Later today at the Khalifa Sports City Arena in Manama, Bahrain, Ireland’s Danni Neilan will enter the cage to take on Brazil’s Michele Oliveira for the chance to call herself champion of the world.
The Roscommon native has secured three victories against Tunisian, Italian and Finnish opposition over the last few days to book her place in the women’s flyweight final at the fourth annual IMMAF World Championships of Amateur MMA and she is the only fighter from the Republic of Ireland team in contention for gold on the last day of the competition. Courtney McCrudden of Northern Ireland will also compete in the women’s featherweight final.
Should Neilan overcome Oliveira, she will become the Republic of Ireland’s third ever gold medalist at the IMMAF Worlds, following in the footsteps of featherweight Frans Mlambo in 2014 and light-heavyweight Matthew Sheehan in 2016.
Any journey to a world championship final is an amazing one, but Neilan’s is particularly noteworthy – a fact that was highlighted today by her coach John Kavanagh.
Taking to social media, Kavanagh told the story of the first time he met Neilan at a post-fight party in Las Vegas, of how she became one of the thousands of fans that have promised to join his gym over the years and vowed to be the ‘next big thing’, and of how she became the only person to ever follow through on those promises.
“At almost every post-fight party i get 100s of people coming up to me and saying they’re gonna join the gym and become the next best thing,” Kavanagh wrote on Facebook. “Full of endorphins (and alcohol) they get caught up in the moment and picture enjoying the post fight glory and want that badly. The next day when the hangover kicks in, the thoughts of weeks/months/years hard work before that reward becomes even a possibility usually puts them off.
“I can honestly say out of what must be 1000s over the years only one person has actually followed through with the promise they’ve made to themselves. 2 years ago Danni Neilan stopped me in Vegas for a pic as a fan….today i walk her into the cage after a tough week of fights to compete for the IMMAF – International Mixed Martial Arts Federation World title she continues to be a source of inspiration to me and everyone in her gym. so remember to be more like Danni – less talk, more do. oh and UP ROSCOMMON! #TheRoscommonTractor.”
In the comments section below his post, Kavanagh also shared a remarkable and inspiring Facebook post from Neilan in late 2016.
“This time last year I was packing my bags getting ready to leave Canada and move back home. Home sick and a ball of depression I remember doing some serious thinking on that flight! I told myself three things were going to happen in 2016…
1. I get a worthwhile job that I like and lets me be independent financially.
2. I join SBG, get on the best fight team in the world and work my ass off to be a great fighter, because hitting people and winning makes me happy.
3. I will be happy.
“I now work in a meaningful job with like minded people treating a very special bunch of kids that humble me and keep me on my toes everyday! Every other second is spent in my home SBG with, again, like minded driven people who want to learn improve and push themselves. And finally I can honestly say that I wake up nearly every morning with a smile on my face, even before I open my eyes! I am happy.”
Let’s hope that Neilan has yet another reason to be happy when she wakes up tomorrow morning – a gold medal.
If you want to watch Neilan’s final bout, download the Bahrain TV app on iTunes or the Google app store. She is expected in the cage at 1.15 p.m. Irish time.