Rose Namajunas snagging the title from Joanna Jedrzejczyk late last year opened the door for a crop of new strawweight contenders to emerge. Being ranked somewhere in the top ten may be more significant now than in the past three years.
Cortney Casey and Angela Hill will square off this Saturday at the Pinnacle Bank Arena to state their claim as a possible contender and an almost assured spot in the top ten at 115 pounds.
The UFC sees something valuable about this matchup as well as they seated it in the FS1 main card, at third from the Justin Gaethje/James Vick headliner. The other female fight slated on the Fight Night card, Joanne Calderwood vs. Kalindra Faria takes place in the nascent flyweight division and is a legitimate contender for a Fight of the Night bonus. Nevertheless, a little order needs to be brought into division and this matchup is fitting seeing as both women seek some consistency in their recent bouts and atonement for their early UFC runs.
Mixed martial arts is supposed to be an example of how knowledge and technique can beat size and strength. In the real world that notion can play well, and sometimes that holds true even in the cage, that does not apply to Cortney Casey’s opponents.
Casey isn’t a one punch knockout artist or an intimidating physical specimen but her style is very physical in every sense of the term. There’s times where she likes to push forward, there’s times when she’ll lay back and look for counters but whether it is passive or aggressive she always throws with ruthless intent.
Her performance against Jessica Aguilar last year showed just how brutal her striking can be when she is on point. Against smaller opponents like Michelle Waterson every strike she landed on the “Karate Hottie” was noticeably impactful. Angela Hill has a strong, athletic build but is the same height as Casey’s previous opponent Waterson. Hill has had trouble with larger opponents like Nina Ansaroff and similarly with physical opponents like Jessica Andrade.
Another aspect of Casey’s size that is problematic for her opponents is her durability. Being one of the largest strawweights comes with the advantage of having a higher threshold for absorbing strikes, it’s rare to see Casey staggered and has yet to suffer a TKO or KO in her fight career.
Early on in Cortney Casey’s UFC tenure she was well-known for her inevitable gassing after the midway point of the fight, something happened after her loss to Claudia Gadelha where her stamina was no longer an issue. Additionally, her cardio is now a strong suit of her overall game.
Angela Hill is fit and has gone five rounds twice in her Invicta FC title fights, the fact that she’d be at a cardio disadvantage against almost anybody is rather baffling but Hill has shown a downshift in some of her recent fights, especially in the second round. Hill is usually able to pick the pace back up in the third but Casey keeps a constant pace. The fact that the bout is scheduled for three rounds is only of benefit to “Cast Iron.”
Angela Hill had a background in Muay Thai prior to her entry to MMA and has always kept her eight limbs sharp in the cage. In her initial Octagon run, Hill was tossed to some formidable competition and was cut for her two unimpressive losses to Tecia Torres and Rose Namajunas. It was her lack of grappling knowledge that led to her demise but her Invicta FC stint saw her vastly improve her grappling chops.
Alliance MMA has coached Hill well and one of the best aspects of her new game is that she never veered from her fundamentals. Striking is Hill’s bread and butter and though she rounded out her skill set, she never tried to become a submission or takedown artist.
Cortney Casey hits hard and isn’t afraid to exchange but she is not as fluid or knowledgeable as Hill is on the feet. Hill uses angles, is fleet of foot and can coral opponents into strikes. One weapon that Hill is great at utilizing is her leg kicks. Against the heavy-footed Casey, leg kicks can pay major dividends. Hill can pack some horsepower behind her punches too. Her knockouts of Alida Gray and Stephanie Eggink in Invicta proves how dangerous she can be.
The pace in this fight should be stellar and Casey’s cardio advantage might be negated by Hill’s speed. According to UFC.com, Hill lands over five significant strikes a minute as opposed to Casey’s four. Beating Casey to the punch will be imperative for victory but the speed advantage also aids her defensively. Hill’s use of angles makes her much more defensively sound than Casey but her light feet also allow her to avoid many strikes as she can dart in and out faster than most.
Distance management is also an aspect that will aid in her speed. Hill knows where to be to land effectively without leaving herself too open. The reach disadvantage can be a moot point with Hill’s speed as she can cover distance much better than Casey.
Hill can be pretty quick on the counter too, not just with counterstrikes but countergrappling as well. In her fight against Nina Ansaroff, Hill had a hairpin trigger counter to Ansaroff’s spinning back kick, quickly grabbing a hold of her waist on the spin. On the rare occasion that Hill has been taken down in recent fights she has usually been quick to get back on her feet showing her understanding of momentum and knowledge of her in-cage position.
Expect the overwhelming majority of this fight to take place on the feet in the center of the Octagon. Both women can grapple but rarely make an effort to use their ground skills. Moreover, the fact that they are both more effective on their back than on top, the grappling exchanges seem all the more minimal and unlikely.
Casey will be tough and will have her moments, especially at the midpoint of the fight but savvy and athleticism should prevail. Casey has shown a tendency to fall asleep at the wheel lately and that doesn’t bode well against an aware and opportunistic Hill. The stationary stance of Casey in combination with her non-existent defense on the attack formulates a fight that can be close and exciting but lacking in Casey’s odds of a win. Athleticism will be the attribute that can prove most intriguing but the discrepancy in fight IQ lies on Hill’s favor and that is a deficit that will prove too hard to overcome for the Hawaiian.
Angela Hill outpoints Cortney Casey in a 29-28 decision.