Northern Irish boxer Cathy McAleer on Sheffield’s first ever ‘drive-in fight night’ and the state of women’s boxing
Northern Ireland’s only professional women’s boxer Cathy McAleer is set to fight in Sheffield’s first ever ‘drive-in fight night’ next month as she makes her return to the ring following the coronavirus pandemic.
The 42-year-old Belfast brawler, who is dreaming of becoming a four-discipline world champion having already won world titles in karate, MMA and kickboxing, was due to fight in April, June and October, but all three shows were called off due to Covid-19 disruptions.
And while McAleer has had a strong team behind her and the discipline to keep training during these uncertain times, she is also quick to point out the ‘rollercoaster’ the pandemic has been and the strain it has put on so many in the sport.
Speaking exclusively to NewsChain, she said: "Massively, it’s impacted a lot of boxers mentally as well.
"The fact that their goals and opportunities have been taken away from them. I would say if they’re not self-motivated and haven’t got that strong character or team behind them then a lot of them would have quit because they’re thinking ‘How am I ever going to get a fight date? How am I going to train? How am I going to spar?’ It’s the unknown.
"With me, I don’t have time. I’m at an older age now where if it doesn’t happen...it has to happen for me. I have to make it happen. So in my head I’ve said I’ve got to continue this journey no matter what obstacles get thrown in front of me."
McAleer, who is 4-0 as a professional, is also concerned about the number of female boxers who may be considering turning over from the amateurs to the professional side of the sport but are put off by the lack of opportunities on offer right now.
Small hall shows are currently close to non-existent in the UK due to the absence of gate revenue, meaning the only events being staged are those with promoters who hold broadcast deals such as Eddie Hearn and Frank Warren.
But there are also positives which have arisen for women’s boxing during these unique times.
Katie Taylor, Delfine Persoon, Natasha Jonas, Terri Harper, Rachel Bull, Shannon Courtenay, Savannah Marshall, Chantelle Cameron, Ellie Scotney, Amy Timlin, Carly Skelly, these are fighters that have all thrived on televised shows during the pandemic.
And it is this success at the top level that McAleer has seen influencing other female fighters to work even harder.
"Women’s boxing is really starting to take off and that last fight with Katie Taylor really pushed it all up to the next level, I felt," she said.
"When I came down to Guildford the ladies here are pushing hard. We drove to a club in London and sparred there and the ladies there were all up for it, all training hard. I just see more and more women coming on board. I think it’s peaking."
The show McAleer is featuring on in Sheffield on December 11 against an opponent who is yet to be confirmed, is set to be shown on Eurosport, although it is not yet known whether her fight will be a part of the broadcast.
And she openly admits that she is unsure what to expect from the event, which is the first of its kind in the Yorkshire city.
Nevertheless, her lack of knowledge about how the ‘drive-in’ aspect of the show has not deterred her from praising the innovative thinking from those involved.
"I think this promoter is thinking outside the box," she added. "This is the way the world’s going to be for a wee while, it’s not going to go away. He’s trying to think outside the box and fair play to him. Drive-in cinemas work, drive-in gigs have worked in the past, so drive-in boxing - why not?
"For me, it’s going to be totally different. It is making history and to be a part of that is a huge positive. But it is certainly going to be different.
"I’m used to a Belfast crowd behind me with the cheers, the support, the shouting and maybe now it’s just going to be a load of cars in the car park blowing horns!"
The Northern Irish fighter’s team has been consistently disappointed with shows falling through during the pandemic, including the drive-in fight night which was pushed from November 20 to December 11 when the second national lockdown was announced.
McAleer is managed by legendary promoter Kellie Maloney, who helped steer the career of world heavyweight champion Lennox Lewis.
And while Maloney can draw on decades worth of experience in the business of boxing, even she is coming to terms with a new series of challenges in 2020.
"Kellie is gutted, she’s really, really feeling for me," McAleer said. "She’s phoned me a few times and said ‘I’m feeling for you. I’m trying my best to organise fights for you but they’re getting cancelled. It’s out of our control. But to have such a strong boxer that continues to stay in shape and focus is unreal’.
"She’s battling a battle that she’s never had before. She’s never came through a pandemic so she’s still right behind me and she’s said this show coming up will go ahead."
When NewsChain spoke to McAleer before her last fight nine months ago, the plan was for her to fight for a world title within two years.
And while this year has stalled the progression of her career, McAleer remains adamant the timeline for her to become a four-discipline world champion has not changed.
"Yeah, that’s still the plan (to fight for a world title within two years)," she said. "We would like to have had three or four fights under our belt by this stage - one in April, one in June and then back home for a title shot."