Catherine Costigan: An ode to the people who show up

After over 18 months, Catherine Costigan is back in the cage this weekend on the KSW card in London’s Wembley arena. I spent an entertaining 90 minutes chatting with Catherine on the phone last Sunday. Costigan is never short of good conversation but I decided to let this one settle for awhile before writing it up. Like a good pint of Guinness for those of you familiar with the process.


As the early part of the week unfolded I was delighted to see that her return is generating a few articles. Fightbook have an Interview with her and the Limerick Leader have Catherine prominently featured in this weeks edition. The broad strokes of what I read were similiar to what we talked about. She is 39 and I suppose many would be forgiven for thinking that maybe the 18 month sabbatical was an injury, or whisper it, a retirement.

Both articles correctly mention the fact that Catherine’s mother was struck with illness and anyone unfortunate enough to be familiar with pancreatic cancer will know that the recovery rates are not the highest. In fact, if you are spinning the cancer Lotto wheel this is one type you don’t want the arrow to rest on.

There are only about 5 or 6 active, female professional MMA fighters in Ireland. For my money Catherine is still the most prominent despite her 18 month lay-off. She is still actually signed with Invicta, in a deal that allows her to fight on other promotions. The KSW event is one such event Shannon Knapp was happy to give her blessing on. While Bellator has made heavy investment in the UK and Ireland, KSW is probably pound for pound the still the biggest MMA promotion in Europe.

We could spend a happy 4 or 5 paragraphs going through Catherine’s fight record (6-2) and various MMA milestones. Let’s not. As the pint blackens and the cream settles perhaps this story is best reflected on thru the prism of  mother and daughter.

What interests me is Catherine and her mother’s story. What strikes me is how alike they seem to be. Catherine speaks about her mother like I might describe her.

Catherine Costigan.jpg

When you get to my age it’s rare that serious illness or family tragedy hasn’t struck very close to home at some stage. It has in my life and it probably has in yours too. Getting through these times is difficult, especially with a long term illness like cancer. There is no end date. There is no guarantee of a happy ending. It’s always there in the back of your mind. Lurking. What fascinates me in these situations is the people who show up and keep showing up. The ones who put their lives on hold.

I would love to tell you I am that person in our family,  but I can hear my sister’s laughter ringing in my ear at the mere idea of such a notion, no then not I, but I do recognise that Catherine is one such person much as my sister is in our family.

” When your family needs you, your family needs you and that’s it “

There was no doubt and there was no question as she spoke the above words. Simple words but the power is in the conviction and it is the conviction that gives strength to the person that is suffering. We can all show up at a hospital with a bunch of flowers and pass an hour with someone who is ill and no doubt there is benefit in that, but the people that show up do all the unsexy stuff. They don’t visit they show up. All the time.

The countless appointments, the fighting to get a proper diagnosis, asking the questions, questioning the answers and then on to the cycles of radiation, or then of chemo, the operations and the recovery.

The Grind in other words.

” It took awhile to get a proper diagnosis, they couldn’t even tell her it was cancer for awhile and when they did it, they said it was an inoperable tumour on one of her arteries

We spent months in waiting rooms with specialists giving us ” well we think it might be this but we’re not sure “,  pancreatic cancer is so specialised there are only two specialists in Ireland and we went with one in Cork, O’Sullibhean, he really took to her. Took to each other really.  

It all added up to, thankfully, a recovery, the all clear came after a 9 hour operation, earlier in the year, to remove the tumour, which I can only assume had reduced to manageable proportions after the courses of radiation. We speak a lot about these times, about the worry and struggle.

In fighting terms it was an 18 month lay-off for Costigan. Though the road ahead is not strewn with rose-petals especially after having part of your pancreas and all of your lymph nodes removed but the future is much, much brighter now. A cancer doctor who has a child in Catherine’s mixed martial arts academy told her early on.

The ones that make it are the ones that are mentally strong”

Both mother and daughter have this resilience in spades. Strong minds and positive outlooks.

Catherine runs a busy martial arts academy in Limerick so it was always going to be her competition and fighting career that was sacrificed. So tomorrow night, in Wembley’s SSA Arena, will be a massive release of pent up energy for the atom-weight.

One thing I do know having spent time talking with her is how passionate she still is about fighting and competing. Costigan returns to the cage as a woman eager to perform. When I look around at modern female athletes, for example Belmullet native Sinead Diver and her marathon qualification for the Olympics at the age of 42, I think we in the media maybe have an over fascination with age once athletes pass the 30 signpost.


Costigan fights Polish star Aleksandra Rola at 115 lbs up from her more preferred 105 lb atomweight. It is not ideal but in the circumstances Costigan is upbeat and buzzing to get back in there on Saturday night and perform in front of an expected, 12,500 sell-out.

Pankration MMA and kickboxing is where you’ll find Catherine’s on most regular days, She and Dermot McGrath run this highly regarded martial arts academy together and it is one of the most successful in the country.  Her conversation is peppered with references to the kids that come through their doors and the responsibility she and McGrath feel for them. They are hopeful some of the current crop will be ready for IMMAF competition in the next couple of years, as a bunch of them hit their teens.

Catherine’s announcement and return to competition coincided with Cage Warriors announcing that they are finally returning to Ireland and Cork in Novemeber. She is not one to overlook the obstacle in front of her but allow me. Touch wood, she comes through tomorrow night unscathed and I’m not sure what Cage Warriors stance on female fighters is on the Cork show but there is one match begging to made.

Catherine Costigan vs Alexandra Toncheva.

Toncheva fought earlier in the year at the Cage Legacy event in Cork against Katie Saull who was training under John Kavanagh at the time. Unbelievably Toncheva is struggling to get matched as an atomweight around Europe. As a former IMMAF world champion she has transitioned nicely to the professional ranks.

Catherine is a very big ticket seller, even more so for a Cork show and would have no problem shifting 200 plus tickets on her own. It is true historically and true today.

Not surprising really, people remember people like Catherine.

You see the visitors in life do like to pay their respects to the people Like Costigan who always show up.

Inside and outside of the cage.









Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: