Hardcore fight fans are undoubtedly familiar with “King” Kevin Casey (5-2 MMA, 0-0 UFC). After all, he did send out a warning.
It was Casey, of course, who during a two-fight Strikeforce run was best known for his relationship with reality TV star Spencer Pratt, as well as an infamous rap video extolling his own greatness.
But things have changed since then, Casey said.
“For me, it definitely was a humbling experience fighting for Strikeforce and being there, fighting in main events, and then to have to go back to the smaller circuit and start from the bottom, having a tough time getting fights and not being where I was at,” Casey told MMAjunkie.com (www.mmajunkie.com). “At the same time, it definitely made me much more of a hungry athlete. Once I get there again, I’ll definitely know the right things to do and the moves I want to make.”
A Rickson Gracie black belt, Casey is unquestionably a submission ace. After winning three of his first four professional MMA fights, he was invited to headline a May 2010 edition of Strikeforce’s prospects-based “Challengers Series” events. Unfortunately for him, Casey was TKOd by longtime veteran Matt Lindland in the third round of the bout.
Since then, Casey has struggled to remain active, fighting just twice in the past 20 months.
“The most difficult thing is I felt like I was in a situation where for the smaller circuit, I was a little over experienced,” Casey said. “Most of the guys who were fighting on the smaller circuit were looking to build their records up to get noticed from a larger event. At the same time, the smaller events aren’t paying a lot of money, so no one really wants to take a tough fight for $1,500 – myself included. So a lot of guys would accept a fight and then do a little investigation and the next thing I know they’re backing out of fights.
“So within the last two-and-a-half years, I’ve had pretty much two fights where I was able to make a little bit of money and build the record up a little bit. I’m definitely grateful for the opportunity to come to ‘The Ultimate Fighter’ and showcase my talent and be amongst a lot of great fighters. There’s a lot of talent in the house, and to be champion of this tournament would definitely be a great reward for me.”
Casey said those familiar with his game will be pleased to know his aggressive submission game is still on constant display in the cage. However, he said he’s also been working with the famed Black House team and now boasts a more well-rounded attack that should prove beneficial on the reality competition series.
“After my loss to Matt Lindland, I definitely had to reevaluate my training because I felt like there were things in that fight that I could have done to make my jiu-jitsu more effective,” Casey said. “So I’ve been working at Black House under master Rafael Cordeiro, and there are a great group of guys there who come through on a regular basis: Lyoto Machida, Anderson Silva and a lot of tough guys who have really helped me bring myself to a comfortable situation with my striking, and that just makes my ground game even more effective.”
The challenges of the show are well-documented. Athletes are thrown into a pressure-packed tournament but have a chance to earn themselves a UFC deal in the process. When he was main-eventing a Strikeforce card, Casey seemed to well past the need for “TUF” as a ticket to the big time, but now he believes he’s absolutely in the right place at the right time.
“I look at this as a great opportunity to be a part of something that’s not your everyday MMA tournament,” Casey said. “Also. it’s a way at the same time to get the general public to know a little more about you as opposed to just seeing you as a fighter who fights for one night. Most fighters only fight two or three times a year, so this is a great way for me to kind of get across my personality and the other dimensions of Kevin Casey.”
And that’s the part that may rub some fans the wrong way. For better or worse, Casey seems to understand the marketing side of MMA, and he understands it’s important to balance in-cage success with the sport’s seemingly necessary WWE antics outside of it.
But Casey insists that doesn’t mean the persona is necessarily a true representation of his approach to fighting.
“For one, I’m always humble at heart,” Casey said. “When it comes to getting in the ring and putting my life on the line, you’re fighting a fierce defender of everything I represent. When I get into the ring and it becomes time to put my name and my life on the line, I’m a king, and I’m not giving anything away easily.”