Written by @NickRiznerMMA
The fighter’s mentality – unseen, yet present in every phase of preparation and execution – is the single most fascinating aspect of combat sports. It is also the most misunderstood.
In a game of inches and micro-movements, mindset is often the difference between winning and losing. Improvement and deterioration. Success and failure. The specifics vary, but the outcome is remarkably consistent. Those who are mentally strong hold a distinct advantage over those who are not. And while MMA is as unpredictable as it is unfair, the winner of the psychological war tends to prevail in the physical one.
But there are only a few individuals who can thrive in the most hostile of environments.
In enemy territory, you are left alone with your thoughts. All comforts are removed, as you mentally prepare for adversity. In any given fight, there is at least one person intent on doing you harm. In the home country of your opponent, that individual becomes a mob. A nation united in one collective cause. One wish. A hope that you fall.
This reality can be construed as daunting or motivating, depending on your outlook. For UFC Strawweight Cortney Casey, it is very much the latter.
There is nothing better than fighting someone in their own backyard. You know from the moment you get the call, it won’t be an easy fight, and I like that. I don’t want easy fights. I want good fights. Fights that fans want to see.
Through two trips to the Octagon, Casey has delivered just that. Twice she has gone toe-to-toe with a hometown favorite, and twice she has given the fans a Fight of the Night performance. The first was on ten-days notice in Scotland against the heavily favored Joanne Calderwood.
The night was a blur. The memories spotty. But the feeling in the air – the pure emotion of that experience – that part was remembered fondly.
The crowd was loud, with a lot of booing. That’s what I was expecting. When JoJo walked out, they went crazy. During the exchanges I can’t really remember much, but I do remember the tension I felt after those first fifteen seconds. Not just in JoJo… but in the entire crowd.
In those fifteen seconds, Casey landed a series of clean hooks; a flurry that continued until a desperation clinch allowed Calderwood to regain her composure. Still, the tone was set. For the remaining rounds, Casey and Calderwood would exchange knees, flying armbars, and spinning back kicks. They would go the distance, standing alone as the most entertaining fight on a very exciting card.
In the end, she was wrapped in the Scottish flag.
Calderwood needed a tough fight and Casey gave her just that. Whispers of what she could accomplish with a full camp started to creep around MMA circles, as fans and analysts began speculating over who would be next.
In early October, they got their answer. With the announcement that she would be one of the final additions to UFC South Korea, Cortney Casey was, yet again, slated to travel to an opponent’s home country for a fight. This time, it was the South Korean Seo Hee Ham, who, like Casey, was coming off a loss to Joanne Calderwood in her UFC debut.
Casey was no longer the fresh face of the strawweight division. The world had seen what kind of fighter she was and gained a firm respect for her competitive edge. In South Korea, Ham received a similar reception to that of Calderwood in Scotland. The difference, however, lied in the way Casey was treated; a reaction she credits to South Korea’s deep-rooted history in martial arts.
There was definitely a noticeable difference. The Korean crowd was more accepting of me. I was never booed when I walked out; I was cheered for. It was gratifying to know that they respected me enough not to boo, but I think that has a lot to do with the knowledge of martial arts in their culture.
No matter the reason, that respect continued throughout the fight.
The first round produced more ‘oohs’ and ‘ahhs’ as the result of Casey’s striking than it did cheering as the result of Ham’s. By the midway point of the second round, Casey had secured the first and only knockdown of the bout, catching Ham with a short left hook that temporarily dropped her to the mat. By all accounts, she was leading after two, but Ham drew on the South Korean crowd support to come from behind and steal the third.
In the end, the judges handed Seo Hee Ham the unanimous decision victory, but again, the actual winner was only a small piece of the story line. Casey had traveled to hostile territory once more. And again, she had stolen the show with a Fight of the Night performance.
This time, there was no flag. This time, she was wrapped in an embrace.
Winning over a mob, of any kind, takes a special type of charisma and the correct action to back it up. But it also takes a degree of humility and a lack of desperation. Casey is all of the above and more. She has what it takes to turn a crowd, and that will carry her a long way in this sport. In all likelihood, it’s the very intangible that has brought her this far.
Like you said, it’s not an easy thing to do. It’s not something that I focus on, but if it happens it happens. You can take the “turn” one of two ways. You can take it as them cheering for your efforts. Or you can take it as them cheering your opponent for hanging in there. Either way, the fans are excited and engaged and that’s really what you want.
It has not been announced when we will next see Cortney Casey inside the Octagon, but the promise of excitement is all but guaranteed. This is based on the bar that she has set for herself. The standard of expectation she has instilled in any and all witnesses to her future performances.
No matter who the opponent, you will be entertained.
Cortney Casey has competed inside the Octagon twice. Both times she was faced with a dangerous opponent, and both times she put on a show. She has established herself as one who can be relied upon to thrill and excite a crowd. In a world where so many fighters are focused on scraping by, she thrives to do more than succeed. She thrives to leave a legacy.
When attempting to sway the momentum of an abrasive audience, you must posses both an inner strength and an inner serenity. It all begins with that fighter’s mentality. That unseen, misunderstood mindset.
I try my best to live in the moment from the second I get to the venue. I know, from that moment on, there is no going back. Only forward. In the locker room, there are no nerves. I try to keep it relaxed and comfortable. I try to keep the locker room vibe the same as the gym.
The walkout is something you could write a book on. But for me, it’s almost relaxing and rejuvenating at the same time. Everything has come down to this, and it’s time to show the world who you are. It’s time to put on a show. Once that cage door closes, I’m in the biggest business meeting of my life, and I have to prove to everyone that my product is worth buying.
Her last two business meetings took place on the sport’s biggest stage. She’s had six rounds to present her product, and the consumer has arrived at one universal answer to the question of a worthwhile purchase.