The Return of the King, Casey O’Neill fights at UFC 286

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‘King’ Casey O’Neill returns to action at UFC 286 live from the O2 Arena in London, England. Making her fifth UFC walk, the Scottish-Australian (who fights out of America’s Xtreme Couture) will take on former flyweight title challenger, Jennifer Maia. Coming off the back of an ACL injury, O’Neill will be looking to make 2023 her year and kick off with a win in the first quarter of the year.

UFC Tenure Thus far

O’Neill entered the UFC with a lot of hype. Having fought on the regional circuit throughout Australia, O’Neill captured the Eternal MMA strawweight strap and, although she lost her belt on the scale, she remained undefeated leading to her UFC debut. Competing for two different promotions, O’Neill entered the big league at 5-0 with two finishes.

Debuting in February 2021, King took on Shane Dobson. Dobson was coming off the biggest win of her career and broke the record for the biggest underdog to win a fight when she finished Mariya Agapova. O’Neill wasn’t going to suffer the same fate. Dominant throughout, she landed four takedowns on her way to a second-round TKO finish. The King had arrived.

LAS VEGAS, NEVADA – FEBRUARY 20: Casey O’Neill of Australia punches Shana Dobson in a flyweight bout during the UFC Fight Night event at UFC APEX on February 20, 2021 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)

Next came Brazillian, Lara Procopio. Procopio was fresh off a victory over England’s Molly McCann and offered a better ground game than Dobson, something that could have caused O’Neill questions. What happened? O’Neill proved that her ground game was better than the BJJ black-belt of Procopio, locking up the rear-naked choke in the final round. O’Neill was winning the fight, out-striking Procopio 176-76 so could have cruised to victory, however, that’s not how she fights. With a little over two minutes left, O’Neill took it out of the hands of the judges.

LAS VEGAS, NEVADA – JUNE 19: (R-L) Casey O’Neill of Scotland secures a rear choke submission against Lara Procopio of Brazil in a flyweight bout during the UFC Fight Night event at UFC APEX on June 19, 2021 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)

O’Neill looked to make it 3-0 in 2021 when she took on the sister of the champion, Antonina Shevchenko. One word describes this fight. Dominant. Being aware of her skills on the feet, King Casey took Shevchenko down to the ground and finished things via TKO, beating La Pantera to notch her third straight UFC win, all of which came via finish. O’Neill was quickly making a name for herself and she was due a big fight.

LAS VEGAS, NEVADA – OCTOBER 02: Casey O’Neill of Australia (top) punches Antonina Shevchenko of Kyrgyzstan in their women’s flyweight bout during the UFC Fight Night event at UFC APEX on October 02, 2021 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)

She was next scheduled to clash with the gatekeeper and women’s MMA pioneer, Roxanne Modafferi. Although she was suffering through a pair of losses, Modafferi had knocked off Maycee Barber previously, handing her first-ever loss. Despite only winning via split decision, O’Neill answered a number of questions and yet again put on a dominant performance. She took her licks, she proved that she could go 15 hard minutes, that she could fight off her back and most importantly, that she’s got that dog in her to push through adversity.

She set a record for most significant strikes landed in a women’s flyweight fight at 229, proving just how dominant the performance was.

HOUSTON, TEXAS – FEBRUARY 12: Casey O’Neill of United Kingdom reacts after finishing three rounds against Roxanne Modafferi in their flyweight fight during the UFC 271 event at Toyota Center on February 12, 2022 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC)

The Return of the King at UFC 286

At just 25 years old, King Casey O’Neill will be making her fifth UFC walk on Saturday night on the main card of a PPV. The MMASucka podcast crew waxed lyrical about the potential of O’Neill on this week’s episode, so be sure to check it out here.

Having suffered an ACL injury that forced her out of a fight with Jessica Eye, O’Neill will be taking on the toughest test of her short career when she clashes with former title challenger, Jennifer Maia. Maia went five rounds with the former champion, Valentina Shevchenko back in 2020.

UFC 286 will mark the first time that O’Neill, who was born in Irvine, Scotland, will be competing in the UK. O’Neill will enjoy a five-inch reach advantage over Maia. It’s worth noting that all of Maia’s losses have come against women who have had a reach advantage over her. With that being said, she’s only lost to the elite of the division, with her most recent loss coming to #2 Manon Fiorot.

If O’Neill can keep the fight long on the feet, it’ll make her night a lot more straight forwards. Maia is dangerous when she’s able to work on the inside so it would benefit the Scot to avoid the clinch. For O’Neill, she either needs to be all the way out, keeping Maia on the end of her jab or all the way in and look to use her superior wrestling to get the fight to the floor and work her strong ground game.

Although this is a tough test for O’Neill, she’ll be confident of coming away with a win, progressing to 10-0 and cementing herself as a real contender at 125lbs.

It’s the return of the king and we’re all excited.

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Frazer Krohn has been with MMASucka for nearly 5 years. He is the host of the MMASucka podcast, which is released every Monday. He's the author of a series of six books about MMA, which were published in 2023.

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