By Aoife Kearns
In June 2019, Ireland welcomed home one of the most decorated athletes of this generation, newly crowned lightweight undisputed champion of the world – Katie Taylor. Last weekend, Taylor added to her WBA, WBS, IBF and WBO world titles to date, by becoming WBO light-welterweight Champion in Manchester.
Since Taylor’s rise to prominence, public interest in combat sports or ‘fight sports’ such as boxing has risen dramatically. Be it boxing, MMA or martial arts, not only have the public engaged with coverage that the likes of Taylor or Conor McGregor have received on the international stage, more and more people are taking up these sports, hugely expanding the sports’ status on the island of Ireland.
Lydia Des Dolles was one of the many people who took up a combat sport four years ago, in the wake of Taylor’s rise to notoriety. After a ten-year career in the music industry, she wanted to try something different but never anticipated it would lead to a platform with an audience of 45,000 people per month and videos with over 1.2 million views.
Winning the ‘Rising Star in New Media’ award at 2018’s All-Ireland Business Summit, her channel Fight Connect TV, reports on combat sports and documents the journey from amateur to the professional ranks in the sport.
“The stereotypical viewpoint surrounding combat sports is that it’s barbaric or that it’s dangerous and it’s only skinhead guys with tattoos that get inside an octagon, a ring or a cage“Lydia Des Dolles
“I joined a Jiu Jitsu gym which is a ground based, wrestling, grappling martial art. I did that for about a year and a half and I didn’t do anything else, just worked and trained,” said Des Dolles.
“After that I kind of fell into doing social media for an MMA event that was held in the Three arena. It was there that I was exposed to a whole new world that I had no idea existed in Ireland”
From there, Des Dolles started a Snapchat account where she covered events happening in Ireland. As the scene grew dramatically she started to receive requests to cover more and more shows and Fight Connect TV was born.
“The growth in combat sports has been incredible. There’s easily two or three combat sports or martial arts’ events happening per week.”
“The major ones are predominantly in Dublin and the capital gets the bigger events but it is growing nationwide. There’s more and more smaller community-based events happening and they need the support of the public as well.”
“There’s room for MMA, there’s room for martial arts, there’s room for combat sports alongside hurling and football and all these other great sports that are in Ireland at the moment”Lydia Des Dolles
Des Dolles has seen people’s attitudes change drastically since she first started out.
“The stereotypical viewpoint surrounding combat sports is that it’s barbaric or that it’s dangerous and it’s only skinhead guys with tattoos that get inside an octagon, a ring or a cage. But that stereotype is really outdated.”
“You only have to look at the likes of Katie Taylor, the highest-ranking sports star that this country has ever produced and she fights and she’s in combat sports so that alone should spark something in the media and the government to get behind fight sports.”
Taylor’s homecoming in Dublin Airport in June will go down in the history books, but not for all the right reasons. Minister for Sport, Shane Ross, made a now infamous appearance at the arrival gates that resulted in an array of memes, plastered on social media. Thankfully, people didn’t hold back when it came to calling out the Minister for Sport for his farcical photobombing.
“Anyone who saw the footage of Katie Taylor coming home from America with all of her belts this summer would have seen the Minister for Sport, Shane Ross, behind her.”
“As funny as they are, the reality is that Minister Ross does not support combat sports.”
“It’s definitely not a niche sport anymore”Lydia Des Dolles
“He has spoken in the past about how he doesn’t think combat sports including boxing and MMA should be regulated as national sports. Hopefully that PR disaster might change his mind.”
Des Dolles truly believes the time has come for these sports to receive the same respect and recognition as some of the other sports that are vastly covered in mainstream Irish media.
“It’s definitely not a niche sport anymore, and from what we’re seeing, the likes of kids that once would have gone to hurling or rugby or football are now starting to take up MMA as well”
“There’s room for MMA, there’s room for martial arts, there’s room for combat sports alongside hurling and football and all these other great sports that are in Ireland at the moment”
Lydia Des Dolles is the creator of Fight Connect TV.
You can follow her on Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, Instagram and Twitter @FightConnectTV.