Cast Iron

Courtney Casey, who trains at The MMA Lab, will battle at the UFC on ESPN card February 17 at Talking Stick Arena.

Local UFC fighter Cortney “Cast Iron” Casey was slated to fight in January, but after a cancellation, she is focused on battling No. 12 Cynthia Calvillo Sunday, February 17, at Talking Stick Resort Arena.

“Having the fight pushed back actually gave me more time to relax and enjoy the holidays with my family,” Casey said during an interview at her training home, The MMA Lab.

Casey, 31, was a four-year soccer starter at Red Mountain High School in Northeast Mesa before earning a scholarship to play Division I soccer at the University of Texas at El Paso. After her playing career was cut short, due to an injury, she began training MMA in 2009. She’s returning to Arizona for the second time as a member of the UFC.

“I am so excited to get back in the ring here in Arizona,” Casey said. “My friends and family have always supported me, but it is always more special to fight in front of your home town.”

Ranked No. 11 at strawweight (106 to 115 lbs.), Casey will face No. 12 ranked Cynthia Calvillo at the first ESPN Fight Night on February 17.

“I’m expecting a great fight,” Casey said. “She is an up and comer, is ranked pretty high, and she is a very well-rounded fighter. Stylistically, wherever the fight goes, it should be really good.”

Casey has battled some of the top fighters in women’s MMA with losses to top 15 UFC fighters Claudia Gadelha, Michelle Waterson and Felice Herrig and a win over Randa Markos.

Casey is 8-6 as a professional, 4-5 in the UFC, and is known as the queen of the short-term fight. Many people say Casey may be the division’s best fighter.

“She is just one of the most consistent fighters we have here (at The MMA Lab),” head coach John Crouch said. “She has gone to split decision with some of the top fighters in MMA and while they are losses, she really has not fought a bad fight.”

She said she lost three of her past five fights by decision, but answered the tough questions without hesitation.

“It doesn’t discourage me at all, and I train the same way and I always try to finish the fight and sometimes it doesn’t happen that way and judges see it differently,” Casey said. “I always go out to finish fights, that is what I do.”

Casey is quick to say she believes she will one day be champion, but her past few fights have not translated to wins, with the losses to Waterson and Herrig particularly stinging her.

“I go into a fight to finish the fight, and my last few fights have shown why because judges seem to see things different,” Casey said. “Against (Waterson) I was defending on my back, but the judges didn’t see it that way, but no matter how many people after the fight tell me I should have won, it is still a loss on my record.”

A few days away from the fight, Casey said her weight cut has been fairly easy and she hasn’t missed a weight. Calvillo has missed weight in the past, but Casey is not worried about it.

“I’m not too concerned about it,” Casey said. “It’s always in the back of your mind, but I’m going to fight no matter what. We will figure it out if it comes to that, but I know she is making adjustments to make sure that doesn’t happen again. I have never missed weight, knock on wood.”

Crouch added Casey has been working hard on defending the takedown.

“She has been working on defense and her foot work,” Crouch said. “She is consistent and just really making little adjustments and trying to be even more consistent.”

As she prepares to return to the octagon, she also is focused on her future.

“I would like to fight two more times this year, but if I can get three, that would be ideal,” Casey said. “I also would like a rematch with Waterson and Herrig, but I don’t see that happening. I would like anyone in the top 10. I have asked for (No. 9 Carla) Esparza or (No. 7 Tecia) Torres and would also love to fight (No. 3 Nina) Ansaroff. I am great friends with (Ansaroff), but would love to step in the cage with her.”

As they prepare for the first UFC on ESPN, Casey said she is focused on showing what she can do.

“To be on ESPN, that’s like a kid’s dream,” Casey said. “The fact that it’s in Phoenix makes it even better and this is my next step on becoming UFC champion.”

Crouch was quick to second her prediction, “I honestly think she can be the champion of the (Strawweight) division and can compete with anyone in the UFC.”