Casey O’Neill was thrilled to get her first UFC victory in the books. Just don’t ask her to give you a detailed play-by-play.
The 23-year-old flyweight needed a little less than two rounds to put away a spirited Shana Dobson this past Saturday at UFC Vegas 19, finishing the fight with ground-and-pound to keep her pro record at a perfect 6-0. It was the first UFC fight for O’Neill after signing with the promotion in November.
With no fans in attendance at UFC APEX, O’Neill recalls her UFC debut being a strange experience, one that she barely consciously registered while she was inside the octagon.
“I don’t know if people talk about this, but your first UFC fight, nobody told me before, but you don’t realize how sort of blacked out you become,” O’Neill told MMA Fighting during an interview on What the Heck. “I think instincts took over from the fight, and I don’t even remember the fight that much, to be honest. I’m still sort of piecing it back together in my head and it’s sinking in slowly.
“This is the first time that I went out there and I was standing in the cage and I felt cold and nervous and I never feel nervous and I was like, ‘Oh God.’ Then maybe two minutes in I started to feel a bit more like myself. I don’t really remember anything. I remember bits and pieces coming back to me.”
It wasn’t just the lack of a crowd that left O’Neill—a Scotland native currently stationed in Las Vegas after previously training in Thailand and competing in Australia—off-kilter. She and Dobson were scheduled to be the next fight up after Chas Skelly’s bout with Jamall Emmers was abruptly cancelled as Skelly waited in the cage due to Emmers suffering from back spasms prior to his walkout.
Oddly, this may have worked out better for O’Neill, as she admits that she has a tendency to overthink and overtrain, so getting to fight sooner rather than later was just fine with her.
“That was so weird,” O’Neill said. “That’s obviously the first time in the UFC that’s ever happened. For me even that was so strange. They come out the back and they tell me that one opponent’s in the octagon and one’s not gonna make the walk, or looks like they’re not gonna make the walk, so I could be up in 20, or I could be up in 10, so just be ready.
“So the pressure of my first UFC fight, and then the added pressure of, ‘Oh my God, am I walking now? Am I walking then?’ And then that’s starting to make me nervous, I guess, then eventually his opponent didn’t make the walk so they’re like, ‘Five minutes!’ We had to go and luckily I was already warm.”
As O’Neill puts it, the fight itself is “the easy part,” though she still had to deal with the aggression of Dobson on fight night. Her opponent’s approach proved to be the best thing for O’Neill in the end as it snapped her into action.
“Definitely the wakeup call I needed,” O’Neill said. “I had watched tape of her and I knew she started hard and aggressive, so I was like I’m gonna start more hard and more aggressive, and that’s sort of what happened there. It was like a little tumbleweed of us two in the first 10 seconds, and when she hit me, the first thing that went through my head was like, ‘F*ck yeah.’
“I was like, ‘Yeah, let’s go, I’m awake now.’ I’m moving my head. That sort of woke me up for sure, I was a bit stuck in the mood. I ate that one, my head came back, and I was ready to go.”
O’Neill eventually won the fight with ground-and-pound after controlling Dobson on the mat for a prolonged period of time. Still, she expressed frustration at her inability to hold Dobson down at first, and when the bout was finally waved off, her reaction was a mixture of relief, shock, and elation.
Having re-watched the fight three times since Saturday, O’Neill knows what she has to improve on, but she’s also eager to book her next fight soon. In fact, it wasn’t long after her hand was raised that she was prompting her manager to get on the line with UFC matchmaker Mick Maynard.
“I called my manager about 20 minutes after the fight and was trying to book another fight,” O’Neill said. “Hopefully, we’re gonna aim for the first couple of weeks of May or the end of April. I don’t want to wait any longer than May. Mick knows that too, I’ve made sure that he knows that, so we’re getting back as fast as possible.
“My main goal this year is to have three or four fights and make a name for myself. I started chapter one, but I’ve got a long way to go and I’m only just getting started.”