Cory McKenna: “I Want To Be The Best In The World”

Cory McKenna: “I Want To Be The Best In The World”

By Jack Rainbow

“I’ll fight anybody, I don’t say that just to sound like your stereotypical fighter. I want to be the best in the world”

The last two weeks have seen Cory McKenna’s life change drastically. Not only did she win a UFC contract, but she also moved permanently to the US:

“The past few days have been really good. I have just moved to Sacramento so I am just doing what I need to do to settle in. I have moved my stuff in and just gone straight to the gym, that’s me settling in!”

The enormity of achieving a childhood dream hasn’t sunk in straight away, but this hasn’t stopped Cory from basking in her success

“Every time something bad happens I am like yeah but I’m a UFC fighter! It still sounds so weird to say, people on the mats say it and I’m like oh yeah that’s me! At the end of the day, nothing has really changed, I am still the same person, and I haven’t even had a fight yet!”

Cory won her UFC contract on the Dana White Contender Series (DWCS). The show is known as one of the toughest job interviews in the world, and Cory felt the intensity:

“It was surreal. It was a very high-pressure show, and it was strange without a crowd but normally they don’t have much of a crowd so the set up wasn’t too different. I got to understand the whole experience, backstage and it was pretty cool, to be honest.”

After she beat her opponent, Crystal Vanessa Demopoulos in three hard rounds, Cory had the agonizing wait to find out if she had impressed the UFC boss enough to earn her maiden contract. However, Cory had already achieved her main goal by getting the victory:

“So I said from the off, especially because I took it short notice, my main goal was to win. As soon as I got my hand raised that was a successful night. The contract was important but at the end of the day I knew it would happen whether it was that night or after a fight or two, I was confident I would get where I need to be. I didn’t get too nervous and after the fight, my dad said don’t be too disappointed if you don’t get the contract For me, the important thing was getting a win and a good performance.

The UFC has wasted no time matching Cory up with her first opponent, with former Invicta strawweight champion Kay Hanson in November. Cory is not overawed by the sudden step-up in opposition though:

“I know she is very well rounded,  and she has high-level jiu-jitsu. We are both very young and working in the gym very hard. Every matchup is tough but we have a load of similarities, and I think it will come down to who is smarter and who puts in more work.”

Stylistically this fight is exciting, with it pitting two of the most promising strawweight prospects against each other in their early 20s. Cory sees it as an even matchup.

“I don’t think it’s a one-sided fight at all. I see it being back and forth and very technical and I’m looking forward to it. I am working hard and I am sure she is too so it will be a fun one for the fans”

It is fair to say everything has clicked in the past two weeks for Cory. Combining her move to the US with this contract has made her previous 18-month lay- off feel worth it

“I was working on my visa before to move, and then Uriah texted me saying to get the medical done, and then with the travel restrictions my dad suggested staying there,. Given I had an 18 month lay off and it felt like nothing was going right it was nice that everything fell into place”

Training at Team Alpha has meant Cory has been managed by UFC legend Uriah Faber. His impact on keeping her grounded cannot be understated:

“He has been very important. We had a meeting yesterday, and he and Jack Stone are going to co-manage me. I have had Jack since 13 and Uriah since 17, and they have been massive influences on and off the mat. Uriah is already discussing getting me ready for my retirement plan and he is great for me. He puts in loads of time with me and helps me out with sponsors and financial managers, and Jack does the same back home. I am very fortunate and have a great team. They’re like my two gym dads as they take me under their wing and look after me!”

Much of the press has been focused on Cory being the first Welsh woman in the UFC. She doesn’t put too much weight on that, however:

“It is quite strange. Everyone loves having a bit of a title, like being the first this and first that but I have never put too much weight on stuff like that. Obviously it is nice to have, and it is a nice accolade and we should get some more girls in there!”

One thing striking about Cory was her belief in herself. Without any remnants of trash-talk, she showed her confidence when discussing the strawweight division she is about to join:

“I’ll fight anybody, I don’t say that just to sound like your stereotypical fighter. I want to be the best in the world and the only way to do that is to fight the best. There are quite a few out there who I would jump in on a day’s notice, not to talk smack but I already think I’m at the level or above most of these girls.”

This does not mean she will necessarily jump in there with anyone, irrespective of her self belief:

“I have a list of girls who I think would be smart fights, but if they messaged me saying to fight Joanna or for the belt, I would say yes, but that’s why I have management as I am a stupid fighter! It is a very competitive division and your fighting national level strikers or wrestlers in every fight, and it’s not even about who is working hardest. Like Uriah said it’s about working smart not hard.”

Much of the attention has equally been on Cory’s relationship with her parents, with her Mum being a former professional fighter herself. The support from her parents has clearly been a huge factor in Cory’s success:

“I am so lucky, I hear all these fighters with there story of hardships and I can’t complain about anything at all, I have been very fortunate and want to capitalize on every opportunity I have had and be a testament for all the hard work they have put in.”

With a team as strong as hers, Cory will have every belief she can make it to the very top. Making the UFC achieved a childhood dream, but at 21, Cory has a lot more to show. Moving to the US signifies the level of commitment and do not be surprised if Cory continues to rise at a rapid pace.

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