Rising women’s Flyweight prospect Casey O’Neill (9-0, 4-0 UFC) has turned in an incredible performance to defeat the retiring Roxanne Modafferi (25-21, 4-8 UFC) by split decision (29-28 x2, 28-29) at UFC 271.
The Scottish born Australian was relentless in pursuit of victory, setting the record for most significant strikes thrown in the division’s short history with 158. More importantly, she records her fourth win in the promotion since signing in 2021 and continues her climb to title contendership.
The bout was far from one way traffic, though. Modafferi’s awkward style created problems for O’Neill early, a peppering jab in particular hitting it’s mark repeatedly.
As the first round drew on however, the fighter known as ‘King’ began to find her timing, landing her own jabs with a straight right behind them. O’Neill also made good use of the low kick to disrupt the rhythm of Modafferi’s forward movement.
Ultimately, it was clear that the striking and power advantage sat with the 24 year old, but the eye test would suggest otherwise at the close of the round. While Modafferi made her way to the stool looking tired, O’Neill’s bloody nose and swollen left eye ensured the cut man had a busy break.
The second round continued in a similar trend. With both fighters content to stand and trade punches, O’Neill increased her volume and began controlling exchanges. Even with a Modaferri level change into a takedown to end the period, it was clear that her much younger foe was leading the dance.
In fact it could be argued that O’Neill was in flow state, throwing lead high kicks behind one-two punch combinations. Evidence of her willingness to continue exchanging at whatever cost, was embodied by two loud battle cries as the stanza came to a close.
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Now battered and bruised herself, the 39 year old Modaferri entered the final round of her career fuelled by the same fighting spirit that has defined her 50 bout career.
Willing herself into the contest, the veteran had greater success as O’Neill waned ever so slightly in volume. As she mixed in her noted grappling skills, Modaferri used the Thai clinch effectively, landing knees to the midsection.
A late takedown even threatened to be an opening to a last minute comeback and the perfect end to a storied career. O’Neill had other ideas, remaining composed to return to the feet and finish the fight standing.
Having turned in an amazing fight, both women embraced in the middle of the cage. In a sign of ultimate respect, each fighter dropped to their knees and bowed.
The crowd was far from receptive, on the other hand. Their initial ovation turned to booing as O’Neill’s name was announced the winner.
Understandably taking exception, the fired up Australian had no problem clapping back.
“Stop booing me. It’s her retirement fight and it takes two to tango. If you want me to be a bad guy, then f*** you, I’ll be a bad guy,” O’Neill said in her post-fight interview with Daniel Cormier.
“I had a war with her. She deserves every good thing out of this sport.”
When asked about what her next career move might be, O’Neill made it clear that she is open to anything.
“Let’s get back in on another pay-per-view as soon as I can. Whoever they want to put me in with I’m good with,” she concluded.
On the other side of the equation, Modafferi bowed out of the sport with grace and class. Having been a pioneer of women’s mixed martial arts since her debut in 2003, ‘The Happy Warrior’ has fought all comers in almost every major promotion in the world.
Her final in-cage statement, a testament to her commitment to and respect for the craft.
“I gave everything that I had. It’s time for me to pass the torch on to the next generation,” she said.
“Even if you don’t win every time you can still have a good time doing it.”
O’Neill’s triumph is the second win for an Australian fighter on the UFC 271 card. Earlier, Jacob Malkoun willed his way to a unanimous decision victory over AJ Dobson.
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