Irish eyes will soon be smiling on undefeated strawweight Danni McCormack at Bellator 275 Friday, but there is a lot of business take care of, both in and out of the cage.
McCormack (5-0-0), 31, recently married her trainer Alan in December and is enjoying the married life. Asked if that gives her a competitive advantage, McCormack quickly jumped on the positive side.
“There are two ways of looking at it,” she explained to MMA Crossfire on the phone from her home in Mullingar, Ireland. “Married athletes as in married to anybody or married to someone whose another fighter or a coach. In my case I’m married to one of my coaches (Alan). He became my coach after we were in a relationship. It wasn’t the other way around.”
“From our point of view, we definitely have a competitive advantage because we spend all day talking about fighting and it’s never ending,” McCormack continued. “So I get so many hours extra because we’re married than if he was just one of my regular coaches. Lots of extra gym time, but lots of extra talk time talking about how to get better, game plans. It does make a big difference I think.”
McCormack certainly has a lot to fight for besides her undefeated record going into Bellator 275. This is something that her opponent, French striker Stephanie Page (5-3-0) will likely try to take advantage of to secure her first win in the Bellator cage.
“She’s a Muay Thai striker and a kickboxer,” McCormack said thoughtfully. “She’s had quite a few fights in kickboxing and Muay Thai. She’s got a good striking background. But from a MMA perspective, I don’t think she has a wide variety of MMA skills. So she’s a good striker fighting in a MMA fight basically.
It’s an exciting matchup because she’s going to stand and bang and I’m obviously going to want to take it to the ground. But I’m pretty confident that if we do stay standing that I’ll be well able to strike with her too.
Known for her grappling, McCormack has shown glimpses of her striking and ground games in past fights. Once again, she intends to test those facets of her game Friday in front of her home crowd.
“I’m going to stand and try to strike with her and not just to revert to my grappling straight away,” McCormack said confidently. “I want to get some experience against a good striker and I know I’m well able to put it up to her. My plan is to stand starting off and see how that goes. I feel like I’m going to do a lot better than people think I feel in that respect. It will very good experience for me.”
Then there is the business of McCormack’s Bellator fight contract, which is almost done. With one more fight after Bellator 275 left, McCormack will be looking carefully at what Bellator can offer to further her aspirations of becoming a world champion.
Perhaps building a strawweight division around McCormack, like how Bellator built their women’s flyweight division around Ilima-Lei Macfarlane, would be a good start.
“This will be my sixth fight with Bellator so I’ll be 6-0-0 at this point,” McCormack said. “I think Ilima-Lei (Macfarlane) was 5-0 or something (Editor’s Note: Macfarlane was 6-0-0), she was pretty young in her career as well when she got her first title shot. It’s something that would have to be talked about very soon after this fight. I don’t plan on hanging around til I’m 10-0 or something before there’s a talk of even a division. I would definitely consider if it’s something that happens in the very near future.”
What about moving up to flyweight, where Valerie Loureda is and challenging for the title?
“I would love to fight Valerie and move up and ideally I always said I’d love a crack at Ilima-Lei,” McCormack noted. “She’s not a big flyweight, but the current champion (Julianna Velasquez) is a monster. So I don’t know about that now, but I know when ILima-Lei was the champion she could make strawweight if she cut a bit more weight. She’s not big. If they won’t give me the fight against Valerie, I don’t think there’s not going to be any talks about anything else like that in terms of flyweight basically.
If I wanted to move up permanently and take a few fights at flyweight than maybe so, but realistically, I’m a strawweight. I’m walking around under flyweight as we speak. And still training this way, so. It’s all smoke and mirrors at the moment.
McCormack continues to raise eyebrows with her callout of Loureda after her last fight. While she is realistic about the low probability of the fight at 115 pounds, she was amused at the notion of calling her out again on Feb. 25.
“A lot of people are asking me that question,” McCormack confirmed. “Look, I’ll call her out again because I might as well there’s no one else to call out, there’s no strawweight division. But Bellator don’t want the fight so I don’t think it’s something that’s going to happen. But yeah, I can keep calling her out. She’s blocked me on social media as well even though I didn’t even give her any real abuse. I just asked her did she want to fight.”
“Look, she’s doing her thing, she’s got all her followers, she’s Bellator’s cash cow, so I don’t Bellator’s stupid enough to let me fight her to be honest,” McCormack said flatly. “I don’t think she’d gain a lot from losing to a strawweight. I’ll probably keep calling her out, I have no one else to call out, but I don’t see it happening, unfortunately. That’s the way the business runs.”
McCormack is grateful to Bellator for the way they have kept her fighting despite not having a strawweight division. It’s no secret however, that the UFC has a strawweight division full of intriguing matchups for McCormack to test her skills against. “I watch the UFC every weekend,” McCormack said. “I have my eyes glued on the strawweights all around the world, in the UFC and in different promotions. I don’t think I’d be outclassed with any of them.
