Catherine Costigan “MMA Training can always bring you to the truth”

Earlier this week Indra Davis interviewed Catherine Costigan of Pankration MMA Kickboxing academy for us at Combat Arena. A 45 minute recorded phone interview. I listened to it in full as I drove to work on Wednesday night. As I pulled into a petrol station in Westport their conversation was just drawing to a close. Fuck.

What I had on my hands (or rather my ears) was a podcast. Not just any podcast but one you sit in your driveway finishing for 15 minutes after you arrive home from work. From a purely technical point of view, it is highly unusual to get two people that speak in such clear, authoritative language. No Humming. No Hawing.

That this clear,  authoritative language is spoken in paragraphs is another rarity.

That they both managed to speak about the MMA subject matter from a perspective and angle I hadn’t really heard before all added up in my head to a podcast. And that word Fuck again. I need to sort that out. Soon.

I have spent the last 3 days trying to figure out a way to do their conversation justice. As I haven’t I will just start writing.

Let’s start with a little background to the Interview and a little recent history. About 6 weeks ago I did a phone interview with Indra Davis. Indra and her husband Ben Davis run Shaolin MMA in Galway.  Indra’s was the first in a series of interviews that we have been running on female combat sports athletes in Ireland. They have been very popular.

The process started accidentally. I was flicking through the Clan Wars 33 November card and noticed that there were no female fights on it. Was there a story here? – or to be more accurate was there a community of female fighters here?

As I have been finding out – There was a story and there is a small but fiercely dedicated community.

So following on from the Interview I had the opportunity to meet Ben and Indra Davis at their gym in Galway which led to the brainwave that who better to Interview coaches and interesting clubs from around the country than another coach and fighter!.

Indeed I was right so let’s crack on.

The simplest way to describe Catherine is that she is someone who cares. She cares that her fans are entertained, She cares that her students get the quality and attention they deserve. She cares that she can inspire women to get involved in the sport. She cares to answer a question with her full attention and not glibly or on auto pilot.

Costigan has a very successful 6-2 professional record as an MMA fighter. She has fought at the Invicta Level, so she really does meet the definition of female pioneer of the sport.  She fights at atom weight for the most part and this can be a weight division that is harder than most to get fights in. It is also a division that can be tricky making weight in. Catherine Costigan is not in the business of missing weight and never has missed one.

She has variously been a National Kickboxing Champion, European Sanda Kickboxing Champion on top of being a professional Mixed Martial Arts Fighter.


The majority of  Indra’s chat, however,  is about the other side of Catherine Costigan. Catherine the coach. Catherine the co-owner of Pankration MMA Kickboxing academy.

Early in their conversation Indra asks about the characteristics that MMA helps to develop in her students. Most coaches point to the discipline, respect and work ethic as a first response.

And while these things are all true, Catherine pointed to it’s importance for developing their individuality. I thought this was a brilliant insight and also a wonderful way to look at MMA for children. MMA for anybody really.  A developer of individuality.

This idea of individuality also rang true to my experiences of dealing with adult fighters. Quite often,  I am surprised by how quiet and almost sedate a lot of MMA fighters are outside the fighting environment when I interview them.  The total opposite to their ring persona or fighting style.

What does any pursuit boil down to, at the end of the day, if not a form of self expression?

MMA when you think about it, is the perfect vehicle to explore your individuality. The combination of the different disciplines make it an almost limitless playground in which to explore and express yourself. I immediately loved the way Catherine thought about and explained this.

It is clear to anyone listening to Catherine she wants to coach fighters to the very highest level in the sport. While her fight career is still active there is a sense she is already transitioning to coaching.  Pankration have spent a huge amount of time developing programs for kids that will lead them – if they follow it – right to adulthood. I suspect in Catherine’s mind , right to the highest levels of the sport at amateur or professional level.

At Pankration, they like to be goal orientated and often work in chunks of time of about one month. This ensures that each child is aiming and reaching milestones. And as Indra noted it also allows for flexibility within the program. So I think in the truest sense Pankration is an academy.

They take their time with each child, obviously people move at different speeds and skill levels. There is a 4 month waiting list to get enrolled on many of their programs. While many would be tempted to simply increase class sizes or just increase the number of coaches. Catherine, as you might have gathered,  is a little bit different. She will not entertain the idea of  endangering the quality or attention each child is getting.

There is a popular phrase that pops into my head as she speaks about this, one that requires a little twist before applying it to Catherine and Pankration. They don’t put their money where their mouth is as such but rather

They take money away from where their mouth is

Where a lot of clubs might fall to the temptation of meeting the demand  and waiting lists quickly for the extra revenue, It is clear Catherine would not tolerate any risk to quality.

I can’t help but notice the strength of character in Catherine’s voice. She obviously has a singular look and attitude. In short she is not the type of person you would make mistake for anyone else. Not the type of personality you would forget.

As a fighter Catherine wants her fights to be entertaining. She hates sloppiness. She doesn’t excuse it in herself and i would doubt she excuses it in her students. She understands MMA as a professional is an entertainment business.


” You have to fill those seats. You want people to come and support you. You want them there with you”

Listening to both Indra and Catherine speak about the fights and the inspiration women can draw from giving MMA a go I am struck by something.

Women’s participation in MMA in Ireland is probably at the same level that men were at 15-20 years ago. In Catherine Costigan we have a woman who seems determined to  be part of driving it onto the next level,  similiar say to a John Kavanagh. Indeed the same could be said of Indra and what Shaolin are doing in Galway.

It is interesting to listen to Catherine name check the importance of Ronda Rousey to the development of MMA and that she feels there may have been a dip in the participation levels of women here since she has departed the scene. I would never have made the link until I heard Indra and herself chat about it.

This leads on to both of them discussing the benefits women can get from MMA and also Catherine giving some advice to any woman that might be thinking of going down the MMA path

” MMA Training can always bring you to the truth.

It is not a glamour thing, you are not gonna make tonnes of money. Often I had to pay for fights and to get there. They also need to know about weight cutting and that they do it correctly and safely.

They need to watch their body. They need to warm up correctly and they need to watch who they spar with.

Watch their ego and not be going for bigger guys or girls in the class. Don’t go so hard all the time. The competition is in the cage. That is when you want to win. What you want to do on the mats is LEARN “

Running an academy in many ways is like running any small business or even a school I suppose. Catherine and her co-owner Dermot McGrath have to be the cleaner and the accountant, the marketeer and social media whizz, organising tournaments, getting the gradings and a thousand other little things.

At the end  of the 45 minutes that the two speak you get a good sense of how Pankration MMA Kickboxing academy is run. It is obviously built on solid foundations. They have looked at programs and tailored ideas from people in the States and take great care with the structure of the types of classes they run or with inititaives like their Leadership program. You could only but wish them well and continued success.

As I draw this  article to a close I am reminded of my thoughts at the beginning. Hopefully the next time we hear from Catherine and Indra on Combat Arena it will be in a podcast environment. Where yours truly can just get out of their way.

Trust me you’ll wait a few minutes before filling the diesel tank to listen to them.







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