Casey O’Neill scored a TKO win just about midway through the second round of her UFC debut against Shana Dobson – a memorable moment, for sure. But, when O’Neill thinks about that milestone night, she admits it’s all a bit of a “blur.”
“I think it was overwhelming,” O’Neill told UFC.com. “I had been dreaming about fighting in the UFC since I was 10 years old sitting on the couch watching it with my dad, so I’ve been practicing everywhere. I even used to practice on the soccer field and get kicked off for that, so I think just finally being here, and finally getting it done, and showing myself, I could do it and putting my name out there and taking that next step.”
With sights set on her second walk to the Octagon, O’Neill plans on replicating the results while also taking the moment in a bit more. One can’t blame her for getting caught up in the chaotic hurricane of a UFC debut. For the 23-year-old, the journey to the UFC was a bit of a mad scramble. After struggling to find fights in Australia, O’Neill accepted a fight in the United Arab Emirates knowing she couldn’t return to her training home of Thailand due to COVID-19 restrictions.
O’Neill said Thailand became her home quickly, and she loved training in Thailand under the tutelage of George and Frank Hickman at Tiger Muay Thai, but the opportunity to fight was too good to pass up. She made the difficult decision to leave, and from there, things sort of fell into place. She earned another win, got into the ear of UFC matchmaker Mick Maynard and made the move to Las Vegas, where she found a new home at Xtreme Couture and 10th Planet Jiu Jitsu, whose coaches occupied her corner in her debut win over Shana Dobson.
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“I feel like the community of people at Xtreme Couture and 10th Planet is small, but they’re super close to each other,” O’Neill said. “Everybody is willing to help you out and give you time and give you their body to be a partner. Eddie (Barraco) has all the time in the world for me to hold pads and everything, so it’s a very friendly environment, and they make you feel at home straight away. Being an outsider, you don’t always get that, but I felt it straight away here.”
Although she now feels comfortable in Las Vegas, O’Neill said she still trusts the Hickman brothers with her career. That said, securing the debut win helped solidify a lot for O’Neill, who feels much more comfortable as she prepares for Lara Procopio for her sophomore appearance.
Procopio comes into the fight riding the momentum of a solid unanimous decision win over Molly McCann in February, and her only loss came in a split decision against Karol Rosa in her UFC debut. It’s a strong test for O’Neill, who doesn’t mind a bit of a more methodical climb up the flyweight division.
“I actually want the slow burn,” she said. “I’m 23 years old, and I chose this as the career for my life, so I want to get in as many fights as possible, build up a fan base, get some money behind me, get some momentum. I definitely think I could hang in that Top 10 right now, but I would like to fight everyone on the roster from the bottom to the top and just take the whole division on.”
In terms of Procopio, O’Neill believes the Brazilian shows a “similar aggression” to herself, which she finds appealing in a fight. When she fought in Australia, O’Neill felt like the tenacity of the fight was often left up to her liking, but Procopio appears to enjoy a firefight.
Where O’Neill feels like she has an edge is in her overall technique, saying she thinks she is a bit “cleaner” than her opponent, who she anticipates will come in with a similar game plan that earned her a win over McCann. With all this in mind, O’Neill sees this fight as a good opportunity to show that she is much more than a physical, violent fighter, but also one with a high skill level as well.
“I think I have very underrated striking,” O’Neill said. “I’ve been working on it for a long time, so I’ve never really been comfortable enough to throw it in fights whether that be nerves or anything, especially the Shana fight, I was very nervous, so I think that the ground being so comfortable for me, I went straight to that and showed that off, but I’m excited to show that I’m a well-rounded fighter this time and show off my striking.”
Perhaps it’s the circumnavigational trail O’Neill took, but the self-described “Scossie” (that’s Scottish-Aussie for the uninformed) looks at her MMA career with maturity that exceeds her age. She fights with the same energetic composure, and it’s why she is a bright prospect at 125 pounds, which continues to fill out with talent while Valentina Shevchenko reigns as its queen.
For the time being, things like rankings and title shots aren’t at the top of O’Neill’s mind. They are more a long-term goal with nowhere but up to go, and now that she feels settled both in the promotion and where she is training, it’s not hard to imagine her reaching those different summits. The next step comes on June 19, where she hopes to make good on all the positivity buzzing around her at the moment.
“I think that I have a lot of talent, but I think it’s very raw, as well,” O’Neill said. “I have been moving around a lot, so I’ve been picking up bits and pieces from everyone and sort of building my own game, and I’d really like to continue doing that and just become a very well-rounded fighter who, once I get to the top, I can’t be beaten, so I’m happy with slowly taking my time and building up that experience.”