Bellator Dublin: Leah McCourt enjoying the Dayana Silva fight

Place: 3 Arena, Dublin Date: Friday, September 23
Coverage: Live coverage on BBC iPlayer and the BBC Sport website and app from 6pm BST, with the main card also live on BBC Three from 9pm

Leah McCourt’s fight against Sinead Kavanagh in Dublin in February was hailed as “the greatest Irish fight of all time”.

It pitted two friends against each other in Belfast’s McCourt and Dublin’s Kavanagh in front of a raucous Irish crowd.

The event was a remarkable occasion, but the pressure proved too much for McCourt as he excelled through three grueling rounds.

After the defeat, 16 days after testing positive for Covid-19, he collapsed.

“I was sick for days, I couldn’t breathe for long stretches. I pushed my body to the extreme limits. I left everything I had in it,” McCourt, 30, told BBC Sport.

“As excited as I was for the fight, I definitely feel like there was a lot of expectation.

“I don’t want to take anything away from Sinead because it was her night, but physically I wasn’t 100% myself and it definitely affected.”

McCourt faces Dayana Silva of Brazil in a featherweight bout at Bellator Dublin on Friday, her first fight since her loss to Kavanagh.

Unlike where he would previously train in Ireland, McCourt has chosen to train for this fight at Liverpool’s Next Gen gym alongside UFC trainer Molly McCann and Paul Rimmer.

McCann will be in McCourt’s corner Friday night. McCourt says Rimmer has been a huge influence and taught him to enjoy wrestling and all the challenges that come with it.

“Sometimes I feel like I have the weight of the world on my shoulders, juggling wrestling, promotion, Isabella [her daughter]my business, travel, training – I do everything on my own,” he says.

“He [Rimmer] He said I should enjoy it, enjoy training, enjoy sparring, otherwise what’s the point of doing it?

“Instead of worrying so much about the outcome, enjoy the process. I think it helped me improve a lot this camp.

“This fight I feel like I’m really looking forward to going in there and fighting and I’ve never had that feeling before.

“I’ve always wanted to finish and just finish. I want to make the weigh-in so I can fight and get it. I would always train to try to get to the first round. But, [this time]I want to stay until the end, if I have to.”

“The energy in Liverpool is amazing”

McCourt’s loss to Kavanagh was his second in eight professional bouts and followed a six-fight winning streak.

In 2020, she became the first woman to headline a major European MMA event when she defeated Judith Ruis at Bellator 240 in Dublin.

McCourt had planned to train at Liverpool before losing out to Kavanagh, but the Covid-19 pandemic made that logistically impossible.

Now coming off a loss, McCann says he’s inspired by the way he’s rebuilt his UFC career after failing to snap a three-fight winning streak.

“Molly has had her losses and look now, she’s come back and learned a lot from them,” says McCourt.

“I’m logical. I understand that your career is not going to be an upswing and you’re going to have setbacks. You have to try to take what you can from it and build on your performance and training and add it all up.

“[The camp] it was amazing. The energy of Liverpool is just the salt of the earth people. It is quite similar in Belfast. My dad is from Liverpool, my kid lives here so I stay with him or most of my camping with Molly.

“We’re best friends. We both drag ourselves out of bed in the morning, in pain and crying, but we still drag each other to practice.”

“Silva is a good test for me”

McCourt’s opponent Silva enters the fight after beating Janay Harding in April.

The 32-year-old has 10 wins and seven defeats in his 13 years as a pro and McCourt is tired of the threat he poses inside the cage.

“I think he’s a very tough opponent. It’s a tough fight,” he added.

“She’s aggressive and she just beat Janay Harding. [She lost to Julia Budd but] I don’t think he lost that fight. It’s definitely a good test for me.”

McCourt says a Silva win could set up a mouth-watering rematch with Kavangah.

“I would love to win this fight and fight him [Kavanagh] again in February,” he says.

“Me and him did a good thing, such a good performance. We deserve a main event slot, maybe in Belfast this time.

“It’s not about getting the win back, it’s because it was a good fight, why don’t we do it again? But we’ll see.”

First, though, Friday night in Dublin.