FIGHTING IRISH Sinéadh Ní Nualláin in action during a recent Muay Thai victory over Daria Kluczewska. Pic: Jerry McCarthy KO! Media
Sinéadh Ní Nualláin from Newport is trying to force a career in mixed martial arts
TEN years ago Sinéadh Ní Nualláin was an Irish dancer, but these days she is trading leather on a daily basis with some of Ireland’s best Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) fighters in the same gym that produced Conor McGregor.
Next month the Newport native will represent the Irish MMA team fighting at the International Mixed Martial Arts Federation (IMMAF) in Bahrain – the highest level of amateur martial arts in the world.
In the process, Sinéadh will become the first Mayo female fighter to do so.
It’s been one hell of a decade for the 18 year-old, ever since she swapped the grace of the dance floors for the unforgiving nature of the canvass.
So determined was she to succeed in mixed martial arts, three months ago Ní Nualláin took the decision to defer her college course and move to Dublin full-time to train under MMA guru John Kavanagh, Conor McGregor’s current coach and the owner of SBG.
“About two years ago I had it in my head that I wanted to give MMA a shot,” Sinéadh told The Mayo News. “And when the time came around, I knew I had to go for it.
“It was a difficult decision, going to college or choosing to train full-time. But I decided to defer college and put everything into this because, at least if it doesn’t work out, I can say I tried.
“I’m living a completely different life to my friends right now, who are spending their time partying and going to lectures. But there’s me getting up in the morning to train! But this is what I want to do.”
Of course her ultimate goal — and the reason she is sacrificing so much — is to turn professional and fight on the world’s greatest stages under the UFC or Bellator banners.
Her only social outing, she says, is a team dinner every once in a while.
Outside of that, the former Coláiste Mhuire Tuar Mhic Éadaigh student is in the gym six times a week, squeezing as many as four training sessions in on some days.
It’s not a life many teenagers are prepared to live as she has found out, but the support from her family and close group of friends make it a possibility.
“My family have been so supportive of me,” she explained. “They’ve always known that this is what I wanted to do and they’re paying for me to be here, because I’m not working.
“That alone motivates me a lot. Most of my friends have been really supportive too, and some just didn’t get it all.
“It can be tough. There’s people who don’t talk to me now because I’m not in college and partying and all that. . But that doesn’t bother me because when I make it I’ll be where I want to be and I’ll be happy.”
SINÉADH Ní Nualláin puts her love for martial arts down to her father, Kevin’s influence; he’s a Japanese Ju Jitsu black belt, so she was engrossed in the sport from an early age.
She’s trained in various disciplines, including Bruce Lee’s Jeet Kune Do, kick-boxing, Muay Thai and K-1 before venturing into MMA and grappling about two years ago.
She’s fought locally for the White Tiger Kickboxing Club in Castlebar and won a World Kickboxing Championship gold medal in June, 2018.
“It was hosted in Dublin last year and I brought home a medal in point-fighting and light-contact [kickboxing],” she said. “It was a brilliant experience to be fighting against some of the best fighters from all around the world.
“To be standing on the podium with a gold medal was lethal. Hearing the National Anthem being played out is a moment you will never forget.”
She’s been able to see the sport grow massively in Ireland during the last five years too.
“When I first started there were no girls really, I was just plonked in with all the lads,” she laughed. “It was intimidating at first, but you get used to it and improve from it.
“These days there are so many more girls doing it and it’s something I’ve always wanted.
“Although people still look at me and laugh when I tell them what I do. I’m quite a small person and because there’s still an idea out there that fighting, and cage fighting, is for males.
“And yes it can be barbaric, and violent, and it can be bloody. But people do it because they choose to.”
RIGHT now Sinéadh Ní Nualláin is training with SBG’s pro team that includes international level fighters like James Gallagher, Kiefer Crosbie and Cian Cowley.
After a week’s trial under the tutelage of Kavanagh, a former UFC Coach of the Year, she was accepted into his set up and hasn’t looked back since.
“When I first walked into the gym I was coming across all these big name fighters and it was scary at first,” she said. “But then you get used to seeing them around, sparring them. At the end of the day we’re all there just to train and that’s the way to look at it.
“John Kavanagh is brilliant,” she added. “Any question he has the answer to and there’s no problem with him waiting 15 or 20 minutes after class to show you a drill, something a lot of coaches won’t do.
“When I first moved up he was really good to me, looked after me, was always checking up on me and seeing if I was settling in away from my family.”
Next month the Mayo woman hops on a plane to to travel to Bahrain with her eyes firmly on top spot. The trip is being funded solely by herself and she’s open and willing to talk to any sponsors who will come on board and back her.
She’s confident in herself to give them assurances that when she turns professional they will get their reward then!
Becoming a professional fighter in the UFC is what Sinéad says she’s working towards, and she describes herself as a person who ‘sets goals and always accomplishes them’.
Watch this space.