Ep. #89 – Cory McKenna

Cory McKenna is a 21 year-old mixed martial artist who competes in the Strawweight division for the UFC. She recently picked up a win on Dana White’s Tuesday Night Contender Series earning a UFC contract with a 5-1 record as a professional.


Cory McKenna: So i guess we’ll start off: how does it feel to be a ufc fighter? Yeah, it’s great um, obviously something that i’ve been working to for well over half my life uh, so to obviously achieve achieve that goal is, is great but uh. Also, it’s certainly the first step. You know the work starts now, there’s plenty of plenty of things to do so. Uh yeah. I want to talk about that about that fight. I mean looked very, very impressive. There’S a little bit of hesitation on dana white did that did that worry you at all like when you started talking about like you’re young? Were you a little bit nervous that maybe he might say you know what we’ll give her a developmental deal or we’ll invite her back or were you confident in your uh in your performance uh? There was a lot of obviously really great fights that night. So i wouldn’t have been overly shocked if they had said to go away and get a bit more experience. Uh. You know, i didn’t get that finish or anything. I don’t. I think. Maybe he was trying to build a little bit of suspense. I really think people put too much weight on like age and stuff these days. At the end of the day, like i’m more experienced than a lot of the girls in there already um, and i just fought – obviously the lfa champs. So arguably there was no one really left for me to fight. There would be a step up outside of the ufc um, so you know it was 50 50., like i say i i definitely feel like. I could have done better on the night, but also i took on a few weeks notice and you know there was a lot of other things going on so um yeah. I was happy with the performance and at the end of the day they say there was there’s nothing. I could do from that point. So there’s no point stressing about it. Do you uh? Do you re-watch your fights and and if so, how did you go back and re-watch it, and how did you assess it? Is there anything that you would have done differently, or were you overall like pleased with the way things turned out? Uh, there’s always room for improvement. Um like we. We watched the fight that night funny enough. We went back to the hotel and uh. You know sat down with some some cookies and and watch the fight. That was how that was how we celebrated um yeah, there’s always room for improvement. There was obviously thank you mistakes on on my part, um. As far as how the fight went, i don’t you know, i think i think i did think things well as well as being overly critical, like i’m learning, i’m learning to. Obviously you know that’s what i did well as as well as uh sitting there just telling myself off for my mistakes but um. You know, i think i think i fought a smart fight. I didn’t i didn’t make any any mistakes like it might not have been. The most action-packed um like for the full three rounds, but also she had a very tricky and very strong game, so it left no room for kind of. You know silly mistakes supposed to explode in one of those, those awkward grappling exchanges. Then i would have put myself at risk to get caught, so i think i played a smart fight um. You know i went out there. I did what i needed to do to win uh. I landed some combos and some um. You know some techniques that we’ve been drilling in the gym uh, even just like the week before, like stuff that i was going over with jack and everyone back home um. So i don’t think i could be too harsh for myself. I said i’m happy with the performance. There was definitely room for. Obviously improvements and mistakes were made, but um, you know, that’s the progression of it. You mentioned your experience and i mean you are only 21.. I think you just turned 21 a few weeks ago. If i’m not mistaken, uh july july yeah so a couple months ago, um, that being said, i mean you’ve been fighting for what since 2014, what got you into the sport so young and i mean you, look at your career. You only had one loss and it was via split decision, both pro and amateur. So how did you find the sport at such a young age? So i started karate as like a little bit of a hobby uh. My mum and my little brother were already doing karate as like a as an extracurricular thing, um. Obviously, my dad was away with the army a lot, so i kind of ended up going along with them. There’S something to do uh just to kind of get get out and do some stuff. I’Ve always had a lot of very active family. You know so kind of always been involved in sports anyway, uh and then i just kind of started going on to different classes. You know i was dick karate pretty much every day of the week from the age of nine or ten and then uh at about eleven. I started doing jiu jitsu and uh jiu jitsu and muay thai together and then then i added the boxing and then i just thought i might as well go and try mma i’m doing everything else anyway and uh yeah. I went to an mma gym at 13 and kind of just fell in love with it. I just you know, couldn’t get me off the mat, so uh yeah that was kind of it got the bug. As they say what was the uh? I guess how did other people view it? I mean, i know uh if i was 13 or 14 and i went up to my parents and said you know what i want to be a cage fighter. I can only imagine uh their responses. How did how was it perceived both with your family and friends and stuff at school uh? Well, my my family obviously say my my mum was involved. My mom came along to the anime gym with me. Uh i went for the first week or two and then went right come on, then you might as well. You know i’m moving here. You might as well sort of thing uh so dragged her along and she ended up having the same reaction. You know she she uh, we had our amateur debuts on the same card um, so you know we kind of fought alongside each other, so she understood it. Obviously uh my dad was my dad was a runner so uh, not as cool as me, but um. You know he. He again was very committed to sport. He used to run for wales and he held a guinness world record. So, like you know my family’s very big on sports and doing something so in terms of that, like it wasn’t really a big thing like they were massively supportive. My dad made sure i was getting what i needed when i needed driving me around to different gyms. They would dedicate their weekends, taking me to competitions and everything so yeah it wasn’t. It wasn’t like there was no negative response to it at all. They were very supportive. One of the uh – i guess kind of the only positives as an mma fan throughout the pandemic was the ufc was still pumping out events as someone who’s been in there and competed um in front of an empty arena. What was that like? Like did you? Are you someone who kind of feeds off the energy of the crowd, or are you able to drown that out regardless you didn’t even notice, it didn’t make a difference. To me, to be honest, um like say when you’re in there, like i’m, only really focused on my my coaching, my coaching staff and, like obviously my opponent, so the crowd itself doesn’t make too big a difference after fighting on cage warriors, i’ve had that experience in Front of the big crowds and everything, so it’s not like you know, and also the contenders, would have been in front of a very small crowd or you know no crowd anyway, so um in terms of that it wouldn’t be too much difference, but fighting cage wars. I say this is a large crowd, so i’m used to that so when they do come to back to implement in the you know, the crowds and everything it’s not going to make too much of a difference for me um but yeah. Let’S say it’s just kind of like a spa day um, you know i had my my uh, my coaching, my coaches. There and you know someone trying to punch me in the head is just like every wednesday here, so it wasn’t wasn’t too much difference. I think it was more fun yeah. You hear kind of mixed reviews. Some people are like it just feels like a aspiring session. Other people, like some people like feed off the energy too much and then end up it ends up costing them the fight. So it’s good to hear that some people uh it benefited them in a way. Another big change uh for you is you’re training at team alpha male. What’S that been like training with, in my opinion, one of the best coaches in the game and uriah favor yeah. I’Ve been coming out here consistently like three months on three months off for the last few years, so i’ve already kind of got a good base here. I’Ve got obviously a good relationship with the coaches and my training partners, so to finally make the move out here is something that i’ve. Obviously it was a goal that i set for myself, but i’ve been saying quite a while, but i want to do it um. You know there’s, obviously i love it back home and everything, but out here it’s just it’s that professionalism. There’S a you know, there’s a full-time schedule. People are available all day um. You know, there’s a lot more to say professional athletes on on the mat. So it’s kind of like you’re, guaranteed bodies for every session, um, i’d like to say obviously for the technical aspect and everything work with the best coaches in the game, um, so yeah. I’M i’m really excited to finally make made the move out here and be able to focus on my self-improvements, as opposed to coming out here for fight camps and focusing like solely on fights and everything. Um, yes, very exciting. What’S the uh, what’s the biggest lesson that you’ve learned from uriah that you’re able to to implement now into your into your fight style uh, he he’s very big on like faints and tricks um. Obviously, a lot of coaches are but um. You know he’s got his own. I very much like his style. He’S got a lot of sequences like in terms of the gap, and i find myself pulling them off a lot like you just he’s very focused on like the chains and how the flow of things goes as opposed to just singular techniques, which uh obviously is very Beneficial in the sport, i quite like that um yeah to us as low like he says he puts a lot of work into me. Um. You know in class and out of class um, and you know he’s just very big influence on my life. So yeah there’s loads. I could take away from him to be honest, but um yeah. He definitely like his movement and the flow of everything for sure one of the uh. I guess one of the countries that have really kind of taken the ufc by storm. The past few years is wales, jack shore brett johns. How does it feel to become like part of that movement, and what do you think it will take before wales has a major presence in organizations like the ufc and bellator yeah like there’s, like, i said, there’s loads of talent coming through at the moment, um. Even just on, like the local scene, like a lot of the amateur boys, are doing really good um. You know, there’s some high level pros and then obviously, like you say, you’ve got you’ve got like jack shaw, jack, marshman and john phillips in the ufc uh. You know they’re all making waves, making a name for wales uh. It’S it’s great to see. You know i know, there’s a lot of talk about trying to get a welsh ufc card. That’D also be great, i’m not sure how it works with venues and everything but um yeah. I’D like i think you said it yourself. You know they’re making waves and making a name for themselves and it’s uh, it’s very exciting, to see um your net. Your fight has been announced. Was there a little bit of surprise? I know when i first saw it i was like. Is that? Are you serious like? Usually they don’t match up to young fighters um? You know it almost feels like one of your height or uh. You know your hype. Trains are going to be derailed. Um, were you surprised by the matchmaking and what what’s your thoughts on kay hanson as an opponent, um yeah, like obviously there’s a lot of people like? Oh, it’s a bit strange, obviously matching up two young prospects and kind of like like say we’re both at that at the cusp and uh everything, but at the end i also don’t think it’s a make or break fight for either of us, like, i think you Know we’re both very technical, very skillful fighters. I think it’s going to be a very exciting fight, regardless of how it goes. Obviously, i intend to go in there and get that win um. But you know, kay is a sound opponent, herself she’s, obviously doing very well for herself um yeah, it’s i. I think it’s going to be a very like very exciting fight. It’S gon na be a great fight, um and a lot of the other women are booked up at the end of the day. Um you look at the strawweight division and they’re pretty much all fighting each other, so uh. I