“Obviously, I still have a lot to prove and more development to do and show in my fights,” McCormack conceded. “But they’re all beatable. They all have their positives and their weak points. I think the strawweight division is very open and once you’re well-rounded, I’m confident I would fit in no problem in the UFC against those girls.”
“But at the moment I’m in Bellator, so you can only have these thoughts and dreams in your head, but it’s not something I’m thinking about right now when I’ve got to fight for Bellator in a few weeks.”
But there is hope. McCormack’s colleague, undefeated Cagewarriors and EFC flyweight champion Jake Hadley (8-0-0), overlooked for years by the UFC, recently earned a contract on the Dana White Contenders series in October 2021 and is scheduled to fight Allan Nascimento in the octagon on Mar. 19.
“He’s another guy signed with Paradigm,” McCormack said. “That’s really great to see, people transitioning over from Europe in a similar situation to me. It’s exciting. I’m open to whatever the future has to hold. The most important thing to me is that I’m on some sort of path to becoming a world champion. That’s kind of my main focus but I’m definitely get inspired by the other guys and girls form Europe that get to jump over to the UFC.”
Jumping to conclusions can have repercussions in combat sports. McCormack is keen to stress her focus is on Page and Bellator 275. That means no short cuts as she looks to make sure she is physically and mentally prepared.
“I’m 125 pounds right now,” McCormack said. “The weight cut’s going grand. It takes a lot of work to be a strawweight. It’s not an easy task. A lot of output, low calories and a lot of training. But I’m used to doing it now. This will be my sixth time to do it. I kind of know the process and I know the end is in sight. I don’t have that long to go before my belly’s full.”
With great experience comes greater awareness of the little things, like harnessing the energy of the 3Arena crowd. “At the start it was nerve wracking and new to me to be fighting in such a big arena with so many teammates fighting on the same card as well,” McCormack explained. “But now, it’s like another day at the office. I’m used to the environment I’m used to the change rooms, I’m used to the crowds. I’m not nervous at all.
“It’s totally different than when I had my first two pro fights (when) I definitely felt the nerves. I feel like this is much more enjoyable now, once you have some experience under your belt. You can start enjoying the Fight Week and the process.”
Canadian fight fans may be surprised to know that McCormack lived in Canada for a time. Naturally, we asked her for thoughts on the Canadian experience.
“When I actually just started martial arts six months into my martial arts career or journey, it wasn’t a career back then,” McCormack said. “I met my brother in Toronto, he was living there. We spent a few days in Toronto, and then we traveled to the east coast of the U.S. and on that trip actually, I decided to stay in Canada for seven months so we moved back to Canada, or he moved back. I moved the first time after the trip to the U.S. when we moved to Vancouver and I stayed there for seven months and I trained at Checkmat in Vancouver. It’s the gym that Tristan Connelly runs at the moment. I trained with Tristan years ago. Adam Ryan was the head coach at the time. Jamey Lyn Horth was also there. She’s making waves herself in the flyweight division in Canada. So surprisingly, I do have some connections in Canada. It’s a lovely country.”
As Bellator 275 looms, McCormack is one of the three professional Irish female fighters on the card. The other two, featherweights Sinead Kavanagh and Leah McCourt, will face each other on the main card. It is McCormack’s hope that the sport continues to flourish in Ireland to keep the next generation of female fighters from being poached by boxing.
“When I first started MMA there wasn’t that many women involved,” McCormack recalled. “Sinead Kavanagh was the only woman training at SBG at the time. Aislin Daly had just retired. So it was really just me and Sinead flying the flag at SBG. And from there, it’s really exploded in the last six years. In our gym alone, we’ve got 10 women in amateur or professional MMA. We’re constantly getting new girls coming over from different countries to train with us and become a part of SBG. And then across the country, there’s more and more women getting involved all the time. A lot of them are still amateurs and they’re training in the IMMAFs.
“I’ve been involved in coaching some of the amateur women that have gone on to the IMMAF world championships. But it’s still in its infancy in terms of being an amateur level. Me, Sinead Kavanagh and Leah McCourt are the only three professional Irish women at the moment. Everyone else is an amateur. But by the time I’m long and gone from fighting, I’ll still be in the sport, there’s going to be a lot of women coming out of this country. There’s a lot of talent coming through.”
“Over here, the female fighters that box, there’s so many,” McCormack analyzed. “Every boxing club has got loads of girls in it, because of Katie Taylor. So we need something similar to happen in MMA to get those girls to join the MMA gyms rather than the boxing gyms. Now in our own gym in here in Mullingar, we’ve got more girls than boys that train because of me I suppose. so we’ve got a huge number of girls from the age of five to 16 that train.
“So if I become a world champion, or Leah, or Sinead, then I think there would be a huge shift in those kids being in boxing to moving over to MMA.”
Bellator 275 is scheduled for Friday Feb. 25 at the 3Arena in Dublin, Ireland. The prelims start at 11 a.m. ET and the main card starts at 2:00 p.m. ET. International fans can watch the prelims and main card on Showtime, the Showtime app, or Bellator’s YouTube channel.