UFC 286: O’Neill aims to continue unbeaten run 

Casey O’Neill will fight Brazilian Jennifer Maia in the main-card event of the women’s flyweight division at UFC 286  in London on Sunday.

Published : Mar 18, 2023 22:10 IST , CHENNAI - 6 MINS READ

Casey O’Neill, who has an unbeaten record in UFC so far, will take on Jennifer Maia of Brazil on Sunday.
Casey O’Neill, who has an unbeaten record in UFC so far, will take on Jennifer Maia of Brazil on Sunday. | Photo Credit: AFP

Casey O’Neill, who has an unbeaten record in UFC so far, will take on Jennifer Maia of Brazil on Sunday. | Photo Credit: AFP

A year’s worth of grind will finally come to the fore for Australia’s Casey O’Neill when she takes on Jennifer Maia of Brazil in the women’s flyweight clash of UFC 286 at the O2 arena in London on Sunday. 

It will be a comeback for the unbeaten O’Neill who had missed the second half of 2022 after suffering an ACL injury just before her fight against Jessica Eye at UFC 276 in July.

The 12th-ranked O’Neill is far less experienced than her counterpart, Maia, who is ranked eighth in the flyweight category. However, coming with an impressive 9-0 record, including all four wins in the UFC, the Scottish-born will try to seize the stage in a match-up which looks equally poised. 

The 26-year-old, looking to become the first Australian female champion, spoke about her preparation before the main-event clash in an exclusive interaction with  Sportstar. 

Q. You’ll be returning to the Octagon after more than a year off due to an ACL injury. Do you feel nervous because you haven’t been involved in a fight in quite some time?

I wouldn’t call myself nervous. I’m very excited. I didn’t stay away from the gym and began training as soon as I got my clearance; even before that, I was doing rehab every day and was surrounded by everyone who was fighting and training.

Q. You will fight Jennifer Maia, who is far more experienced in the Octagon. What are your initial thoughts about the match-up?

Yes, she has done a lot in this division and has been around for a long time, but I always fight people who are more experienced than me, so it doesn’t matter. It is just part of being on the rise. I believe it will be a great fight for me. And defeating a title contender will be a huge accomplishment for my resume.

Q. You trained in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ), and your opponent has a background in boxing. How do you view your opponent’s style?

No, I prefer to concentrate on myself rather than my opponent, but I wouldn’t classify myself as a BJJ fighter. I’m an MMA fighter willing to go wherever it takes me, and I think I’m better everywhere, so I’m excited to show that on Saturday night.

Q. You are nine years younger than Maia. Do you believe you have an advantage in terms of agility and stamina?

I don’t think age has anything to do with it, but I do believe I have those edges, and I’ve been able to beat everyone I’ve fought so far, so something is going well. I don’t think this is the person who can beat me.

Q. Your father was a professional kickboxer and used to guide you initially. How involved is he in your training and your UFC career?

He is no longer involved in my training. I live in a different country than he does, but every time I fight, I have him in my corner, which is always very motivating.

Q. You were named newcomer of the year in 2021 and are yet to lose a fight in your professional career. Do you feel any external pressure now that people are taking notice and rooting for you?

No, I’m not feeling any additional pressure because of that. I believe the pressure I put on myself is to train well, and then whatever happens in the fight happens. I’m glad that people are finally recognising what I’ve been doing. But, I still have a long way to go.

Q. The long-reigning champion Valentina Shevchenko lost to Alexa Grasso, and your division finally saw a new name at the helm. Your thoughts?

I thought it was a great fight, and Alexa had an excellent game plan. Everyone is bound to lose at some point. So I guess that was just her time, and I’m happy for Alexa and looking forward to the rematch.

Q. What are your plans and goals in your career and the UFC?

Well, I want to be the champion, and I want to be the champion for a long time. So, I’ll just keep working and doing everything I’ve been doing, and I’ll get there step by step.

Watch the LIVE coverage of UFC 286: Edwards vs Usman III on Sony Sports Ten 2, Sony Sports Ten 3 (Hindi), and Sony Sports Ten 4 (Tamil & Telugu) channels on 19th March 2023 at 2:30 am (IST).

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