Skip to main content
Hailey Cowan punches Claudia Leite of Brazil in a bantamweight fight during Dana White's Contender Series season six, week four at UFC APEX on August 16, 2022 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)
Athletes

Hailey Cowan Is Here To Prove She Belongs

Former Division I Gymnast Hailey Cowan Has Big Dreams On Her Mind Ahead Of Her UFC Debut At UFC Fight Night: Vera vs Sandhagen

Hailey Cowan happily embraced her identity as “Hailey The Athlete” as she grew up competing in high-level gymnastics competitions from five years old all the way through an All-American career on Baylor University’s acrobatics and tumbling team. After a shoulder injury effectively ended her career, for a moment, that identity was up in the air.

At 23 years old, Cowan stepped into an MMA gym in Waco, Texas, took every class they offered that day and determined it was time to chase a different dream. She turned down an offer to coach at a Division-II program and got to work. In 2014, she started training. Three years later, she made her amateur debut, and just five years after that, she is set to make her UFC debut at UFC Fight Night: Vera vs Sandhagen.

Fighters On The Rise | UFC Fight Night: Vera vs Sandhagen

“I think it took me too long to get here,” Cowan told UFC.com. “I would have liked for it to be faster, but it worked out perfectly. I had a couple of losses that forced me to branch out and start training with other girls and really look at my game, and dissect it, and find out where I needed to improve, what were my strengths and weaknesses.”

Hailey Cowan, Part 1 | Dana White’s Contender Series: Next Level
Hailey Cowan, Part 1 | Dana White’s Contender Series: Next Level
/

Although that journey to the Octagon seems like a quick one, that ignores the fact that she started her mixed martial arts journey on the back foot. 

Without any sort of martial arts base, Cowan spent three years playing catch-up to get her skills to a competitive point.  

Fight By Fight Preview | UFC Fight Night: Vera vs Sandhagen

“Just understanding discipline, understanding dedication, understanding that time and how important it is to show up every day with intensity and with urgency, it kind of helped me develop pretty fast,” she said.

Conveniently, Cowan’s experience as a lifelong gymnast helped not only with some physical aspects of the sport – balance, strength and full-body awareness chief among them – but also the psychological grind that is MMA. 

Hailey Cowan kicks Claudia Leite of Brazil in a bantamweight fight during Dana White's Contender Series season six, week four at UFC APEX on August 16, 2022 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)

Hailey Cowan kicks Claudia Leite of Brazil in a bantamweight fight during Dana White's Contender Series season six, week four at UFC APEX on August 16, 2022 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)


Throughout her athletic journey, she was a part of the Junior Olympics program until her mid-teens, and at Baylor, she helped build a program that is roundly seen as the standard in the acrobatics and tumbling world. 

“In gymnastics, you're competing against 50, 60 people every meet,” she said. “You lose more than you win. Even when you're the best in the world, you lose a lot more than you win. So I learned how to lose, which doesn't sound important, but it really is. You see a lot of fighters lose and they fall apart. And they don't know what to do. I know exactly what to do. I lost a lot of gymnastics meets and had to go back to the drawing board.”

View Cowan's Athlete Profile

That ability to bounce back helped Cowan immensely when she lost her professional MMA debut to eventual UFC flyweight Victoria Leonardo in 2018. 

She and her coach/husband Jake Brennan went back to work, and she reeled off five wins, including three consecutive finishes. Eventually, she made her way onto Dana White’s Contender Series, where she battled Claudia Leite and won a split decision. Although it’s a little rarer to see that kind of result earn a contract, UFC President Dana White decided Cowan had that “it” factor, and she found herself on the roster. 

Not one to waste time, Cowan and Brennan married a couple weeks later, and shortly afterward, they bought a farm. However, several months would pass before she got that call to make her promotional debut. Meanwhile, she continued to train constantly at Blitz Sport MMA in Texas.

Hailey Cowan reacts after being awarded a UFC contract during Dana White's Contender Series season six, week four at UFC APEX on August 16, 2022 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)

Hailey Cowan reacts after being awarded a UFC contract during Dana White's Contender Series season six, week four at UFC APEX on August 16, 2022 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)


Eventually, the contract came, and Cowan prepared to fight Ailin Perez at UFC Fight Night: Krylov vs Spann, but the morning of official weigh-ins, Cowan fell ill and was forced to withdraw from the bout. Now, about a month later, she gets to debut in her home state of Texas versus Tamires Vidal.

A self-described “passionate” person who “loves very big,” Cowan hopes March 25 is the first step on a path toward UFC gold. As one could gather, she didn’t get into this sport just for the heck of it. She got into it to win. Her original inspiration in the sport was Georges St-Pierre, and she hopes she can replicate some of the best of “Rush,” both in and out of the Octagon, as a competitor and role model.

“I really like people a lot and I just want to I want to be someone that parents can be comfortable with their kids looking up to,” Cowan said. They can be comfortable with their kids following my Instagram account and not worrying about what I'm saying or what I'm posting. I just want to be a light. I want (people to say), ‘OK, this is someone that you know, someone that the sport needed, someone who's kind, someone who's honest and someone who's a good role model for kids.’”

First things first, though, which means taking care of business in the Octagon. For all the questions around Cowan, she showed she has a well-rounded skill set in her Contender Series battle and, win or lose, she wants people to know she belongs, that she is a force to be reckoned with, and that “Hailey The Athlete” is now “Hailey The Fighter.”

“I want them to know that I'm ready,” she said. “I know that's been a big question mark. Seven and two, that’s not a whole lot of fights. I want to get out of the cage, regardless of what happens, and everyone to be like, ‘She belongs here.’ 

“The division really needs somebody right now. It needs some new blood, and I want to be that.”

UFC Fight Night: Vera vs Sandhagen took place live from the AT&T Center in San Antonio, Texas on March 25, 2023. See the Final Results, Official Scorecards and Who Won Bonuses - and relive the action on UFC Fight Pass