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Casey O'Neill of Australia poses for a portrait after her victory during the UFC Fight Night event at UFC APEX on February 20, 2021 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Mike Roach/Zuffa LLC)

The Next Step For Casey O'Neill

Rising Women's Flyweight Looks To Go Stay Undefeated In Third UFC Tilt

Casey O’Neill’s father paid her a visit recently. Traveling all the way from Australia--where O’Neill spent many of her formative years--to her newly adopted home of Las Vegas, the thought was that he would support his daughter as she fought in her second UFC bout.

“He was a little overwhelmed by my fight. It was his first big fight. I’d never seen him nervous before and he was chalk-white at the back. I was like ‘Damn. You Okay?’ I was checking on him before the fight,” she laughs.

Fight By Fight Preview | UFC Fight Night: Santos vs Walker

And what a fight it was, with O’Neill kicking off the proceedings by submitting Lara Procopio in dominant fashion.

“He loved the experience and everything. It was a little taste of freedom for him because Australia is so locked down. Now he’s back home, back locked down and missing it here.”

That was June, and O’Neill is already on the eve of her third promotional outing this Saturday on the prelims of UFC Fight Night: Santos vs Walker, where she meets Antonina Shevchenko.

Casey O'Neill Training For UFC Vegas 29

“My coaches are begging me to take a little time off, so I’m thinking that this will be the last one of the year,” she says. Whether she ends up taking their advice, only time will tell. But there’s ample reason for a breather.

“This will actually be my fifth fight in 12 months. So I’m going to take a little time, hopefully be back in February or March. Start the year off with a bang again. I believe that you make the most improvements when you’re not in fight camp, so I look to make some big improvements over the Christmas period and come back and start the year strong.”

Significant Stats | UFC Fight Night: Santos vs Walker

She’ll look to end this year equally strong against a former training partner. Before being transplanted to Las Vegas, “King” cut her teeth at the famed Tiger Muay Thai in Thailand that Shevchenko and her sister Valentina--the reigning UFC women’s flyweight champion—call home.

“We were definitely friendly, but I wouldn’t say we were friends. So when they offered this fight I was down to take it, and I know she was because she accepted first. I’m excited. It’s a bit of Tiger vs Tiger—which I know they’re not too happy about—but at the end of the day it just proves what a good gym it is because two people from there are on the biggest stage fighting in front of the world.”

Highlight: Casey O'Neill Submits Procopio | UFC Fight Night: The Korean Zombie vs Ige
Highlight: Casey O'Neill Submits Procopio | UFC Fight Night: The Korean Zombie vs Ige

If there’s a danger in fighting someone with a familiar foundation, let alone a former training partner, O’Neill doesn’t see it that way.

“I never really change who I am for each opponent. I know a lot of people do. I definitely watch a little bit of tape. But I believe my strengths on my best day are good enough to beat anybody. That’s all that matters to me, being the best version of myself. I think the best version of me beats her every day.

Placid, stoic and thoughtful in her demeanor, none of these statements come across as trash talk or pre-fight hype when you speak with O’Neill. In every word is lurks a quiet, yet ironclad, belief in the self, and her résumé to date is a testament to it. Since turning pro in 2019, the Scotland-born, Aussie-bred flyweight is undefeated in seven bouts, including her first two under the UFC banner. Even before turning pro, you’d have to go all the way back to 2017—her second amateur bout—to find a loss. Oh, and she’s still a week away from her 24th birthday.

International Fight Week with Jon Anik

“I think it’s a good next step for me,” she continues. “She does have that name, but I definitely don’t think that she’s her sister. Like a lot of girls in the division, she’s good everywhere but she’s not really great anywhere. So I’m excited to go out there and test myself against her. I think that once again my pressure and my pace will be too much for someone like Antonina.  I’ll be able to break her the same way and then take all that name value for myself.”

Casey O'Neill dominates in her Octagon debut | UFC Fight Night: Blaydes vs Lewis
Casey O'Neill dominates in her Octagon debut | UFC Fight Night: Blaydes vs Lewis

The champion Shevchenko just had herself quite the weekend, handily defending the flyweight belt for an epic sixth time against Lauren Murphy at UFC 266. O’Neill is well aware of the big energy and familial momentum her opponent will bring into their matchup. She knows the champ will be watching, too.

Where We Stand: Women's Flyweight | September 2021

“I think it makes a great story down the line. I think that in a couple years, I will be the one who takes the belt away from Valentina. So a great story for a couple years: beat the sister and then beat the younger sister afterwards.”

It’s a Herculean task, to be sure, but it’s clear in speaking to O’Neill that she’s up to it. It starts with the elder Shevchenko, and then hopefully a little vacation, where she can finally celebrate her newfound success in the corners of the globe where the well-wishes emanate on fight nights.

Casey O'Neill Trains At The UFC Performance Institute January 29, 2021. (Photo by Zac Pacleb)

Casey O'Neill Trains At The UFC Performance Institute January 29, 2021. (Photo by Zac Pacleb)

(Photo by Zac Pacleb/Zuffa LLC)

“I’ll probably do a three-leg trip where I go to Thailand, Australia and the UK and then back here. Go to see everyone, you know? Someone will be mad if I don’t make it.”

Despite her ties in other lands, O’Neill isn’t keen on fixing what isn’t broke, and still intends to keep Las Vegas as her base. At age 12 she dreamt of being a UFC fighter, and in Nevada she manifested that dream.

“I love Vegas. Fight capital of the world, and it stayed open—which I believe in—during COVID times. Obviously, Dana [White] has made this little hub for us to continue fighting. So I love it here and my coaches at Xtreme Couture and 10th Planet Jiu-Jitsu have really made it feel like home. I see myself staying here quite a while. I’ve been moving my whole life for this. I’m ready.”