Casey Kenney had arguably his best UFC showing yet on Saturday when he vanquished Louis Smolka in the first round of their UFC Las Vegas bantamweight scrap. Kenney submitted Smolka, a former top-10 flyweight, with a one-arm guillotine choke at the 3:03 mark of the bout. Kenney improved to 3-1 in the UFC and 14-2-1 overall.
“I came out of that one pretty injury-free, and I’m feeling on top of the world,” Kenney told MMASucka.
Kenney softened Smolka up with his stand-up game, appearing to stun him with a combination. Smolka then shot in for a takedown, where Kenney was waiting to sink in a choke.
For Kenney, the patience he exercised in his stand-up was a focus heading into the bout after he suffered the first decisive loss of his career to Merab Dvalishvili.
“I just kind of got lost in the Merab fight trying to take his head off and not being a complete mixed martial artist and smart fighter, which I am,” Kenney said. “I just took my time and hit a reset button and came back. It’s stuff I knew and skills I’ve already had. I just needed my mind and body to do as one.”
Kenney said he wasn’t tried to kill Smolka with every punch. Instead, he was just trying to touch him. And as a result, he got the job done.
Kenney now claims UFC wins over Smolka, former UFC flyweight title challenger Ray Borg and now-NEF lightweight champion Manny Bermudez. He and Bermudez shared their encounter at bantamweight.
Kenney is no stranger to regional circuit gold himself. He defeated current UFC flyweight Brandon Royval for the LFA interim flyweight belt and knocked out Vincent Cachero for the promotion’s interim bantamweight title.
Kenney’s four-fight UFC stint has all been at bantamweight. While the flyweight division looks to be in better shape than when he made his promotional debut in March 2019, Kenney intends to remain at 135.
“I’ve focused on getting bigger and stronger,” he explained. “This fight, I walked into the Octagon eight pounds bigger than I have the past two times. So, that was huge for me. Especially facing guys like Merab. I’m a full bantamweight now. Maybe if in the future, if something happens and there are bigger fights down there. But bantamweight is one of the hottest divisions right now, and that’s what I want to be a part of.”
Kenney got the call to fight Smolka 10 days before the May 30 bout. However, the coronavirus-shortened training camp was beneficial for Kenney, he said. Not constantly performing wrestling and striking drills allowed him to fill out for the bantamweight class better. Instead, he focused on shadow boxing, running and keeping his cardio and speed up.
“For some people, [a short notice fight] is their worst nightmare,” Kenney said. “Me, I’ve stayed ready for a long time. It’s the way I got into the UFC. I had to take short notice fights, and I’ve excelled. I’ve had some of my best performances in short-notice fights. That confidence just carried on. And now, a short fight doesn’t scare me at all. I almost want a short notice fight.”
Kenney is looking to get back into the Octagon before August. A ranked or unranked opponent doesn’t matter to him. He said he’d be down to head to Fight Island if the UFC is in need of an American fighter, as there are some internationals who can’t make it to Las Vegas due to coronavirus-related travel restrictions.
“I’ll let everybody else have some fun for a second. I can still make it to Vegas. Give it a couple of months and see how things go, and then bring me out to the island.”