Once she was 'shy and timid' but now Cathy McAleer on the hunt for a fourth world title
IT ALL started when she was beaten up in a park on the Ravenhill Road – wrong place, wrong school uniform.
Eight year-old Cathy McAleer went home battered, bruised and in tears and her parents decided to take proactive action and send her for karate lessons so it wouldn't happen again.
“They took me to give me a bit of confidence,” explains McAleer (40).
“I was in the wrong school uniform in the wrong park – I shouldn't have been out in my school uniform and I got told off, not the people who beat me up!
“It was one of those incidents that happened and my parents realised that I was pretty timid and shy – I was very timid and shy in school and stuff – so they put me into martial arts to give me a bit of confidence and self-esteem and that's where it all started.”
Thirty-two years later, the “shy and timid” little girl has won world titles in karate and kick-boxing and intends to do the same as a boxer. She lit up the Ulster Hall on Saturday night as she progressed to 2-0 as pro with an impressive points win over Sonia Klos.
Understandably the John Breen-trained bantamweight showed a marked improvement on her performance in her debut fight – working the angles and then planting her feet and firing in shots off both hands to dominate Klos. She doesn't intend to hang about as she makes her way up the ladder.
“My ambition is to win a world title,” said determined McAleer.
“I hold world titles in three different sports and I want a fourth.
“That's my ambition, I'm not in it for a couple of local fights, I'm in it to go far and I want to be recognised and spotted fast.
“I've signed a three-fight deal with Mark Dunlop and he's looking to get me a title fight by the end of this year. I'm old compared to a lot of boxers so I want to be fast-tracked, I want to go as quick as I can.
“I want to fight top-end pros, not bottom-ranked pros, so I can prove myself. The last lady I fought had had 10 pro fights and came through the amateur levels so I was able to say to myself ‘Yeah, I am at that level'.”
The last woman professional to fight in the Belfast boxing Mecca had been Deirdre Nelson 18 years previously. Since then the city has produced many excellent amateur fighters including Michaela Walsh, Alana Audley-Murphy and Carl McNaul but none have made the switch to the professional ranks.
“I'm the only female professional in Northern Ireland so it's a big privilege for me and a big privilege to fight in the Ulster Hall,” said McAleer, who gave up managing Virgin Active in Hollywood to concentrate on her fighting career and now runs her own company, Mac Fit.
“I hope I put it out there and more females come forward.
“Obviously look at Katie Taylor and Nicola Adams so there are a couple of big names out there. Some people maybe haven't been given the opportunity, I always wanted to box and now I'm getting the opportunity to do it and it's unbelievable.”
McAleer is also a former Bredagh and Down ladies' midfielder who played in the Mourne county's first ever ladies' side.
Her sisters – Angela and Sharon – also wore the red and black jersey and while Cathy says: “I loved playing football, I absolutely loved it” her success as a kick-boxer meant she had to make a choice and she decided to concentrate on martial arts.
“Once I started travelling with the karate I had to make the decision,” she explained.
“I won two world titles in karate with Terry Boyle (coach), the world title with my coach Billy Murray in full-contact kick boxing and then I turned pro and drew in a K1 world title fight.
“I waited three years for a rematch and it didn't happen and I thought ‘that's me done' and then someone introduced me to Mr John Breen.
“About 10 months ago, he said: ‘Come to the gym and hit a few pads' and I did. He said: ‘I think you've still got it' and I said: ‘If you believe in me then I'm willing to put the work in'.
“So I'm giving it a go – it's my fourth combat sport. It's hard work, dedication and being consistent all the time seems to work, that's what I've done in all the sports I've been involved in.”
NEW Irish lightweight champion Feargal McCrory was back doing road work – the kind that gets your hands dirty - on Monday morning.
McCrory beat tough Dubliner Karl Kelly in an Ulster Hall classic on Saturday night but he had no time to rest on his laurels and the banging and clanking of heavy machinery provided the background noise as he reflected on winning the first belt of his professional career.
“Back to the grind,” laughed the Tyrone man, who combines training at John Breen's Belfast gym and fighting with working for Eddie Quinn Contracts
“I'm standing on the back of a lorry here taking shuttering pan off the digger when they're lifted up. Working keeps you hungry, I don't really want to work but if I have to I will.”
His ambition is to become a full-time fighter and he moved a step closer to realising that goal by stopping Kelly in the ninth round of their bloodbath on Saturday night. Both boxer were cut and left everything in the ring - had the fight been on TV it could have been a Fight of the Year contender.
“It takes me a bit closer to where I want to be,” said McCrory who was the better man on the night.
“As an Irishman, winning an Irish title was always my ambition. I'm very happy that I have done it and I'm enjoying the win for a couple of days before I decide which way I'll go now.”
He explained: “The plan was to win the first five rounds, then take my foot off the gas in six and seven and then empty the tank in eight, nine and 10.
“You could argue that I lost one round, so at the time of the stoppage it was either 7-1 or 8-nil but fair play to Karl, he gave a good account of himself.
“I tried different things in the fight – I spent a lot of time on the backfoot whereas I prefer to come forward and I showed that I was comfortable doing that. I tried to stick to orders and box to a gameplan and it was a good performance but you always find things to improve on.”
Before the fight there had been an unexpected offer for a shot at Sam Bowen's British super-featherweight title. Bowen won the title against Maxi Hughes in April last year and McCrory hopes the chance comes along again.
“The intention was always to fight for the Irish title and when we were offered the Bowen fight it was out of our control,” he said.
“If it came again then… 100 per cent, it wouldn't be a problem.”