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Cortney Casey addresses kick controversy, says it ‘sucks’ people are questioning her character

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Jason Silva-USA TODAY Sports

If it weren’t daunting enough for Cortney Casey to go into Brazil and take on women’s strawweight No. 1 contender Claudia Gadelha, the aftermath of the fight may have pushed things over the edge.

Casey appeared to take a blatantly illegal kick to the head while she was on the ground during the third round in her fight with Gadelha at UFC Fight Night 100 in Sao Paulo. Though there was a halt to the action, at the time referee Fernando Portello didn’t issue Gadelha any kind of warning, and no point was deducted, even as Casey appeared to be noticeably affected by the kick. And after conferring with cageside physicians, Casey said she was able to continue.

The head kick ultimately wouldn’t have mattered in terms of a point deduction, anyway. She ended up losing the fight via a one-sided unanimous decision 30-27 on all three scorecards.

Yet, the new question became — did she actually get kicked in the head? Fans began to accuse Casey of exaggerating the blow — which many believe never really connected — to try for an advantage in a fight she was losing. The Brazilian MMA Athletic Commission’s COO Cristiano Sampaio went one step further, putting out a statement to MMA Fighting that Casey had "forged" her injury, saying the kick didn’t land. Sampaio even went so far as to say that Casey conduct was "wrong and unsportsmanlike."

The 29-year-old Casey saw that statement — as well as all the other accusations on social media — after she got back home to Maui. The comments caught her off guard, as she said those kind of theatrics were the last thing on her mind. 

"I wasn’t thinking any of that," she told MMA Fighting. "In my head, I’m thinking this is a ‘no-contest.’ I’m not going to go out like that. That’s not me at all. As I’m reading all these things saying I was trying to get out of a fight, I was like, I was never in a fight to begin with. This wasn’t a fight. I came out completely unscathed, no problem other than the bump on my head [from the kick]. It wasn’t a fight. It was me getting taken down, me pressuring her, her shooting on me, her laying on me, doing nothing.

"I could fight tomorrow if they needed me to. Yeah, I lost 30-27 on the scorecards. But it wasn’t a fight. I wasn’t getting beaten up like [Antonio Rogerio] Nogueira. There was no need for me to try and get an out. And I wanted an out, then why would I tell the doctor I was fine to continue? That wasn’t going through my head at all."

People have debated through the replays whether the kick landed or not — or if it just clipped her bun. Casey says that Gadelha’s chin hit her forehead, and that she was temporarily out of it when it landed. Because of the discrepancy, her husband and manager, Edward Sanchez, warned her to stay off of the Internet until she got home, and she did until she got to her connecting city of Chicago.

The attack on her character is what she says stings the most.

"Never in a million years did I think that I’d go into Brazil and get as ridiculed as I did for something where I did nothing wrong," she said.

"I can only imagine what Ronda [Rousey] goes through — like, the ridicule she goes through on a daily basis. It’s pretty pathetic. People that don’t even follow me going on my page just to say some shit, going out of their way. And I’m not even complaining. I’m not petitioning."

Casey said, after hearing stories from others about fighting in Brazil, she took precautions heading down to fight Gadelha, such as bringing Robert Drysdale — who speaks Portuguese — to work her corner. She says that right away, after the fight ended, she knew there was trouble, as she heard Drysdale arguing with the commission.

"Literally as soon as I stepped out of the cage, it was argument," she said. "I really didn’t know what was going on when it happened. I knew I got hit in the head, and I was dazed a little bit. I was just trying to regain my composure because I knew it was the third round, and that’s kind of when we were implementing the game plan, drawing her into a brawl and trying to get her a little bit gassed. And then I got kicked in the head.

"The only thing I remember ever being said to me was the doctor coming in and saying, ‘you can continue,’ and I just said, ‘yes, I can continue.’ I heard my cornerman telling me, ‘take your five, take your five,’ and that was it."

Casey said that on multiple occasions Gadelha apologized for the kick, which she hoped would work as testament that the kick landed.

"She apologized right away, like when we started the round again she apologized. After the fight, she came up to me, before they announced that she was the winner, she apologized to me," she said.

"I went into the back, and normally the doctor’s pop over to check you out. Literally my gloves got cut off, the hand wraps got cut off, and the lady said, ‘here you’ve got 30 days if there’s any problem, sign here,’ and she left. That was it. Then I hear outside, as I’m waiting for my paperwork from the UFC to sign that, my check and stuff, I hear Robert and Tiago [Okamura] yelling back and forth in Portuguese to someone. And as I was leaving, they said, ‘she faked it, she faked it.’ The bump on my head was pretty big at that point. So I walked away, and the UFC interviewer was like, what happened?"

What also baffles her is that Gadelha — who is considering training at Power MMA in Arizona, where Casey trains regularly — changed her tune.

"Again, she was completely apologetic through the whole thing," Casey said. "So I knew she knew. So I went up to her, no hard feelings, and said I’ll see you at Power MMA. She said, ‘oh, you train there?’ and I explained to her that’s where I’m originally from and that’s where I train when I’m in town. And she’s like, ‘I’m really sorry about kicking you in the head.’ And my coaches are around, and everyone is hearing her say this. And as I’m walking down the stairs I was like, I really wish she would just say something, like I did kick her in the head.’"

She didn’t. When asked in the post-fight press conference, Gadelha said she didn’t think the kick landed.

Now at a remove of a couple of days, the attacks on her integrity are clinging to her more bitterly than the loss itself. She said if she wanted out of the fight, she had ample time to get out before she signed her contract, especially after getting in a car accident a day before her training camp was to begin.

She said that she has always tried to fly under the radar, and keep a low-key and professional demeanor when doing her job.

"I’m not on social media showing my ass and trying to get all these followers," she said. "I’m as simple as can be. I go out there and do my job.

"For being an athlete, pushing myself to the limit, battling through all this stuff, and now I’m getting ridiculed for it."

Casey had scored victories over Randa Markos and Cristina Stanciu heading into the Gadelha bout. The Markos fight — just as with her bout with Joanne Calderwood — were taken on relatively short notice.

Her resume, she says, should speak for itself as to the kind of person she is, even as fans and CABMMA throw her character in question.

"The whole bun thing, it hit your hair, it hit this, it hit that — it’s my word against the media, against everyone," she said. "I can only do so much.

"At the end of the day, I got kicked. I’m not asking for a point deduction, I was never saying that the fight should be overturned, none of that. So I don’t know why everyone is yelling at me, and blaming me, like I’m going out saying all this stuff. I haven’t said anything, other than I got kicked in the head.

"For people to question my character after all that, and then after them knowing that no one else wanted to take this fight against Gadelha, for them to tell me I was trying to get an out? It sucks."