Derry BJJ Trailblazer – Catherine McFadden – sets sights firmly on MMA – by Arwen Sheridan

Catherine McFadden

Catherine McFadden

If I had to describe Derry’s Catherine McFadden in a word, it would be trailblazer.

She was not only the first female Brazilian Jiu Jitsu blue belt in the county, but she also fought in Derry’s first female MMA fight.  Throughout my conversation with this lively and vivacious woman, it was obvious it is important to her that she continue to break ground for other women in MMA.

When she is not training, which she does several times a day, Catherine is helping other people realise their potential in her career as a personal trainer.  Catherine emphasised that for her, personal training is not about getting people to fit into that little black dress.  She genuinely wants to help her clients achieve their lifestyle goals, and become fitter, happier and more confident people.


Catherine takes great pride in introducing women to BJJ and MMA.  As a 37-year-old myself, I was encouraged to hear that “age doesn’t discriminate.”  Catherine’s own sister took up the sport in her early 40’s and is “flying.”

She did warn me, however, that other types of fitness may not necessarily translate to BJJ.  “You could be a marathon runner, or a footballer, or a kickboxer…and as soon as you go on those mats, you’re blowing bubbles.”  Perhaps I should take heed!

Having started kickboxing at age 12, Catherine transitioned to traditional Jiu Jitsu in 2008.  From there she switched her focus to Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.  Her martial arts journey has been greatly influenced by her brother Ciarán, who currently coaches her and who runs Kombat Jiu Jitsu where she trains.

MMA Journey

Catherine was scheduled to fight at Clan Wars 33, but unfortunately her opponent had to withdraw due to injury, and her fight was cancelled.  This seems to be a huge issue for women in Irish MMA. Due to the lack of female fighters, there aren’t many opportunities for these girls to make it to the cage.

Catherine also made the point that as there are not many women fighting, there are far fewer weight classes for females than there are for males.  Certainly, we don’t want to see fighters in Ireland fainting and/or failing to make weight (we saw the issues Cynthia Calvillo had in the UFC last week) so hopefully this will wash out as more women stream into the sport.


Currently Catherine Mcfadden’s focus is on the IBJJF Championship taking place in Dublin in early December.  However, it is obvious that she is champing at the bit to get her second fight in MMA.

Catherine didn’t get the result she would’ve liked in her MMA debut fighting Emma McGlynn at Chaos in October 2017.  Listening to Catherine tell the story of the fight, it seems it was a series of unfortunate events which ultimately lead to her first-round armbar submission.  Naturally she was disappointed with the result, but she told the story with such humour that I am convinced she has taken a lot of learning from it.

During our chat about that particular fight, Catherine told me that Emma had her in a choke for about 90 seconds.  I was struggling to understand how you can resist going into a full-on panic when you have someone’s arm around your neck.

To this she calmly replied “you don’t panic because you know it’s as simple as a tap and it’s done.”  That really highlighted to me just how level headed MMA athletes need to be going into the cage.



Resilience is a characteristic Catherine credits BJJ with instilling in her.  “When, in Jiu Jitsu, if you’re in a really negative position, if you stick with it and you keep working…the tables can turn, and you can be on top again.”  The 26-year-old speaks with a wisdom far beyond her years.  “It teaches you not to give up.”

Catherine was very open with me about her struggles with anxiety.  She views her sport as a form of therapy, far more potent than any medication.  She also spoke about the confidence young women can gain from practicing BJJ and being able to defend themselves.  I have listened to enough true crime to understand the benefit of that.

Ms McFadden is so committed to encouraging women to try BJJ, that she even extended a invitation to her gym to this humble reporter.  She promised to show me the ropes.  I am excited and terrified in equal measure and might just take her up on her generous offer.  However, I’ll let her get the simple matter of winning the Prestigious IBJJF championship out of the way first.

Other Interviews in our Series on Irish Women in MMA are:

Indra Davis – Shaolin MMA in Galway

Samantha Evans – IFS MMA in Belfast 


Written by: Arwen Sheridan – check out her Blog here



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: