It’s a long way from Cwmbran to Sacramento, California, but Cory McKenna has made it in more ways than one. The mixed martial arts fighter has become the first Welsh woman to earn a contract in the lucrative and sometimes brutal world of UFC, but tells Chris Saunders this is just the beginning of her journey.
Strap yourself in, because MMA starlet Cory ‘The Hobbit’ McKenna has just announced herself on the big stage.
After starting her MMA career at the tender age of 15, the Cwmbran product built up an undefeated amateur record.
She held championship belts in two different weight classes before turning professional three years later and powered her way to four wins from five.
And then came the highlight of her career so far, when a dominant win over the highly-rated Vanessa Demopoulos on Dana White’s Contender Series – which matches hopefuls from across the globe and provides a gateway into the UFC – earned her a contract with the biggest MMA promotion in the world.
In doing so, she became the youngest Brit in the organisation and also the first Welsh female to ever grace the famed Octagon.
She is certainly a trailblazer, but perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised that the Hobbit now has the world at her feet. Her mother already predicted it.
“The first UFC event I went to was back in 2013,” she says. “I was only 14 at the time.
“My mother saw [UFC President] Dana White sitting there, went over, and told him he’d be signing me in five years.
“I’m 21 now, so she was two years out. But we struggled a bit with match-ups and I had an 18-month lay-off, so if you take all that into consideration she was smack on!”
Even in her early teens, McKenna was making waves and impressing all the right people, quickly becoming one of the hottest prospects in European MMA.
She wasted no time aligning herself with some of the best in the business, giving coach and manager Jack ‘Stone’ Mason a lot of credit, as well as UFC legend Uriah Faber at California-based Team Alpha Male.
“Urijah sort of took me under his wing,” Cory says. “He sings my praises at every opportunity.
“That’s how my shot on the Contender series came about. At a recent Fight Island event, there were a lot of meetings and Urijah told the UFC that I was ready and waiting for an opportunity.
“Initially, there were a few concerns because some people thought I was a bit too young and I might not be able to cope with the pressure, but I think my performance against Vanessa Demopoulos proved a lot of doubters wrong.
“When I had the prize in my sights, there was no way I was going to lose.”
After the fight, Dana White said of Cory, “She’s sweet. But when she gets in there, she’s a killer and I love that about her.”
High praise, indeed, from a man who has seen everything.
The Hobbit now joins a UFC roster now bursting with Welsh talent in the shape of Brett Johns, John Phillips, Jack Marshman and Jack Shore, who just shot up the rankings with an impressive submission win over Aaron Phillips.
“There’s certainly a lot of Welsh talent coming through right now but us five are just the tip of the iceberg,” Cory says.
Extremely grateful for the opportunity to put time in on the mats @TeamAlphaMale; living my best life 💙#Repost @holdsworthmma (@get_repost)
Over 50 people tonight in my Monday Night #nogi class. Classes are… https://t.co/KeOp1vcNLL
— Cory McKenna (@CoryMcKenna99) August 18, 2020
“The amateur MMA ranks are especially strong in Wales, and there are a couple of other good prospects in Cage Warriors at the moment.
“I don’t know what it is about the Welsh that makes us such good athletes. I think it’s down to pure work ethic and a never-say-die attitude.
“We don’t ask anyone for any favours, and when the going gets tough we dig in and grind out a result.
“We must be doing something right, because it appears we might be heading for a spell of Welsh dominance in the UFC!”
Cory is someone who certainly knows how to grind it out.
“I train three times a day, six days a week, and on a Sunday I’ll just go for a run or do some pad work,” she says.
“I often get introduced as a power lifter, which isn’t strictly true. I’ve been lifting since I was 15, but it’s always been supplementary to my MMA.
“That’s always been my first love. For my 18th birthday, my present was a training camp!”
“Even our family holidays have always been centred around MMA. We’d go out to America, visit different gyms and train with different people, picking up different skills and techniques along the way.
“I’ve always believed you have to travel, and push yourself outside your comfort zone in order to get experience and make yourself more rounded.
“That’s how I met Urijah. Stylistically, I found Team Alpha Male was the best fit for me. It’s a huge confidence boost to have someone like him in my corner.
“He’s been there and done everything in the sport, and I’m so grateful he sees something in me. Sometimes, you need someone to push you so you can be the best you can be.”
Cory McKenna is so cute omfg
— Tired Platypus ™ ✊🏽✊🏾✊🏿 (@chelsieomfg) August 12, 2020
“That said, I believe there are some aspects of MMA that can’t be taught. At the end of the day it’s about heart and desire.
“You have to want to get in there, and be willing to push yourself to the limit every day.
“I love everything about it, right down to the weigh-ins and the dreaded weight-cut. You have to find your passion in life, give it 100% and above all, enjoy what you do.
“Get stuck in and get it done. If you don’t succeed the first time, so what? At least you tried.
“You’ll always regret the things you didn’t do.
“If I can walk into an adult gym as a 40 kg, 13-year old girl and a few years later see my dreams come true, anyone can do it.”
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