This week we talk with the Alpha female, Catherine Costigan. Prior to her next fight on March 1st in the Atom weight division at Cage Warriors 65. She talked about the ups and downs of being a professional MMA fighter. The pain and discomfort she endured for many years with her back and her quest to become a world champion.
So Catherine, how are you feeling right now leading up to your next bout?
[dropcap color=”#888″ type=”square”]I[/dropcap]’m feeling really good, really good camp, a few ups and downs as you should anyway if you’re doing it right. But probably the best camp ever I think I’ve had. I try to get over to the UK, but when you kinda don’t have sponsors it’s kinda hard because you have to put all the money in yourself and I would be over there alot more if I could, you know. It’s just so costly and because I run the fulltime business aswell. If I didn’t have that I’d have no way of doing half the stuff I do.
But yeah it’s always great to get over and train with the guys that have been world champions. Because once you see what a world champion is, you know the level you have to achieve and it kinda boost you to go there and do it. They give you the pointers, they give you where they fell down and made the mistakes and they try to steer you away from them. You are still going to make the mistakes, but I think if you have the right information you can handle and deal with those mistakes better and you can move on much quicker and not dwindle on them and get on to the next level. But yeah, definitely Rosi over the last three years of meeting her I think was one of the biggest impacts on my life and definitely pushed me for the victories I have within the cage.
And when you were growing up, who were your heroes?
I used to read alot of DC comics, so Superman was a big thing for me. Something that was indestructible and could save people and help people. Make a positive impact on people and show them a positive way to live. And to me, I just thought it was very cool that you could leap tall buildings in one bound and stuff like that. And Bruce Lee as well, my dad loved Bruce Lee so he used to sit me down and watch Bruce Lee and I thought, how could Bruce Lee beat these really big guys? With well timed effortless moves and I was like wow, I’d love to be able to do that.
But when I was a kid I had epilepsy, so they wouldn’t let me do any contact sports, for ages I wanted to do it. But I had to wait until I was fourteen to get the all clear. Of course the doctor told me “that probably not the best thing to do”. You know get repeatedly hit in the head in case it came back, but you know it was never a big deal really. With my attitude was, I’m not really going to worry about that. I’m just going to get on the mat and learn. And because I was so small, a fighter, I understood to be very careful, keep my hands up and use defensive moves and stuff. So I got very fast fighting big people. I think that’s stood to me these days, to not get messed up in the cage or hurt.
How did you get started in Mixed Martial Arts?
My mum, the family that she worked for, their son had started setting up his own academy, Dermot who is now my coach and husband. And she said “look if you want to have a go then I’d be comfortable with you learning from Dermot and I was like yeah mum I really would. And I remember the first night walking in when I was fourteen, all excited. And I walked in and there was like 20 boys and they were all big lads and they were kinda shocked I was there and they certainly didn’t want me there. For a good few months they kept trying to beat the life out of me. The thing was that Dermot was a very good coach and teacher and he was really recognising the talent within me in that early stage and he kept building me on.
I remember one night we had knockout rounds, the first time I ever sparred these kids in knockout points. I beat them all, each one of them in the line. I just used strategy, cause I watched them for months how they would train. What their weaknesses were, how they would hit and strike and I just used that against them. Because I knew I was just too small, if I was gonna match their strength, I had to match it in a different way. So with my mind I suppose.
What does your average day look like right now?
Average day, I suppose get up in the morning nice and early and it’s either a mixture of technical work or I’m going to do strength and conditioning or maybe I’m going to go teach personal training and then train straight afterwards. Then usually I’ll come back for a hour and have a sleep or have a rest. Then I’ll go back out and teach for about 4 or 5 hours classes between the kids and the adults and then maybe I’ll train afterwards as well.
But in the sense now that I’m very smart about how I train and I’m very smart in what my training system is, so I don’t get over trained. I have alot of new systems I work with my physio therapist that measures my heart rate variability and all that kinda stuff. I have a cool iPhone app (iAthlete) that measures my heart rate everyday and lets me know if I’m getting sick and it’s the coolest thing I think I’ve ever invested in. Because I know when I’m going to get the flu about two days before it happens. And instead of me in the old days, I’d just train and get really sick. Now I’m backing off and resting my body more.
You previously mentioned Rosi, how did the relationship with Rosi Sexton and Peter Irving come about?
Well to be honest, the first time I got into cage fighting. I had my very first cage match in Tiger Warfare in Galway and I was told it was fight of the night. And it was fight of the night for certain reasons, that the girl I fought Shona Maguire. She came and gave the very best she could and I did too. But in certain ways I got smashed up and bashed up and in ways I probably could have defeated her much sooner and much faster if I had worked a little bit better with higher level people.
I’ve never accepted weaknesses within myself, I’ve always looked back at footage seeing what did I do wrong and how can I fix it and how can I make it better. And I did see Rosie fighting on Bo Dog over the years and I said wow, she’d be amazing. And I remember reading the fighters only article and there was an email address to contact her and Dermot my coach said, would you like to go train with Rosi? She’s one of the best women in the world. If you put her with Gina Carano who was out there back then, they were kinda the go to names that were being thrown out there alot. I said okay, but I didn’t think I’d get a response, she’ll be too busy. Within two days I had a response and she was like, “yeah come over and train anytime”.
I remember the first day walking into the gym in Stockport for the first training session and I’m not a religious person but I did bless myself as I walked in the door. And there she was just spotting some weights and stuff and she pulled Dermot over to help her spot weights. And I just kept thinking in the changing room, do not drop that weight, do not drop that weight Dermot!.
