Roscommon mixed martial artist Danni McCormack (Neilan) made history on Wednesday, March 15th when she became the first Irish winner of an Invicta world title. Fighting at strawweight, the Rathbrennan native recovered from two early knockdowns to defeat Brazilian fighter Valesca Machado by unanimous decision at Invicta FC 52 in Denver. This week, Danni (33) spoke to Roscommon People reporter Dan Dooner about her historic victory in the all-female franchise…
DD: Congratulation Danni! Champion of the world, how does that feel?
DMcC: It feels amazing. I really feel like I’ve made it after the last eight years of being in the sport, working my way through the ranks, and having had a tough year last year. It just feels super to wake up every morning knowing I’m a world champion.
DD: Were you worried at any stage in the first round, having been knocked down twice?
DMcC: I was worried when the referee said ‘Danni, you have to fight back!’ There was a worry that the fight would be stopped. But in terms of worried about being hurt or that I was going to lose, no I didn’t feel like that at all.
DD: What was going through your mind during that difficult first round?
DMcC: I’m just thinking about reacting and about staying in the fight. I never think about quitting or being hurt; I just think ‘dig deep’ and find a way to fight and improve your position.
DD: Remind us of your Roscommon roots. MMA is a bit different to what you had been doing…
DMcC: We were really centred around horses. I rode ponies from four or five years of age and that developed into hunting and showjumping and that developed into horse racing. I didn’t really have a lot of girl friends back then…I was the only girl in my class in primary school. Back then I was hoping to achieve great things in the horse world and that competitiveness led me into a different sport when at the age of 25 I transitioned into MMA. I brought all those qualities I learned with horses into MMA: my toughness, my resilience, and grit. I can tell you I got a hell of a lot more injuries in horse racing than I’ve had in MMA!
DD: John Kavanagh was in your corner in Denver. What advice has he given you in terms of your career?
DMcC: He’s been giving me the same advice all the way through. As long as I keep doing Danni and keep putting in the pace and the relentless striking and grappling that I have done then things are going to go well for me and I’m going to be able to mix it with the best girls in the world. John has always pushed me to be the best that I can be, and believed in me becoming a top class MMA fighter. Our focus now is on getting into the UFC and becoming a UFC world champion and he believes I can do that.
DD: You’ve always said you wanted a major belt before the end of your career. Now that you have one, what’s next?
DMcC: I’ve always said I wanted a belt or a major title because it motivates when you don’t feel like training. But belts and titles don’t give the full picture. The full picture is the person you become during this journey and how you develop as a human just doing a high-pressure sport. I’m winning already because my mindset is so bulletproof and I feel like I’ve progressed into this mature version of myself, who’s always in my corner, believes in herself and always tries her best. That’s what’s most important to me. Now that I have a belt those things don’t change. I still go into a fight with fear. My next goal is to go into a fight fearless, feeling completely bulletproof throughout the whole nine-week process.
DD: And the UFC?
DMcC: It would be pretty nice if I could become a UFC champion in the process because that would be another piece of legacy and history that I could leave behind me. But right now I’m fully focussed on becoming the most skilful fighter I can possibly be and reaching my full potential. That is what’s most important for me.