recognise McAleer’s name. The Belfast fighter has won three world titles in different combat sports and enters boxing, her first love, looking for a fourth. The Ulsterwoman has reached the pinnacle of karate and kickboxing but reveals boxing is the sport which piqued her interest initially.
McAleer, who will box in the super flyweight division, outlined how “as a kid, I used to watch boxing and that was my dream to be a professional boxer but back in the day it was shunned upon if a woman wanted to fight or do a male sport so I never really got opportunity to. I love martial arts but boxing was always my passion and dream. I realised I had achieved all I could have in the kickboxing and K1 and I seen no progress for me. I like to be constantly challenged. I won all my kickboxing fights with my boxing skills and now I am being given the opportunity and I jumped at it with both hands.”
The popular puncher’s move into boxing has not been an instant or a simple one and she explains how “I took a few weeks out and was unsure if I was finished or not in martial arts. I spoke to a few friends and I travelled to Thailand and took some 121 boxing lessons with Paul Banaski. I realised that my love was boxing and in the majority of my fights I boxed.”
While training in the searing heat of Thailand proved to McAleer that she was meant to box, she also had to prove herself in the sweltering environs of the Breen Gym. Only wanting to work with the best, the convert went on trial with legendary trainer John Breen and had to show hugely respected coach that she was able for the sweet science.
And, boy, did she.
Breen will admit that he, initially, was not keen on adding McAleer to his stable but he was soon won over by the hard working and hard punching fighter. She described how “John took me for a few sessions and he felt I had ability to box. John told me I had ability and he’d like to work with me and I’ve been with John and Eamonn [Magee] since. It’s been brilliant and John is a true gentleman I couldn’t ask for a nicer coach or manager.”
“John is one in a million and is very honest and drives me hard. John told me he didn’t train females and then he felt how hard I could hit the pads and said I had great potential. John and Eamon have vast experience and I couldn’t be in a better place. Eamon was a top world level boxer and his knowledge, skills, experience and hardened approach. I really couldn’t ask for anymore.”
Already a fan favourite due to her history appearing on kickboxing shows throughout the province, McAleer is set to bring a massive crowd to the Holywood Road this weekend as she fulfils a dream. McAleer said that “I am totally excited and finally I am getting opportunity to do what I always dreamed of doing. My Granny McCartan always said ‘if it’s for you it won’t pass you’ and she was very proud of what I achieved. She used to cut out all the newspaper cuttings before passing away only a few years ago but would been so pleased I made this decision. The goals are to take each bout at a time and see how I perform. Long term the goal is to add a fourth world title to my collection in a different discipline and one I love.”
The Luke Wilton headlined card also features a full undercard alongside McAleer. Also making their professional debut will be teenage Larne super featherweight Kelvin McDonald, and there are further appearances from East Belfast welter Tony Nellins, Antrim Town cruiserweight Conor Cooke, Lenadoon cruiserweight Tommy McCarthy, and Scottish cruiserweight David Jamieson.
Limited tickets for the night remain, are priced at £30 (unreserved) and £40 (ringside), and are available from all the boxers involved. Cathy McAleer can be contracted through her social media or by ringing her at 07751465323.