Anyone, anywhere, any time has become more than a cliche for Cortney Casey.
It’s become a way of life.
Throughout her four-year run in the UFC, the strawweight contender has shown a penchant for agreeing to fights even on the most unfavorable of terms, often signing on the dotted line with far less than the usual two months most fighters expect in order to prepare. So it goes without saying, but it wasn’t much of a surprise when Casey threw her hat into the ring to replace the injured Alexa Grasso and challenge fellow ranked strawweight Angela Hill on four weeks’ notice at UFC Lincoln. That’s simply what she does.
“This is going to be my sixth short-notice fight,” Casey told MMA Fighting with a laugh. “I think this will be my ninth or tenth [UFC fight], so more than half.”
Although it’s another short-notice outing for Casey, UFC Lincoln is still an important one. The 31-year-old Arizona native has come out on the wrong side of back-to-back split decisions against Felice Herrig and Michelle Waterson in her last two fights, both of which carried some level of controversy. The Waterson fight, in particular, was a rough one. Fighting in front of her hometown fans at UFC on FOX 29, Casey overwhelmingly outpointed Waterson in the eyes of the media, however the judges saw things otherwise.
Casey admitted that it took her nearly a month to watch the contest back, and when she did, her reaction was pretty much what one would expect.
“Irritated. More than anything, irritated,” she said. “A little frustrated here and there.
“It’s kind of rough, but you go back and you just kinda look at things and figure out, like, why are we losing these decisions so closely? And really, I think it comes down to moments, small moments that I’m losing in the fight. I normally start off pretty strong in all of the rounds, and then they kinda lull me into, like, running or whatever they do, and then they get a little moment. And it’s not anything big, but when they do do something, it’s the oohs and the ahs from the crowd and stuff like that.
“Things like me just being off-balance with [Waterson’s] big push kick to the chest or whatever, where it was more of me just coming forward and being off-balance than anything. And just the fact that, hearing her interview in the cage, how tired she was; even her post-fight interview, her saying how it was like inches away, she was inches from tapping — like, never once in the fight did I think I was inches from being finished in any situation. So, I look back and I’m like, man, I won the fight; you may have won the game, but I won the fight. So it definitely does get frustrating.”
The Waterson loss was even more back-breaking for Casey after having suffered a similar razor-thin defeat to Herrig at UFC 218. In a cruel twist of fate, Waterson and Herrig are now meeting on Oct. 6 for a contendership matchup that could very well end up being featured on the biggest pay-per-view card of the year, UFC 229.
Casey said her frustration at UFC on FOX 29 was eased a little backstage after “a lot of big-name people” in the promotion approached her and told her that they believed she should’ve taken the decision over Waterson, but even those pats on the back — for however welcome they were — could only stretch so far. Ultimately, nuance is often lost with time in the fight game, and Casey knows her current record still lists her on a two-fight slump. A third straight setback at UFC Lincoln would be a devastating blow to her title hopes, but through it all, Casey is electing to stay positive and take everything in stride.
“I feel like everyone’s back is against the wall,” Casey said. “I mean, you can win two fights in a row and still get cut from the UFC. We’re contracted like that. So, yeah, it weighs a little bit [on me], but I try not to focus on it. I try to focus on how to be a better martial artist each day, and as long as I’m growing, I know the wins will come. So I’m excited for this one. I think this is definitely another fight where I can go out there and put on a good show for the fans — and I’ve done the company a lot of favors with these short-notice fights and stuff like that, so hopefully they take that into consideration. But hopefully they don’t have to because I’m planning on going out there and getting the win.”
Rather than being disheartened by her recent run, Casey says she is instead encouraged by the progress she’s made as a mixed martial artist since moving back to her native Arizona and joining the team at The MMA Lab. Having trained for much of her early career out of a jiu-jitsu academy in Hawaii, the difference between the two settings has been night and day.
“This is going to my third camp working in a cage,” Casey said. “Like, I’ve never had a cage to work out of before I came here. I always had open mat space. My first four fights in the UFC, I didn’t even have a bag, a heavy bag or anything. It was just a jiu-jitsu academy that just so happened to do MMA because I was there, so a lot of the stuff is new and it’s just learning it. Cage wrestling and stuff like that, it’s all new to me, so I definitely think that I’ve grown a lot. Even though this is going to be my third fight in nine months, I feel like I’ve grown a lot in that short amount of time.”
As for Hill, Casey spoke complimentarily of the former Invicta champion’s kickboxing and Muay Thai background, but believes it’s nothing she hasn’t seen before. After all, Casey fought another of the division’s premier striker — now-flyweight contender Joanne Calderwood — on eight days’ notice for her Octagon debut.
Casey hopes a good night against Hill at UFC Lincoln will revive some of the momentum she was riding before her struggles with scorecards. She’s predicting a second-round TKO, then it’s straight back to work in case another impromptu opportunity arises at 115 pounds.
“I definitely don’t mind being the darkhorse of the division,” she said, laughing. “I normally get pretty good fights, so I don’t really complain — and they definitely know who to call when they need someone to step in.”