Going into her first UFC fight just a few weeks shy of her 21st birthday, Kay Hansen had plenty on her mind.
Not only was she stepping up from the Invicta FC ranks to the UFC, she was facing a former atomweight champion in Jinh Yu Frey and both women were competing after having their UFC on ESPN 12 matchup announced just days before the June 27 event in Las Vegas.
So one can only imagine what was going through Hansen’s head when on top of all that, she found out less than an hour before her fight through social media that one intrepid Las Vegas bettor had placed a $37,000 bet on her. For comparison’s sake, Hansen’s show money for the short-notice booking was a disclosed $14,000.
Though Hansen would go on to collect her win bonus and help a heavily invested gambler cash in, she certainly made him sweat. The more experienced Frey showed off a strong striking game through the first two rounds, but Hansen’s grappling began to turn the fight around midway through. Two minutes into the third, Hansen took the fight to the ground and finished Frey with a straight armbar.
Check out 20-year-old @KayHansenMMA with the armbar in her UFC debut #UFCVegas4— MMAFighting.com (@MMAFighting) June 27, 2020
What you think @RondaRousey?
In retrospect, that five-figure bet was the least of Hansen’s concerns as she stepped into the octagon for the first time.
“It didn’t add any pressure to me because my thought process is that’s your money,” Hansen told MMA Fighting. “You do what you want with your money, I’m not responsible for the choices you make.
“But still, pretty insane.”
Most would agree that accepting a fight with another human being in a cage with less than a week to properly prepare is just as insane, but Hansen is used to short-notice bookings. The Californian has compiled a 7-3 record since making her pro debut in December 2017 and is currently on the best streak of her career having beaten three straight opponents.
Even for someone accustomed to taking fights at a moment’s notice, Hansen admitted that the UFC moves at a completely different speed. She found out she was fighting Frey only a few hours after signing a multi-fight contract and agreeing to the strawweight matchup.
Based on what Hansen knew about Frey, the game plan was clear.
“Every fight I take usually is a step up, which is how it should be,” Hansen said. “I knew with Jinh, people were saying she was the atomweight champion, I didn’t feel that much bigger than her. I had maybe four or five pounds on her, max. I didn’t get back up to a huge weight and she’s tough, she’s experienced. She’s gone full rounds multiple times, she’s a vet of the game and I knew that going in.
“I went into that first round trying to be smart, not trying to rush things especially because she’s a striker so everyone knows I’m trying to go for the takedown. I went into that first round okay with losing it, just trying to get my feet wet and feel out the big stage.”
Hansen has a knack for late exclamation points, with four third-round finishes on her record. Some of those wins came in bouts that she was already dominating, while others were in classic comeback situations, like her miraculous submission of Sharon Jacobson at Invicta FC 33.
WOW!!! Kay Hansen gets the armbar out of nowhere to get the W at the end of the 3rd round! #InvictaFC33 pic.twitter.com/bHw0OFQkLS— UFC FIGHT PASS (@UFCFightPass) December 16, 2018
For Hansen, having strong submission skills is the same as having explosive knockout power.
“It’s not a secret what my bread and butter is,” Hansen said. “I want to get you to the ground and whether it’s striking on the ground or a submission, that’s how I usually finish fights. I don’t count myself out on the feet, but it’s no secret what has been my formula in the past. For me, I know I need one takedown. It takes one takedown to get what I need. So for me that’s something I hold onto.
“I could be losing like I have been in the past, all 14 minutes of a fight, then in the last minute I’m on the ground one time and that’s all I need.”
Fortunately for the man who put down the $37,000 wager on Hansen, her late-game instincts led to victory once again. The bettor, who Hansen knows only as “Zavier,” was actually able to express his gratitude to Hansen in person when the two ran into each other at the airport later.
https://t.co/l7wor0c5pZ pic.twitter.com/1FG7KX08sC— Kay Hansen (@KayHansenMMA) June 28, 2020
Hansen and her coach heard someone call out her name, which confused her at first because she didn’t think she was famous enough to be recognized. Zavier told her who he was and then showed her his betting stub, which drew one question from Hansen: “Why?”
In an interview with MMA Digest, Zavier explained his thinking.
“I made the bet because I was confident in Kay’s skills, her grappling skills,” Zavier said. “I’d watched previous fights from her Invicta days and she had it going on. I just felt like Frey’s takedown defense wouldn’t be able to stop her and that was evident in the fight.
“Not gonna lie, I was nervous in round one, like everyone said. But you gotta stick with it. People were telling me to hedge, but she got it done. It’s not over until it’s over.”
Zavier added that he didn’t start betting in MMA until three weeks ago and he’s had some big wins since. He claims his first bet on the sport was a $30,000 wager on Cynthia Calvillo to defeat Jessica Eye, which resulted in a $22,000 payout. He then placed another five-figure bet on Gillian Robertson and won around $15,000 after she submitted Cortney Casey.
After learning that Zavier came out $20,000 ahead due to her efforts, did Hansen ask for a share of the winnings?
“My thought process is you keep all of that,” Hansen said. “You had the balls to do that? You earned that. You earned every penny of that. I don’t want any of it because I would not have bet my money on that. He had the faith in me to do that. That money’s all yours, congratulations.”
Hansen is only worried about collecting UFC checks now and she hopes to return to action soon, ideally at 115 pounds though she’s open to bouncing between strawweight and flyweight if the right matchups come along.
She did offer some advice for gamblers keeping an eye on her fights in the future.
“I knew it wasn’t just gonna be easy,” Hansen said. “It was a great fight against a game opponent and I don’t know how I end up finishing people in the third round all the time, but people probably should start betting on that I guess.”