Tonight, two women and a lot of men will enter the boxing ring in the Neptune Stadium in Cork for a martial arts event that’s been dubbed “Judgement Day”.
Muay Thai, or Thai boxing as it’s also called, is known as one of the most brutal stand-up sports, because it makes use of all eight limbs to win the fight: Hands, feet, knees, and elbows.
Originating in Thailand, where it’s an ancient combat system deeply rooted within the culture, it has developed into a pure sport, and its popularity has been on the rise in the last couple of decades. Today, Muay Thai is a popular and recognised sport worldwide, on the verge of getting on trial for the Olympics.
While most people are used to the idea of two men squaring off inside a boxing ring, not everybody is convinced that it’s a place for women. In fact, it was only last year that women were allowed to box in the Olympics, meaning Katie Taylor overcame one more opponent on her way to gold — prejudice.
Boxing is still considered a masculine discipline, and its brutal nature means it takes a special kind of woman to step into the ring — and tonight there are two of those special women entering the ring.
Kelly Creegan from Bridgestone Muay Thai in Dublin and Elaine McElligott from Midleton Muay Thai in Cork are facing each other three years after their first encounter, which Creegan describes as “a big shock to us both”.
“I think it was the first time either of us had been hit really hard,” she says.
“We beat the heads off each other for three rounds, it was very close and could have gone either way, but Elaine took the win.”
Since that novice fight, both fighters have developed, and what might have started out as a hobby has turned into a full-time job (besides their normal jobs) with gruelling training camps as they get prepared for tonight’s battle.
It’s not just a rematch, but a title fight, and it’s the first female A-class match on Irish ground. Both women are delighted to be on the big fight card which, aside from matching some of the country’s best male fighters against each other, also has two of the biggest stars from Thailand as the main event.
While you may think it is a problem to be a woman in a sport dominated by men, both women competitors will tell you otherwise.
“It doesn’t feel any different for me. We are all a family in our gym. We look out for each other and help each other out, male or female, we are fighters and we all go through the same thing,” says Creegan.
But she adds: “It can be hard and frustrating to get fights as we [women] are the minority.”
While Creegan has been sure she wanted to fight since stepping into the gym, McElligott didn’t come into the sport wanting to be a fighter. Like many women, she started training at a later age (28), as she wanted to stay fit and was looking for a new way of training.
She says watching boxing with her mum, a big fan of the sport, she never really understood “why someone would want to hit someone else”.
But when the chance to take a fight came after about a year of training, she jumped at it. “My coach at the time said there is a girl looking for a fight in seven weeks and do you want to try it. So I did the training, lost 7kg to make the weight, and I won — it’s such a buzz to win, there’s no feeling like it.”
Since then, McElligott had 12 more fights; 10 were wins. Creegan, her opponent, is noted for seven wins and four losses, but McElligott points out: “Winning isn’t always the most important thing. I’ve come out of wins thinking ‘God that was an awful fight’ or vice versa; I’ve had two losses but was happy with my progress as a fighter.”
One thing is for sure, tonight’s fight will be a firecracker. As Elaine points out: “Kelly and I have about the same amount of experience, we’ve trained very hard and both want the win. I think it will be just down to who wants it that bit more on the night. I’m stronger than ever and I have a few new tricks up my sleeve she won’t be expecting so we’ll see what happens. I’m just excited to get in there and fight.”
Creegan is a woman of fewer words: “I’m feeling great and really looking forward to this one.”
* Tania Presutti is a Danish Muay Thai fighter, freelance journalist, and fitness professional. She holds titles in various fight sports and worked as the commentator for the show Fight Club on Eurosport Denmark.
Tickets are available on the door for €37. Doors open at 5.30pm and bouts begin at 6pm.
Fight record: 7 wins, 4 losses
Occupation: Credit card fraud analyst for Bank of Ireland
Training camp: Eight weeks, six days a week, twice a day. Running, sprints, Thai training, and strength and conditioning
Fight record: 11 wins, 2 losses. Won the Four Nation title earlier this year in UK
Occupation: Accounts in O’Connell Group in Glanmire, Co Cork
Training camp: 10 weeks: Once a day six days a week for the first five weeks; then in the last five weeks it was twice a day five or six days a week. Thai padwork, sparring and grappling, running, sprints, rowing, strength and conditioning classes with kettlebells, Vipr, TRX etc
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