OVER three-and-a-half years have passed since Kristina O’Hara-McCafferty last appeared in the ring, but the 25 year-old West Belfast woman is ready to turn a new page when she makes her professional debut against Argentina’s Maira Dayana Loyola in Sheffield on Friday night.

O’Hara-McCafferty lost out in the 48kg final at the 2018 Commonwealth Games to India’s Mary Kom and had designs on continuing to box in the headguard with this summer’s Olympic Games in her sights.

However, that wasn’t to be and when an offer came in from Unified Promotions’ Susannah Schofield to make a switch to the paid ranks, it was too tempting to turn down.

O’Hara-McCafferty will campaign at minimumweight and this weekend will aim to shake off 43 months of inactivity against Loyola as she plots what she hoes to be a rapid ascent up the rankings.

“It’s been a good while,” she reflected on the lengthy period of inactivity.

“I had the baby and then got back into ticking over. I was just happy to be in the gym again and didn’t have any real intentions of going pro as I was aiming for the (Tokyo) Olympics when it was put back with Covid.

“When that fell through, I had to weigh up my options and was contacted by Susannah at Unified and decided to turn pro.”

There is a world of difference between the styles needed to prosper as an amateur and a professional, so preparations for this weekend’s debut have ratcheted up as she aims to strike the balance from her rapid amateur style and slowing things down and developing power shots that are key to success in the professional code.

“I would have been in the gym three days - Monday, Wednesday and Friday - when I was getting back into it, but now I’m in every day, doing my runs in the morning and in the club in the afternoon,” she outlined.

“It’s been a big change, even in the gym working on different things I wouldn’t have worked on as an amateur.

“I’ve always felt my style was a good, fast pace and going into the pros I can bring that with me while adapting to sitting down on the punches.”

Husband and head coach, Gerard McCafferty says they have a plan in place for where they want to be over the next 18 months and expect to be busy with up to eight fight dates already in mind as O’Hara-McCafferty looks to get on the express lane towards title contention.

There are not many fighters in Britain listed around the 105lb division so it is likely the former St John Bosco amateur will be forced to fight heavier opposition, but this is something they are prepared for and are keen on meaningful fights to get motoring after such a long absence from the ring.

“In Britain, there is a Scottish girl who was British champion at light-fly, so there may be some fights where we will be giving away weight to get the fights in,” Gerard accepts.

“The first fight was due to be against an Italian with 89 fights and was a three-time kickboxing world champion. She had fought professional and three wins from three, won a European bronze as an amateur back in 2009, so that was due to be the first opponent until she boxed on Saturday past and picked up an injury. Now we have this Argentinian.

“They are pretty tough and she comes from a stable of about 10 under the same managerial wing. She may have had only two fights, but she is getting great sparring with the others.

“It will be a case of fast-tracking, but you see other managers feeding their fighters mediocre opponents and then they jump into a big title fight and they aren’t ready as they haven’t been tested. We are going to be tested right away.”

Just being back in the ring is an accomplishment in itself as O’Hara-McCafferty admitted she had lost a bit of love for the sport due to suspension and seeing her Olympic dream fade.

But the spring is back in the step as there is a pathway towards major honours as a pro and it all begins on Saturday against Loyola.

Naturally, there will be a few nerves and quite possibly some ring-rust due to the time away, but this Friday represents a new start and while taking nothing for granted this week, the Belfast woman is keen to put on a performance and get the journey underway.

“You have to be prepared for anything, even on your debut,” she admits.

“They (opponents) can be good or bad or amazing, so you just need to be switched on from the start and show what you have and hope that’s enough on the day.

“It’s something I’m looking forward to being out so long, so I think it’s just about time.

“We have eight fight dates so we will be pretty busy over the next year.

“There aren’t many in my division, so the quicker we get the fights, the quicker I can move up the rankings towards a world title.”