In just a month and a half, Liana Jojua has become a certified desert dweller.
We know this because at the start of her fight week interview ahead of her flyweight bout against Cortney Casey at UFC Fight Night: Holloway vs Rodriguez on Saturday, we spoke of the dry, hot desert climate for nearly a full five minutes — in true Las Vegan fashion.
“Every breath I took was so dry, and this is different for me,” Jojua said, laughing. “People think in Abu Dhabi it’s more dry, but in Vegas it’s more dry. But I’ve stayed for a long time in Las Vegas, so now I feel good.”
Jojua’s first three UFC fights all took place in Abu Dhabi, and having just returned to the idyllic oasis of Las Vegas from the U.A.E. after a pitstop in New York myself, I can understand entirely the impact climate can have on just about everything you do.
But if Jojua is grateful for her chance to acclimate to the mild winter climate of Las Vegas, maybe the visa issues that delayed her initial meeting with Casey from August until now is a sort of blessing in disguise.
“Yes, it’s good because I had more time for training and more time to see my opponent’s fights,” the Georgian said, adding that constantly worrying about her visa added a level of stress and distraction to her training that was becoming difficult to manage.
The logistics worked themselves out, and now “She Wolf” has settled in at Syndicate Mixed Martial Arts just down the street from the Octagon she’ll be competing in on Saturday, alongside countryman Merab Dvalishvili, who spends time training in Las Vegas.
“I’m so happy, I love these guys. They’re my brothers,” Jojua said of the success fellow Georgian fighters have enjoyed since breaking into the UFC. “I’m so happy to see my brothers win all the time. They look so good in the Octagon, such good fights. And I’m very proud for Georgian fighters.”
The 26-year-old looks to be the next to raise the Georgian flag inside the Octagon following a win on Saturday, but first has to get past UFC veteran Cortney Casey.
“I started in the UFC in bantamweight [division], and I felt that it wasn’t my weight. I’m too little for this weight… My first fight at flyweight, I felt so good.”@LianaJojua feels "at home" in the flyweight division as she gears up for her third fight at 125 at #UFCVegas42. pic.twitter.com/S3nah7tIxl— UFC News (@UFCNews) November 11, 2021
“I think she’s tough, she’s good. She has many fights in the UFC,” Jojua said. “I see very good fights, very good wins…maybe she doesn’t win, but it’s still a good fight. She has good striking, too, and she has good jiu jitsu. I’ve seen that she’s finished many fights by armbar. She’s very good with jiu jitsu, I know this, but I’m dangerous, too.”
After spending the majority of her career at bantamweight, the Muay Thai practitioner made the move down to flyweight for a more natural fit in 2020. Despite splitting her last two fights, Jojua said she feels “so good during fights” at flyweight, and is looking to make a return to her winning ways.
“I was too small (for bantamweight), but I changed my weight class. My first fight at flyweight felt so good. I feel better, and that I can compete with girls who are my size,” Jojua explained. “I think I’m a new fighter at flyweight. This is the start of a new career.”
Despite the challenges that hindered an earlier return to the Octagon, Jojua feels prepared for the task that lies ahead in “Cast Iron.”
“I think I’m younger, I have a lot of experience — not in the UFC, of course, Cortney has so many UFC fights, so many good fights. I see that she’s a very good fighter, but I think I have good striking, good jiu jitsu, good freestyle wrestling and I think I can do everything for the fight. I think this is better for me. If I can’t do good striking, I can do freestyle wrestling and I can do good jiu jitsu and anything I like. I’m a universal fighter. I can do everything.”
It’s a classic clash of hopeful newcomer versus veteran inside the Octagon, and probably the biggest test Jojua has faced thus far in her career as she looks to secure the seventh victory for the Georgian flag in 2021; but the stakes are equally as high for Casey, who looks to snap a two-fight skid in her 14th UFC fight.
Don't miss Liana Jojua square off against Cortney Casey this weekend at UFC Fight Night: Holloway vs Rodriguez, live from the UFC APEX on ESPN+. Prelims begin at 1pm ET/10am PT. Main card begins at 4pm ET/1pm PT.