McCourt Sparring Injury Hampers Belfast Bellator Card

February 24, 2024
3 months

Leah McCourt has announced on her social media that she can no longer participate on the Bellator 302 card due to a serious injury sustained from sparring. This is a massive letdown for the local  Northern Irish crowd, who would have wanted to have seen one of their national MMA heroes perform in the capital city. Where does this leave the card, McCourt and her scheduled opponent, Sinead Kavanagh?

McCourt Withdrawal Could Hamper Live Crowd

Local boxers can cause crowds to go wild with excitement and reactions to their appearance and performance, as those in attendance feel at one with the fighter. Leah McCourt was a major marketing draw for the Bellator 302 card at the SSE Arena, with the fans wanting to see her fight. Now that she’s disappeared off the card, many fans will be less enthused about the event. While Karl Moore remains in the main event, McCourt was a big draw.

Another Northern Irish Element Needed

While many Irish and English fighters are still on the card, including Belfast’s own Karl Moore, if Bellator is to capture the enthusiasm of the locals, they need another Northern Irish representative to step in. While Rhys McKee isn’t going to be released from his UFC contract for the night, there are a few alternatives. He might be in the crowd, however, and he’d get a warm welcome.

MMA news sites used to love Norman Parke for his hard work and dedication to the sport. The man from County Antrim is still fighting for a living, having recently fought on KSW and Hexagone cards with a moderate amount of success. He could be coaxed into an appearance here with Bellator and would jump at the chance to perform in his homeland, having not fought in Northern Ireland since 2018.

Paul Hughes is another potential replacement fighter, and he is a lot more relevant to contemporary fight fans. Unfortunately, he is currently contracted with Cage Warriors. Whether Bellator can strike a deal to have him perform would be the crux of the issue. Yet, if he could, that would make waves and excite the Belfast crowd.

Outside of the more prominent names, it would be worthwhile to hand a few prelim card spots to local talent to foster a greater engagement, given that Leah McCourt is no longer fighting. Megan Hewitt and Nicole Cameron are two Northern Irish fighters on the circuit who would appease the female MMA fight fans with an appearance on this landmark card in Belfast.

The Card Without McCourt

Fortunately for Bellator, the main event remains intact as Corey Anderson and Karl Moore will contest five rounds of action for the vacant Bellator Light Heavyweight World Championship. Azerbaijani fighter Tofiq Musayev will also be making an appearance to entertain the Belfast crowd. He has been on the Bellator roster for some time and contested his most recent fight in his homeland on the RIZIN card. He defeated Koji Takeda in the final round of the fight in his homeland in a spectacular one-sided finish. He gained some notoriety and so was booked to fight here on this big card. His opponent is Englishman Alfie Davies, who has a decent 16-4-1 professional record and won’t be willing to give Musayev an easy ride.

What Happens to Kavanagh?

The majority of MMA news websites have focused only on the story that Leah McCourt has pulled out of the co-main. However, the other direct party impacted by this is Sinead Kavanagh. She was supposed to fight McCourt at this event but now is at risk of becoming a footnote in the tale. If Bellator sticks by its girl, they should find her a replacement opponent. The problem is that she was firmly the B-side to the fight, meaning they have less loyalty to her. If it were Kavanagh pulling out of the event, there would be no doubt that the Bellator fight makers would work round the clock to find a new opponent for McCourt. Kavanagh could re-match with the Australian, Sara Collins, who she fought back in September.

Unknown Return for McCourt

In her Instagram post announcing the injury, Leah McCourt stated that she had suffered a broken rib and torn her oblique after an accident in sparring. At present, there’s no more information other than she’s going to have it professionally assessed and that it might require surgery. The medical advice she’s working on at the minute is that she needs ‘total rest’ as stressing that any strenuous physical activity could cause complications like puncturing an organ. Whatever the timeline is for McCourt’s recovery, she needs to put her life before everything else. She will have the opportunity to fight in Northern Ireland again but now has to sit on the sidelines.

Should Sparring Discouraged or Changed?

While injuries are a well-known occupational hazard in MMA, it’s incredibly frustrating for fighters to pick up a severe blow when they’re not even in the cage. Similar to when soccer players end up missing games through a training injury. There are more than enough sparring injuries that de-rail combat sports events, to name but a few: Jon Jones pulled out his fight at UFC 295, Cody Garbrandt did the same a few months prior and in boxing, Tyson Fury had to postpone his mega-fight against Oleksandr Usyk.

It’s losing the fighters and promotions and lots of money in broken promises as injuries prevent fights from happening. In 2024, can this be avoided? Do you have to spar at 100% or have an opponent that fights back? Could fighters get the same practice from just using pads? Of course, some clever robotics scientists might already be engineering SparBot, a customisable android with AI to help fighters train, and the critical feature is that it won’t hurt the fighter.

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By Dean McHugh.