"I think she's taking a massive step-up in competition here" - Hughes predicts rude awakening for McCourt at Bellator 227
PUBLISHED: 16:29 25 September 2019 | UPDATED: 16:29 25 September 2019
It's a position she's used to. The 'away' fighter, brought in to face a hometown favourite, up a weight class, expected to lose. But Kerry Hughes believes Leah McCourt has made a serious error of judgement in picking her as a foe for this Friday's Bellator 227 in Dublin.
The heavy-handed Colchester fighter (3-4) will likely walk into the 3Arena to a chorus of boos from fans eager to see Irish hot prospect McCourt (2-1) take the next step in her promising pro career.
It's a position she's found herself in for each of her last two fights, a points defeat in Denmark to current UFC fighter Pannie Kianzad, and a shockingly early stoppage loss to former UFC talent Cindy Dandois in Belgium.
But Hughes, now fighting out of Clacton's Primal Academy, fully intends to flip the script in Dublin.
"I think she's taking a massive step up in competition here," the 34-year-old said of McCourt, a former amateur world champion. "Fair play to her, I totally understand why she thinks it's a good fight, but she's going to find out that it's not - I hope she's prepared for a very challenging night.
"She's a BJJ purple belt and a black belt in judo, but this is MMA. I know she's been working on her weaknesses out in Thailand with the striking and I've heard her saying on podcasts that she's going to knock me out.
"I fully expect to have my hands full with the grappling side of things but as far as being knocked out, there's not many things I'm less worried about!"
Hughes, a MET Police Inspector by day, has good reason to be confident in her stand-up - she's competed at a high level in Muay Thai, kick-boxing and boxing, and boasts a knock-out win over former Thai boxing world champion Amanda Kelly on her MMA CV.
More than that though, the powerful Essex scrapper is in a good place in life and, as the old adage goes, a happy fighter is a dangerous fighter.
"I'm more excited about this fight than I have been in a long time," she explained. "I had a difficult time after I parted ways with BKK (Fighters in Colchester, her former gym) and I didn't have anywhere in the UK to calll home.
"Now I've found a phenomenal new team at Primal, my personal life is settled and things couldn't be better."
Working with Primal's top team of Paul Harper, Will Timmis and Stephen Byerley, plus Dave Matthews of the Lions Den in Exeter, Hughes believes she will finally reach her vast potential - and that may include a permanent home up at featherweight, where she'll meet McCourt.
"The weight is bloody brilliant!" she laughed. "I've had breakfast this morning, I'm having a cup of tea now and I'll probably eat again later, I love it.
"I'm absolutely stacked too. I normally have to cut back on the weights in the run-up to a fight because I put muscle on easily, but not this time - I think featherweight might be the way!"
She added: "I'm very confident in my skills and abilities. The guys that I train with are all of a very good level and I give them a run for their money, plus I've been out in Vegas sparring with (UFC fighters) Jo Jo Calderwood and Roxanne Modafferi, and that's a privilege you're only afforded if it benefits them as well.
"My issues have been, and will always be, a crippling lack of self confidence and that classic English thing of not having faith in yourself. The day that I can go out and perform in the cage like I do in the gym, that's going to be a good day out."
And Hughes finished with a prediction: "Leah is a skilled competitor and an up-and-comer, while I'm back to being better than I ever have been," she said.
"I'm happy wherever this goes. I can't see the fight going three rounds, and I'm confident that I can walk out with the win."
- You can watch Bellator 227 on Channel 5 and Sky Sports in the UK.