McCormack Eyes History & New Chapter for Irish Women’s MMA

Image Credit: Invicta FC

On Wednesday night, Roscommon woman Danni McCormack will have the opportunity to make history by becoming Ireland’s first ever Invicta FC World Champion.

The SBG Ireland fighter takes on strawweight title-holder Valesca “Tina Black” Machado (12-3) in the main event of Invicta FC 52 in Denver, Colorado.

It has the potential to be a momentous occasion, not just as a crowning moment for McCormack, but also for Irish Women’s MMA as a whole.

Invicta FC: A Symbol for Women’s MMA

Founded in 2012, Invicta Fighting Championships has grown to become the world’s largest all-women’s Mixed Martial Arts organisation.

The promotion is steeped in a history of elevating women to MMA success on a global level, and it is the most prominent feeder league into the likes of UFC and Bellator. Through the leadership of its President Shannon Knapp, Invicta FC describes itself as “committed to pioneering the future growth of women’s MMA by promoting the best possible match-ups between female competitors and identifying and developing future superstars of the sport.”

Look around the MMA landscape, and you’ll find Invicta’s fingerprints at every level. Notable alumni include former UFC & current Bellator champion Cris Cyborg, two-division UFC champion Amanda Nunes, two-time UFC strawweight champion Carla Esparza, and newly-crowned UFC flyweight champion Alexa Grasso.

Though only a handful of Irish women have competed on Invicta cards over the years, Irish WMMA’s and Invicta’s histories are intertwined.

Ais the First

Long before Conor McGregor rose through the UFC ranks to worldwide superstardom, Women’s MMA pioneer Aisling Daly made history as Ireland’s first world champion, claiming the NAAFS flyweight championship over future UFC title contender Jessica Eye in June 2011.

“Ais The Bash” was the trailblazer for Irish Women’s MMA (and one for Irish MMA, period).

The Dubliner would go on to successfully defend her NAAFS title against Kelly Warren in November 2011, before making history once again the following year as the first Irish woman to compete under the Invicta FC promotional banner.

Image Credit: Esther Lin / Invicta FC

On 6th October 2012, Kansas City played host to an historic night for the promotion, in what was its third ever show. Though Daly wasn’t the main attraction of the event, and ultimately lost a decision to Barb Honchak, it was a night to remember for Invicta FC with the organisation crowning its first ever champion when Jessica Penne submitted Naho Sugiyama to claim the atomweight crown.

Image Credit: Esther Lin / Invicta FC

In the years that followed, both Daly and Penne would progress to the UFC, even competing against one another on The Ultimate Fighter. However, it would be another almost 3 years before a second Irish woman would grace the Invicta FC cage.

Ireland’s Elusive Victory

In July 2015 at Invicta FC 13, Limerick fighter Catherine “The Alpha Female” Costigan attempted to build on the Irish legacy that Daly started, by securing the country’s first victory in the organisation.

During the same Las Vegas fight week that Conor McGregor fought Chad Mendes at UFC 189, the then undefeated 5-0 Costigan faced off against American Amber “The Bully” Brown in a strawweight showdown.

Image Credit: Esther Lin / Invicta FC

While it was a milestone week for Irish MMA with McGregor winning the UFC interim featherweight title, victory eluded Costigan. Costigan was outmatched by Brown, suffering a 1st-round submission defeat. Ireland’s first win under the Invicta banner had to wait.

Image Credit: Esther Lin / Invicta FC

Bannon the Victor

Image Credit: Esther Lin / Invicta FC

In the years that followed Daly and Costigan, Irish Women’s MMA was more often than not found in Bellator through the likes of Sinéad Kavanagh and Leah McCourt, both of whom continue to enjoy success and are within touching distance of world title challenges themselves.

However, from an Irish perspective, the path through Invicta FC laid barren. 7 years passed from Costigan’s loss at Invicta FC 13 until Ireland’s resurrection in the promotion.

In the meantime, a new era of Irish fighters began to rise in the shadows of the trailblazing women who had gone before them. One such prospect to emerge into the spotlight was Tallaght fighter, Shauna “Mama B” Bannon.

A former kickboxing world champion, Bannon left a scorching mark on the amateur scene, winning silver at the 2019 IMMAF World Championships and gold at the 2021 IMMAF World Cup. The Paddy Holohan-trained prospect garnered excitement on the Irish scene as she transitioned to the pro ranks, collecting belts at two weight classes in the space of 2 months in Irish promotion Cage Legacy.

The success earned “Mama B” an opportunity to compete on Invicta FC and break barriers as the first Irish woman to secure a win in the promotion.

On 28th September 2022 at Invicta FC 49, Bannon made a successful promotional debut, besting Nadia Vera over three rounds to earn a Unanimous Decision victory. In doing so, the Holohan Martial Arts fighter finally etched Ireland into the Invicta win column, and left her own mark on Irish Women’s MMA history.

