Irish boxer Christina McMahon is as worthy of our admiration as Katie Taylor. So why is it that she remains a virtual unknown outside Irish boxing circles?
When Mick Conlan was robbed at the Rio Olympic this year, the island of Ireland railed against the injustice of it all, and rightly so. At the weekend Ireland were perhaps the victims of a couple of harsh refereeing decisions and borderline tackles from New Zealand and the country was up in arms.
Christina McMahon has arguably suffered greater injustices than any other Irish sportsperson in her pursuit of a boxing world title and yet to mention her name amongst most Irish sports fans would be to trigger generally blank looks.
McMahon suffered a controversial world title fight 'defeat' by Zulina Munoz in March, the result of which was debatable enough. But more scandalous was the way the WBC conducted the fight, with shambolic drug testing arrangements and McMahon's cutman Jim Upton having to clean Munoz's gloves pre-fight as they stank of Deep Heat. McMahon spoke out about her treatment in an interview with 'Northern Sound' after the re-match she was promised never materialised and she was suspended by the WBC as a result.
This was all predated by similarly harrowing treatment endured by the Monaghan fighter in 2015.
McMahon, who won the interim WBC Bantamweight title last year in Zambia against Catherine Phiri in a fight watched by 30 million people in Africa, took a fight two weights above her own in New York following that success because she couldn't afford the trip to Africa for a re-match and because the prospect of a main show bout in New York appealed to her.
The fight (against Alicia Ashley), which McMahon took at short notice, was marred for McMahon by the PET scan she was forced to undertake the day before the fight by the New York Athletics Commission. A PET scan involves the injection of radioactive glucose into the blood stream for 30 minutes and it had particularly negative effects on McMahon who because of an underactive thyroid condition had avoided artificial sugar for two years. Needless to say, she lost the fight.
So when it was announced that McMahon was set to fight for the WBA world title at the National Stadium in Dublin on December 3rd against Linda Laura Lecca, boxing fans hoped that finally she would get the bout she deserved. But this only led to further heartbreak as the fight was cancelled a few days ago despite McMahon being prepared to fight in two separate weight classes outside her own against different fighters.
The fact that it has taken so long to go through the greatly abridged account of McMahon's heartbreaks elucidates just how much she has been through. McMahon has persevered throughout all of this, throughout the hellish time she has endured in 2016, and come out the other side with the following response (via Joe O'Neill of irish-boxing.com):
This is not the end of the journey, just a frustrating situation that will look small in the years to come.
She is kept going by what she referred to on 'Second Captains' this week as her "passion" for her sport, her pure enjoyment of fighting and winning. But the love McMahon must have for boxing falls outside the inadequate parameters of verbal expression. To remain unbroken by her sport, to still pursue it despite how cruelly she has been treated, signifies a commitment to it that few of us can imagine.
Michael Conlan may have been robbed in Rio and Katie Taylor may have had a rough year herself. But they both have potentially highly lucrative professional careers ahead of them in the next few months and have already achieved infamy in Ireland and beyond. McMahon still has a day job and if the day comes when she lands a world title it will do little for her with regards to financial reward.
McMahon is as much of an inspiration for aspiring Katie Taylors as the Bray woman herself - if only for the way she has conducted herself and refused to give in to the forces working against her.
McMahon is as far from self-pitying as you are ever likely to encounter but she did tell Second Captains:
Unfortunately for boxers like me and boxers before that...we've been there, done that. It's just we're dismissed in the whole picture, and I'm not just saying that for myself personally because I'm not doing it for that. It's just not nice to be dismissed.
We laud GAA players for their commitment despite having day jobs - as McMahon does - and we are very good at celebrating momentous victories achieved by athletes from this island. But perhaps we should be a bit better at mentioning the names of athletes like McMahon, who is the living embodiment of what it means to love and commit to a sport.
She said this week that "the new year is bringing a new story" for her, that things are "looking bright".
Eyes to a fresh start, a new dawn and, hopefully, a nation's consciousness awakening to one of its greatest warriors.