Casey O’Neill plans on picking back up right where she left over after defeating Roxanne Modafferi at UFC 271 last January. She still believes that she is the hottest prospect in the flyweight division, despite being away from the Octagon due to an injury.
“I was very excited to get an opportunity to fight on that International Fight Week card (last July),” O’Neill said. “I started training for that and then unfortunately tore my ACL, so I've been out since, but working super hard to get back. I'm coming back in a massive spot and fighting on UK soil, home soil for the first time and on a big card, so it couldn't have worked out better, in hindsight.”
Post-surgery, O’Neill was at the UFC Performance Institute in Las Vegas twice a day, doing physical therapy. Once she was cleared to start training again, she still continued to do physical therapy, in addition to strength training, in order to get back to training camp and fight shape.
Being away for 14 months showed O’Neill how much she loves the sport, even more than she already knew.
“It has been fun to miss having fight camp because I think it's something that everyone dreads. When you're fighting back-to-back, you're like, 'Oh God, this is so hard every single time,’ but when you don't get it for a little while and then just being able to come back and still be able to do it, you don't take it for granted anymore,” O’Neill said.
Not only does O’Neill feel that she is coming back physically stronger than she was before, but she also believes that she is coming back mentally stronger, as well. Injuries are a part of being an athlete, but it is a mental struggle to be away from something that you are used to doing every single day.
“When you're someone like me who only lives (in Vegas) for training, trains four times a day and is just a little bit crazy with it, fighting non-stop and then having that all be put on pause is a little bit daunting,” O’Neill said. “It teaches you a lot of mental strength and you have to overcome things.”
Only 11 months after her surgery, O’Neill is ready step back into the Octagon inside the O2 Arena in London against former title challenger Jennifer Maia. This is the third time in 12 months that the Octagon will touch down in London, and when she found out that this card was happening, she wasn’t going to miss out again.
The 25-year-old was born in Irvine, Scotland, and is looking forward to putting on a show for everyone in London before heading home to Scotland for the first time in a long time after the fight. She’ll have family in the stands, some of whom have never seen her fight in person before.
Yet before she can enjoy all the fun that is to come after the fight, she’ll have to get past Maia, who is ranked eighth at 125 pounds. But she isn’t focused on what Maia brings to the table.
“I think that that's something I've learned whilst being off, too, is that my focus really needs to be on myself and nothing else matters,” O’Neill said. “Fighting someone who has already fought for the belt will be a great challenge for me and I'm excited for that and excited to break into the top ten.”
Sitting at No. 12 in the rankings, O’Neill is impressed with the flyweight division and the potential lineup she faces on her way to the belt after facing Maia.
“It's very exciting to see a bunch of younger girls coming in and bringing talent and exposure to our division,” O’Neill said. “I think it always takes a while to grow a division, but ‘25 is pretty exciting right now and I see a lot of good fights in my future on my way to the belt.”