She was one of the nicest people, because as she rolled with me for the first time. She could have destroyed me, I know she could have. I know she could have tapped me 20,000 times, but then there is a reason why she is such a great fighter. She knows how to promote and push women and pull the positives out of them and that day she made me feel very positive about what we did. I think we trained maybe five or six hours, the first time I’d ever experienced that level. I remember kinda crawling to the bathroom in the hotel afterwards and the next day literally wanting to cry in the taxi because I was like “Dermot I don’t think I can go I don’t think I can go in and do another day”. But then again I was like no, if I really want to be the best. I’ve got to go in there, do it and learn.
How healthy is the women’s MMA scene in Ireland right now?
It’s pretty strong now, like before I’d tell people I’m a cage fighter and they’d look at me like I was on another planet. Now it’s like “Oh my God, you do what Conor McGregor does”!. He’s been a very good positive, getting us out there so much as well. That does help the women in a way and the women coming up have seen myself and Aisling Daly would be to the foremost that’s for sure. She’s been pushing it for how long she’s been there. And the girls now see that there’s a point to it now with it being brought into the UFC, you can actually make a living out of it as well. You can get to do something that you love and get respected for doing it also. There’s a passion within it when you do it too, I mean you have to love it. I see some girls in some ways, it’s great that they are getting into it. In other ways some girls are getting into it thinking that they may get somewhere a little bit further. You know fame and stuff like that.
But I’m like, you need to do the graft. You need to do the amateur scene as much as you can. You need to have as many amateur fights, like I did kickboxing tournaments alot over the years before I even went into the cage. And I trained with alot of cage fighters before I stepped in for my first fight. I didn’t go in there not knowing how to stop a takedown. Not knowing my basics of underhooking overhooking. And these are basics I see girls are forgetting because these girls are rushing to the spotlight of it. If girls want to train with me that’s fine, but they have to have the basics before they go near that cage.
How do you prepare mentally for your fights?
I think over the years, the injuries I’ve gone through. The neck fusion and not knowing what was wrong with my neck for so many years and so much pain, I used to train in so much pain, I’m thinking it toughened me up. I’m not saying it’s good to have pain and in no way no one should have that. Unfortunately with me it was just never picked up. The right kind of tests weren’t done the first time around. But I think that has made me like steel. I think that if I can spend two years between sitting in the house, reading technique, watching technique, mentally doing stuff. I was just literally with physio balls, lifting them up and down. And there’d be day s I wouldn’t tell anybody this, I would cry for about ten minutes. And I’d think, how do you think you are going to get back to that cage?
The safest things the doctors would let me do for the first thirteen weeks was walk. So I walked twice a day, no matter what, even if it rained I walked. In myself mentally I was preparing myself. As for getting into the cage, I don’t think anything scares me anymore. Except that I haven’t trained enough, that would be the only fear. So mentally if I’ve trained and I’ve done everything right, I’m really not that worried.
What is neck fusion and why did you have to undergo it?
Over the years, I was a successful business manager and within that job there was alot of heavy lifting. And when you’re young and you’re dumb, you lift in the stupidest and silliest ways to get things done and ridiculously that was one of the way. Also with the fighting, your next getting pulled on, guys sprawling heavy on you, stuff like that. As I said I’m a small girl, so there wasn’t that many girls back then even to fight. So I’d fight alot of guys and looking back the stuff we did in training was probably not the best, old school ways.
What happened was my disc got crushed at some point and of course we never really found out what it was and it got worse and worse and it calcified. That means the healthy disc and the fluid that was around it was completely all gone and it hardened. And they couldn’t really inject the disc, sometimes they can do that, but they couldn’t inject the disc with fluid again. So it was pressing into my spinal cord and that was why the pain was so bad, all the time. I often didn’t sleep at night, it was often like that for eight years.
Again alot of people have had it. Brian O’Driscoll has had it done as well and they just literally remove the disc, where it was pressing into the spinal cord and put in a titanium tip in between the remaining discs, so that is strong as anything. The doctor said to me, nothing can happen to that clip, unless you get spiked on you head.
What keep you motivated to keep fighting?
I truly believe that within me is a world champion and I think if I don’t go to that very last edge to see whether it happens or whether it doesn’t. If I don’t go to that last edge I’ll never be happy in life and I do believe on your death bed you should have no regrets whatsoever. Who’s to tell you what you can and can’t do in this world, besides it being of course keep it above legal, lol. But why shouldn’t I strive to be the best and make people proud of me, who brought me up and taught me to have dreams and never worry. And as well training with Rosi who have become champions you see it. And Peter would be a mentally positive person you know. When he’s wrapping my hands he’s getting me in the zone before the fight. He’s telling me it’s going to go off it’s going to go down. You’re going to feel the nerves, then they’re going to disappear. Then you’re going to feel the adrenaline and you’re going to be ready when she comes out hard at you and this is what your answers are gonna be and all of that, it’s just made me tough.
If you weren’t fighting, what would you be doing with your life?
I’d be like Indiana Jones!
Any tattoos with back stories you want to tell us about?
Well Peter Irving said, he doesn’t rate anybody unless they have a tattoo and I was like, “Well I don’t have a tattoo and you teach me”. And he goes “Yeah but Catherine you’ve been hard from the word go, you get an exception, you’re a hard lady”. My mother would murder me, she had enough after I did the neck fusion and I had a scar and a little plaster and I was trying to hide it. So she wouldn’t see, because I never told her I was doing it, I just went and did it. She saw the plaster and went “did you get a tattoo”? and I said no no no no. I just had surgery on my spine! “Oh that’s ok. I thought you had a tattoo” . I go “Oh a tattoo is not good, but surgery on my spine is fine”?
Follow Catherine on Twitter @alphafemalewar