"There's a lot of anger in this tiny little body."

Despite having 10 years of experience under her belt, Cory McKenna's used to being underestimated.

The 24-year-old strawweight is set to make her long-awaited return to UFC this weekend, taking on Jaqueline Amorim in Las Vegas - a fight that's been nearly two years in the making.

After becoming the first Welsh woman to break though into the UFC four years ago, she's become one of the sport's most respected young talents. And yet, incredibly, her day job clearly still raises eyebrows.

Cory's five foot two frame and baby-faced exterior admittedly doesn't fit the conventional mould of an MMA fighter and, some argue, also doesn't marry up with the blood-thirsty ferociousness involved on fight night. The resulting comments she receives on social media, even to this day, clearly come as a bit of a frustration in the context of her impressive 8-2-0 record, although she does her best to try and see the funny side.

"The comments don't bother me," she tells WalesOnline after briefly rolling here eyes. "I'm honestly one of those people that just likes to laugh at them. I got one yesterday when I was at the airport.

"Someone said 'I don't understand why your reach is so short, you should have been training gymnastics'. So I read stuff like that and laugh at it.

"At this point it's just entertaining.

"I fight in a rash-guard too. People give me grief about that, but frankly if you're watching fights to see women in their sports bras you're watching for the wrong reasons.

"I just feel people are very opinionated. It doesn't bug me because I'm the one that's out there doing it. But I definitely get that a lot. People saying I don't look like a fighter, or that I look too young or girly. Everyone seems to have an opinion about me, but I've been fighting for 10 years and clearly I'm here to stay."

Cory McKenna in UFC action
Cory McKenna in UFC action

McKenna's convictions were strong enough for her to make the move to over to Sacramento in 2020 to realise her UFC dream, where she trains at the world famous Team Alpha Male gym.

Despite admitting she's "not really a city girl", Cory appears to be enjoying Californian life. Outside of MMA she's a keen painter, something she credits as a crucial part of her efforts to decompress from the hectic organised chaos of fight week.

Cory's settled in so well, one can't help but notice she's picked up a bit of an accent.

"I get a lot of grief for that," she laughs. "But I feel like I've always sounded a little bit weird because I grew up in England and Wales, and was between the two. Then when I was 18 I was going out to California every three months so I always just laugh and say I was a mutt."

Born in Cwmbran, Cory spent most of childhood in Colchester due to her father's military career. It was there she started karate as a hobby, before her mother Wendy, also an MMA fighter, helped kickstart a journey that still looks set to take her to the top.

"She was doing karate and I kind of dragged her over to MMA when I started doing all the disciplines," Cory explains looking back on her childhood. "We trained together up until I was about 18. During Covid we trained a little bit, but we hadn't trained for a while and our paths had sort of gone separate ways in that respect.

"But she was pivotal for me growing up as she was my main training partner. So that was great. It allowed me to have a training partner every day, being a smaller woman. That's hard to find, especially in the UK. So it definitely helps having a live-in training partner."

Another key driver in Cory's rise has been her own resilience, which in turn has helped feed the "mean streak" that so often seems to take so many by surprise.

"I feel like it comes down to stubbornness and determination. I'm one of those people that once I've set my mind to something I have to do it. I have to do it."

Cory McKenna poses for a portrait during a UFC photo session
Cory McKenna poses for a portrait during a UFC photo session

But that steeliness, she admits, was thoroughly tested over the last year. After beating Cheyanne Vlismas via unanimous decision in December 2022, several health concerns brought her career to a jolting halt.

"I had a lot of health and sickness issues," she explains. "I went into the last fight sick and basically made it worse. I had three viral infections back-to-back for like four months or so and then had to deal with the long Covid stuff, a couple of injuries. It's just been a rough year.

"I don't know if I got Covid when I was in the hospital. I was there for a stomach virus. I lost 12, 13 pounds overnight. I was under fight weight and it was really rough. Then a few days later I tested positive for Covid, so I don't know if that was a Covid symptom or if I got Covid in the hospital.

"But it's fuel to the fire to come out on Saturday night.

"I've learned the hard way that this sport is brutal and it's unforgiving. Sometimes stuff happens and you just have to roll with it."

Things got so bad that at one stage, Cory feared she might not ever recover.

"I came back from all the problems and then I got injured and it was just a lot of ups and downs. I was having a lot of heart problems after the Covid and I feel like that again was a point where it might be taken out of my hands.

"But I went out and talked to doctors and getting really on top of everything. I made sure I was ticking all my boxes in this camp. My cardio's as good as ever so I was able to dig myself out of that hole. But there was a point where I was worried that it could affect me long-term or even pump the brakes on my career. So I was really glad to get over that hump."

Evidently, while admitting she still has a few goals to tick off in her career, Cory already feels there's nothing left to prove ahead of her highly anticipated comeback.

"I feel like I've taken the pressure off myself a little bit. I've been through a lot. I feel like there were a few moments last year where I feel a lot of people would have quit, and I feel like I've proven everything I've needed to prove to myself. I know I'm tough and I know I've got the heart and motivation to push through anything.

"Saturday's been something I've been looking to for about a year and I'm gonna be fighting for me. I'm not really fighting for anything else, I'm fighting because I want to do it. I don't have to do it, but I want to do it. So my mentality has shifted a little bit and that will help on the night.

"I'm like an old beat up car at this point. I've got so many miles on me but I'm gonna keep on trucking. I'm sure there's many more miles ahead."