Meet Aisling McLarnen — doting mum, healthcare worker and fearsome cage fighter.
The Londonderry mother-of-one is training hard to make history competing in the first female bout of controversial cage fighting to be held in Northern Ireland.
The 26-year-old ambulance worker is set to square up to Dublin fighter Amanda English at the Cage Contenders event being held in in Carrickfergus next month.
Although the feisty blonde is a seasoned kick-boxer with numerous fights under her belt, this eagerly-anticipated match marks her first foray into the world of Mixed Martial Arts, more commonly known as cage fighting.
So just how does she fit four hours daily training around a busy full time job and a child?
And what exactly attracts a young mum into what is seen as one of the most violent competitive sports around?
One of the fastest growing martial arts in the world, cage fighting has been much maligned for the misconception that there are no rules and any violent move goes.
But Aisling argues that there are over 65% less knock-outs in mixed martial arts than in regular boxing — as well as fewer incidences of serious head injuries. She herself has never received anything worse than bruising.
Although not yet in the mainstream in the UK, the sport has received considerably more Press recently when middleweight fighter Alex Reid began his high profile relationship with glamour model Katie Price. Not considered the finest ambassador for the sport by its associates, Reid is currently serving time in Channel 4's Celebrity Big Brother House.
The techniques used in cage fighting are a mixture of standing fighting and grappling. The standing technique includes striking martial arts styles such as kick-boxing, Thai-boxing, or full-contact karate. Grappling techniques tend to come from wrestling and hold styles such as ju jitsu, judo and sambo.
Aisling says contrary to popular belief mixed martial arts is not an ‘anything goes’ sport. Biting or fish-hooking (hooking the side of your opponent's mouth with your finger) are banned as well as eye-gouging, groin shots and head-butting. Training is tough as contenders are coached in the various martial arts techniques used as well as undertaking a strenuous cardio-vascular programme.
“I'm starting to get a little nervous now,” she said ahead of the match which will take place at the Clarion Hotel on February 5.
“But that's a good thing. You need the adrenaline to prepare for the fight.”
“I've certainly seen MMA become more popular in the last year,” said Aisling. “But I'm the only girl in any of the clubs I train with.”
This hasn't made any difference to Aisling, though, as with boxing and other martial arts opponents are selected by
weight, so she is normally equally matched. “They don't treat me any differently when we're sparring,” she added.
“When you give them a good slap they'll be hitting you back soon enough.”
Aisling currently trains for at least four hours a day, every day.
“Everyone understands that I can't go out or eat takeaway food. But after the fight I've been promised a burger and chips, that's what I'm really looking forward to.
“I'm really looking forward to it and if Amanda and I can bring some good publicity to the sport then it's worth it. Even if you don't want to fight it keeps you in great shape and it's excellent self-defence training,” she added.
For more information on Cage Contenders event, go to www.fight.ie