Bannon will look to further her own legacy as she competes alongside her fellow compatriot McCormack tomorrow night at Invicta FC 52. Bannon will square off against former IMMAF World Champion and ten-fight professional, Minna Grusander. At 4-0, the sky’s the limit for the undefeated Dubliner, and Bannon looks set to be one of this generation’s flag bearers for Women’s MMA in Ireland.

Bannon’s win marked a new era for Irish MMA in Invicta FC. Initial victory had finally been ticked off the bucket list for the island, but there were more ceilings to surpass.

McCormack the Champion?

Image Credit: Esther Lin / Invicta FC

Less than a month later, Invicta announced the signing of SBG Ireland’s Danni McCormack. The former IMMAF silver medalist had spent the majority of her career fighting under the Bellator banner. After turning professional in 2019, McCormack went 5-0 and it looked like Ireland had a real prospect on our hands.

However, McCormack competes as a strawweight, a division that Bellator doesn’t offer. Reminiscent of Aisling Daly’s early UFC tenure—a natural flyweight competing in a less than ideal strawweight division—it was unclear if McCormack would be able to reach her potential in Bellator with no clear path towards a title.

After suffering her first brace of defeats as a pro and a subsequent Bellator exit in early 2022, Danni “Mac” navigated turbulent waters during a period where she was forced to regroup and reassess. UFC now the goal, the path travelled by those Irish women who came before was the route.

McCormack rebounded with intent, grasping the Invicta FC opportunity with both hands. In her promotional debut at Invicta FC 50 in November, McCormack battled Maíra Mazar to a Unanimous Decision victory. It was a back-and-forth affair, but also arguably the best performance the Irish fighter had produced to date.

Striking all the right chords with her fighting and microphone display, McCormack was rewarded with a title shot by the Invicta brass.

And so, tomorrow night, history awaits an Irish woman once again. McCormack celebrates her 33rd birthday on the same day she fights Valesco Machado for the world title. All going to plan, there’ll be more than a birthday to cheer about.

Irish MMA Legacy

Irish MMA has come full circle too.

The story of Danni McCormack approaching John Kavanagh for a photo at a Las Vegas pool party and telling him she’d be a world champion has been widely reported. Back then, the former jockey had barely picked up a pair of gloves on her MMA journey.

That was July 2015. McGregor vs Mendes. The same week Catherine Costigan cast her bid to claim Ireland’s first Invicta win.

McCormack has since traded cocktails for 4oz leather gloves and is now on the doorstep of delivering Ireland its first Invicta world title. An opportunity to become the first woman from the island since Aisling Daly to become a world champion under any promotional banner.

MMA is passed on through generations, and Irish MMA especially so.

Paddy Holohan was in Aisling Daly’s corner that night in 2012 when she fought Barb Honchak. Both Holohan and Daly are now retired, but “The Hooligan” now cultivates the next generation of fighting Irish. Then a cornerman, now a coach, Holohan helped guide Bannon to victory in November.

While Aisling Daly will always be “the first” when it comes to Irish Women’s MMA, there are more firsts to be registered, and the torch is now passed to the women who carry Ireland’s flag into battle in 2023 and beyond.

Similar to Daly, Catherine Costigan’s loss marked her sole fight wearing the Invicta gloves. Though she would go on to compete again in Cage Warriors and KSW, a combination of serious injuries and the sudden ill health of her mother scuppered Costigan’s activity for a number of years, and the Limerick native has not competed since August 2021.

Though the first wave of Irish MMA are dwindling in active numbers, their effect on the current crop is immeasurable. McCormack, with Bannon following hot on her heels, represents the changing of the guard.

A win over Machado guarantees McCormack her world title, but it also opens up the possibility of a UFC contract.

Invicta FC continues to churn out the next set of UFC prospects, contenders and champions. We only have to look as far as flyweight sensation Erin Blanchfield to see a more recent example of where stars can be born.

A new chapter in Irish Women’s MMA is unfolding, building on the achievements of fighters of yesteryear. McCormack and Bannon now walk the path paved by Costigan and Daly, but it’s their individual hard work and dedication that will bear the fruits of this generation and those yet to come.

McCormack’s time is now, and should Bannon advance to 5-0, she could well be knocking on the door of her own title shot. With a proven path already defined, there’s a real possibility that we could see an Irish woman in the UFC again. It would be the first time since Aisling Daly’s swansong over 7 years ago at UFC Dublin. Even better, there’s a possibility that for the first time ever, Irish MMA could have 2 women in the UFC in the next few years.

The future is yet untold, but the next page will be written tomorrow night at Invicta FC 52.

Perhaps Ireland’s first Invicta FC world champion goes by “Mac”. Wouldn’t that be fitting.

Invicta FC will be available for Irish fans to watch on YouTube, with the card kicking off at approximately 1am Irish time.

Andy is a multimedia reporter, interviewer, writer, with a strong focus on Irish MMA. Co-host of The Auld Triangle podcast. Follow Andy on Twitter (@andyste123) and Instagram (@andystevensonMMA).

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