think the end day goes back to being being a fighter. You fight anybody uh, you know, i’m not gon na, be picking and choosing my fights. They offer me a fight and my manager says yeah. Then that’s that’s what i’m doing so um yeah. I think it’s gon na be a good fight for both of us. Then i think it’ll be nice and technical as well. Not too, like you know scrappy, i think people fight how much, how much tape do you watch on your opponent before fight, i mean i hear a lot of fighters just say i just go out there and i focus on me. Others leave it to their coaches and then other people like stay up till two o’clock in the morning watching tape. What’S uh, what do you do? Do you do you leave that to your coaches? Do you not watch it at all um? I tend to watch like a little bit. Obviously, when i first started the fight um, like my coaches, like to study the fights, i sit down and watch it with them. Obviously, but once i get into camp like you know, once i’m like six weeks out, that’s all me um. I feel like it’s only so much like you can watch it. You can take a few pointers away, but i’m not i’m not one of those people watching goes right. I need to do this when she does this like at the end of the day, i can look at it and go okay. She does a lot of this or a lot of grappling which does a lot of wrestling. I can kind of focus on. You know my counters to that, but i’m not i’m not one of those people that likes to break it down to specifics, because midday everyone’s improving constantly like no one is the exact same as their last fight. You know, especially at this level, we’re all training professionally. We’Re all working hard so we’re all making improvements every day, so there’s only really so much you can take away from tape. Obviously i watch a little bit like say from like far out, but once i get into camp it’s it’s kind of all me and the main focus is make sure i’m the best the best version of myself when i get in there. Okay, i’ll ask you a couple more questions and then i’ll let you go. I know you have some training to do so. Uh. I built this platform based on two things. One was making predictions for fights. That being said, two huge title fights coming up next month: izzy versus paulo costa. What’S your prediction on that fight uh, i’m probably the worst person to ask. I absolutely hate making predictions on fights. I quite literally refuse uh just because fighting is a game of inches, especially at that level um. I really don’t think you can call any fights. Just because, like you see, i don’t hate this. The whole punches chance, but but there’s so many variables, and i think it’s like at this level – it really comes down to who’s, putting that electrical work, who’s feeling 100, when they step into there like it’s, you know i just i try to just sit back and Enjoy the fights i really don’t like to call them the uh. The other thing i built my platform on was uh making match-ups. So after a fight i’d, say this person should fight this person. That being said, is there an opponent that one day whether they’re currently active, whether they’re retired, that you look at and say you know what before all is said and done? I would love to match up against this person, whether it’s to test your skills, whether it’s someone you dislike to somebody that you’d uh ideally wish you could compete against uh again, i’m probably gon na give the most generic fighter answer ever but, like i will fight Anybody in the division um in my eyes, i wan na obviously fight the best girls out there, so yeah i’ll fight them all, eventually, hopefully, but um yeah, there’s no one, no one in particular likes it, like you, said about um. Obviously the reasons people want to fight like i don’t have anything personally to dislike anybody um. You know i’m not that sort of person, i’m not a fighter that needs to dislike my opponent in order to fight uh. I simply want to get in there and fight the best girls available and test my skills and show everybody that i mean it. When i say i want to be the best in the world, so you know give it a few years and whoever’s number one i’ll i’ll have them all right. I, like it uh last question, non-mma related um, i mean during the pandemic. A lot of people really were able to discover things that they liked about themselves and and and sort of things that they uh, that you know hobbies that they may not have found. Otherwise. Mine, for example, was this podcast? Is there anything that you uh do in your free time that uh to help keep your mind occupied and what sorts of things were you doing throughout the pandemic? Um i mean i was still training three times a day through the pandemic, but obviously i am very fortunate to live that, like pro fighter lifestyle, so i train three times a day and then in between that i tend to have like either i like to read: Um, i’m currently like four books, deep into the game of thrones series, um and i like to paint and draw so i’ve actually just made an instagram so for my paintings, um that i’m gon na be start posting some stuff on there for um yeah. So, just a bit of a nerd really just painting, drawing and reading. I love that about fighters like they’re cage fighters, absolute monsters inside the cage, but then they always always something on the side, whether it’s video games or painting, you know they’re, all normal. Surprisingly yeah. I was, i was just getting mocked down there because, like obviously, i had half an hour before this, so i pulled out my pencil case and i was just doing some like doing some doodles and stuff and everyone’s like you, look like a child, but uh yeah Carry around some nice always carry around sketch pad and some pencils and that’s kind of what i do in between all right. Thank you very much for the time. Um, all the best um, i think it’s november is november 14th right, yeah, yep. So all the best and uh – hopefully we can do this again, sometime yeah. Thank you very much. Thanks for having me all right, stay safe,

Sergio Pineiro

Sergio Pineiro is the Founder of FighterPath.com and host of the Quarantinecast podcast. Based in Canada he is both a sports journalist and MMA enthusiast. He practices the sport but has a passion for the individual stories of training, fighting and living the fighting lifestyle.

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