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It’s been 14 months since we last saw the undefeated Nadia Kassem strut her stuff in the Octagon. After putting together four first-round stoppages together on the regional scene, the Wentworthville native debuted on the UFC Fight Night 121 card in her backyard of Sydney, earning a decision victory over fellow local Alex Chambers. After that, the 5-0 prospect was expected to appear at UFC Fight Night 132 in Singapore, but injuries put her on the shelf for another seven months.
Speaking to Sherdog.com at the UFC 234 media day, Kassem shared her excitement about getting back into the cage, her thoughts her opponent, No.14-ranked flyweight Montana De La Rosa, and fighting on a UFC pay-per-view main card.
“I’m so hype to fight this weekend,” she said. “It’s been a long layoff, and this weekend is going be a cracker! It’s going to be different, Montana is a great fighter, I respect her, but of course I’m here to fight. I’m here to put on a good show and bring some blood.”
As to how she’s been spending her time during her hiatus, Kassem has taken to coaching -- an experience she credits with sharpening her game.
“[The time off has] been stressful of course,” Kassem admitted. “Because fighting’s my career. In the time I had the layoff I had to pick up coaching. I’ve been coaching since June last year at the UFC gym. I love [it], coaching implements those skills into your brain because it’s so repetitive.
“At UFC gym I’m coaching MMA, boxing and jiu-jitsu,” she elaborated. “It’s different. It’s with youth and the kids, which I enjoy. It’s my part-time job. I don’t really do anything else. It has been hard to mix up the training and the coaching, because it’s the same hours. So I have to try to lessen [coaching]. I don’t really coach too much, maybe 10 hours a week.”
Kassem’s scrap with De La Rosa -- just her second bout under the UFC banner -- will take place on the pay-per-view portion of the blockbuster UFC 234 card this weekend. Whilst “187” is embracing the spotlight, she admits to being surprised to have such a significant platform this early in her career.
“It means a lot to be fighting on UFC 234,” she said. “Pay-per-view, main card. I didn’t expect that -- I was happy to be on the card, on the prelims. When I got bumped up to pay-per-view, I was like ‘Ok, Mad’. Any exposure’s good exposure. I’m embracing it, just going along with it.
“There’s been a little bit more [media] but it’s similar [to the UFC Sydney card]” she said when asked to compare this fight week to her last. “If anything I’ve gained a little bit more confidence. I’m not the greatest talking on camera… but I’m trying to learn.”
If Kassem can steal a victory on the weekend -- she's currently a two-to-one underdog on most betting sites -- she'll likely find herself ranked in the 125-pound weight class. It’s a possibility that excites the 23-year old, but she’s trying not to get ahead of herself.
“It’s possible to be put up there in the top 15 if I do get the win,” she said. “I don’t really mind who the opponent is. Of course I’m taking it fight-by-fight, so I’m not overlooking [anyone]. I won’t get ahead of myself. It’s crazy to be up in those rankings so quick. You know, people work their ass off for this, so I’m sure there are people burning about it. But I work just as hard too.”
As for how she assesses De La Rosa’s skillset, Kassem is quietly confident. And if she does what she expects -- put on another dominant performance -- she's eyeing off the UFC’s resident media darling, Paige VanZant.
“She’s quick, she’s long,” Kassem said of her dance partner. “I don’t really know what she thinks she can do to me. I’m sure she thinks she’s going to take me down and cut me up. But I’m good on the ground too, as you saw last time.”
“One fight at a time,” she continued. “But Paige just beat Rachael [Ostovich]. I beat Alex and Paige beat Alex. It’s kind of matching up now, we were both at strawweight and now at flyweight, so we should be similar weights, and our styles are really similar, with our kicks and stuff. That would be a cool [fight].”