Welcome to our very first installment of Oh You Didn’t Know? where we explore in depth the underground fighters you may not have heard of, but we think are the future of MMA. Our inaugural mixed martial artist is Irish upstart and SBG Ireland product Sinead Kavanagh, as we open the curtain on her potential, and what the future may hold for Ireland’s best female mixed martial artist.
Kavanagh burst on the the professional scene after posting an impressive 3-1-1 amateur record, with her only loss coming by way of a very controversial decision in her first fight against current UFC fighter Anna Elmose. Sinead also finished two of her three wins by knockout in the first round, thus earning her “KO” namesake.
After reaching the finals of the IMMAF Tuff-N-Uff tournament in Las Vegas during International Fight Week 2015, the same week that would see her teammate, Conor McGregor, defeat Chad Mendes for the UFC Interim Featherweight Championship, Sinead decided it was finally time to turn pro.
(Sinead lost the IMMAF Tuff-N-Uff final, but it was later changed to a no contest due to her opponent failing a post-fight drug test)
In late summer 2015, it was announced that the Irish bantamweight striker had signed with European promotion BAMMA, and would make her professional debut in September of that year versus Hatice Ozyurt at BAMMA 22. The fight lasted all of seventeen seconds, as Sinead dropped, and eventually finished, Ozyhurt after a mistimed spinning back-fist found the Netherlands prospect on the wrong end of a perfect counter right.
Kavanagh continued her winning ways at BAMMA 24 in February 2016, earning a close split decision against Zarah Fairn dos Santos. With decisions not being part of her game plan, Sinead was quick to get back in the cage at BAMMA 26 against dangerous striker and undefeated knockout artist Katarzyna Sandura. The bout was contested mostly in the clinch for the first two minutes, until the Irish prospect rocked the Polish Sandura and forced the ref to stop the fight with a hectic flurry against the fence, another fight and another first round KO.
Now the real question is, in an ever-growing pool of talent, what makes a fighter with a 3-0 professional record so special? The answer is both simple and technical, let me explain. I’ll start with simple.
As with a lot of fighters who train at SBG, Sinead is not afraid to speak her mind and let anyone who will listen know what she’s about. She believes that she can and will knockout anyone that stands between her and a UFC title. Notice that I said title and not contract. Kavanagh stands like her teammate McGregor, with her unwavering belief that she won’t just make it to the UFC, but that she will take it over and change it forever. Like her teammate, she possesses that quintessential “it” factor that promoters and fight-fans all over the world search for. Whether it’s something in the water in Dublin, or something earned on the mats and in the cage, there is no question of the confidence pouring out of that small gym in Dublin.
Now technically, Sinead is a bit hard to plan for, and even harder to fight. She is predominately an expert counter striker who uses her lead jab to gauge distance while dealing surprising damage. This gives her the ability to goad her opponent into a careless shot that’s usually the last thing they remember in the fight, as she did with Hatice Ozyurt.
She also accomplishes a similar effect against a high-level striker Katarzyna Sandura. Notice Kavanagh throwing the lead jab several times from different angles, to both the body and head. She repeatedly lets her walk into the empty space between them, and then surprises her with multiple jabs. Sandura is a very aggressive fighter who looks for early finishes. Rather than try to race her the finish with wild exchanges, Sinead made the smart decision to use her lead left hand to turn Sandura’s aggression into a weapon to use against her. Once she is rocked, Kavanagh walks her into the cage and unleashes a Chuck Liddell-style barrage, forcing the ref to step in and stop the fight.
Now there are a lot of counter strikers in the world, but Kavanagh possesses the unique ability to create a sense of forward pressure without actually moving forward. The best example of this was her fight contest with Lindsey Lawrence during the IMMAF Tuff-N-Uff tournament. Even though Sinead is making very little forward movement, she is striking first, using her punches and footwork to push back and pressure Lawrence. As she starts feeling the build up of this pressure she starts unloading looping and inaccurate overhand rights, the last of which lands her completely unconscious when Kavanagh follows it with a sharp counter left hook. That sense of pressure saves Kavanagh from spending the energy of chasing fighters around the cage, and helps her avoid dangerous situational counter shots and take downs.
The John Kavanagh trained prospect faced a major test at Bellator 169 against highly touted 18 year old, Elina Kallionidou who was also undefeated at 5-0. It was her first fight for Bellator, as she filled in on less than a week notice following an injury that forced a fight cancellation. Sinead dominated in all three rounds, coming very close to ending the fight by TKO several times in each round. Her experience, power, aggression, and superior striking skill set just proved too much for the accomplished Greek striker. While Kavanagh didn’t get the signature knockout of her namesake, she proved that she can make elite prospects look average in her presence. You can watch the full fight here.
All of these skills together give Sinead Kavanagh the building blocks for a good mixed martial arts career. It’s her mental outlook, gym environment, knack for the impressive KO, and that ever elusive “it” factor that guarantees she will be a household name by 2018, as long as she continues her winning ways. With Ronda Rousey already facing retirement women’s MMA needs a new face, and I think it will be Sinead Kavanagh.