The women’s flyweight division was a whole new ballgame as of March 2023, with Valentina Shevchenko dethroned by Alexa Grasso at UFC 285.
Two weeks, one event, and one PPV later, UFC 286 arrived on March 18, offering “King” Casey O’Neill the opportunity to jump into an increasingly crowded title picture, should she capture the win over ex-title challenger Jennifer Maia. O’Neill had been undefeated throughout her nine-fight career coming into the night.
Along with O’Neill, fresh faces like Manon Fiorot and Erin Blanchfield ensured that there would be no shortage of challengers whenever the expected rematch between Grasso and Shevchenko played out.
Early on in Saturday’s main card contest, it was Casey O’Neill showing improved stand-up, holding her own in the boxing department against Maia. Her right hand caught the Brazilian more than once, as Maia stayed mobile, utilizing plenty of lateral movement on the outside. Maia worked her jab, with the first half of the round playing out in this fashion. The second half had O’Neill continuing to push, while Maia added a high kick to her arsenal.
The pair traded to the buzzer, with the crowd’s intensity increasing as time wound down — despite two rounds remaining.
In the second, O’Neill continued to pour on the pressure — but her single strikes were being answered with combinations by Maia. As the round wore on, O’Neill did find success with her left hand, and saw an uptick in her volume. She was holding her own on the feet, if being somewhat edged in volume — the threat of a takedown, meanwhile, simply wasn’t present.
It was still anyone’s fight heading into the third, to march out a tired cliche. O’Neill continued to walk forward, but she was showing some damage for her efforts, her noise bloodied. Maia’s right hand was on point, and her movement had not slowed. O’Neill, meanwhile, was perhaps just a tad flat-footed. She was far from out of the fight , however, still capable of turning up the heat, and began to get the better of the exchanges as the round wore on. The pair finished the third by clinching against the fence in the final minute, looking for the first takedown of the fight. After some back-and-forth they stayed standing, O’Neill finishing on the offensive.
3️⃣ rounds in the books! #UFC286 pic.twitter.com/VPQM96zZqT
— UFC (@ufc) March 18, 2023
While O’Neill showed some improvement, the move up in competition proved a little too much for her, as she absorbed her first loss with all three judges scoring the fight for Maia.
Official Result: Jennifer Maia def. Casey O’Neill by unanimous decision (30-27, 29-28, 29-28)