For the first time, UFC strawweight Kay Hansen feels ready to open up publicly about some of the challenges she has overcome. In an exclusive interview with Bloody Elbow, Hansen discussed what it was like leaving a toxic environment, rebuilding her team, and shared her thoughts about her upcoming fight against Cory McKenna at UFC VEGAS 14: ‘RDA VS FELDER’ on Saturday, November 14th at the UFC APEX.
Hansen describes her childhood as unstable and filled with pressure put on by her family. She was raised by mother, alone, until she was seven. That’s when she met her father for the first time. After this her mother began working full-time while her father became a stay-at-home dad.
As a young student Hansen blossomed with high grades and elite-level potential in sports, namely softball.
“I grew up with a 4.3 GPA or above and had aspirations to play college softball at any Ivy League school,” Hanson shared. “I started playing when I was ten and I played competitive travel softball until I was 16 years old. My dad was very hard on me early on and I felt like I was treated as a mini pro athlete at age ten. That is no exaggeration.”
When she was 16 Hansen’s parents separated. She recalls the experience as being “pretty traumatizing”.
“I left with my father,” she said. “I found martial arts at that time and I fell in love and dove deep into it immediately. I dropped out of high school around the same time because I wanted to be the UFC champion.”
Early on in Hansen’s MMA career, her development as an athlete was heavily influenced by her father. It’s only now that Hansen is able to reflect back on this and see the damage it caused.
“I think the biggest negative impact was during training he would watch, and I could win 4:40 minutes of a sparring round and lose 20 seconds and I knew I’d get chewed out on the way home.
“It made me fear failure and fear making mistakes and it translated to my fighting. Ever since I’ve removed that, I’ve noticed I regained a love and passion for everything I do. Being a perfectionist is cool, but it’s dangerous as well. I’ve been trying to find the balance of this in my career, but I also do this because I love it.”
The impact Hansen’s father had on her life extended far beyond causing her some distress when it came to her training. Hansen said the ‘manipulating and toxic environment’, as she previously described it on social media, ended up costing her professional relationships.
Hansen said her father had complete access to all of her social media accounts and would send messages to people under the guise of Hansen’s profile. Hansen said she has worked hard to mend these formerly burned bridges.
“My father was controlling and extremely manipulative,” she explained. “Especially as time went on after my parents split and it was only him and I. He was logged into my social media accounts and would message promoters, coaches and sponsors as me. There were multiple coach relationships that were ruined due to this that I had to go fix, once I removed myself from the situation.”
Believing both her long-term happiness and professional opportunities were at risk due to her father’s actions and extreme involvement in her affairs, Hansen made the difficult decision to cut him out of her life. This involved moving out of his home. Helping her throughout that process was her mother.
“I cut it, cold turkey,” she said referring to her relationship with her father. “I had tried to remove myself multiple times, but it wasn’t possible. Once I realized how bad it was getting, I reached out to my mom and she helped me with everything. She is definitely at the core of my support system. I don’t know what I’d do without her.”
Since then things have only gotten better for Hansen.
“I’m the happiest I’ve ever been. I’m finally my own person, making my own decisions, living on my own, it’s kind of weird for me. But it’s the most amazing thing, and I’m so thankful to do what I love.”
Hansen was previously attending therapy but recently stopped. She said she is still healing from the controlling and damaging presence of her father and with the freedom she now has she is able to take control of her recovery process.
“I felt like it wasn’t doing much for me personally,” she said. “I’m really self aware and I’ve been trying to heal myself. I’m doing things how I want it. I know that sounds like ‘duh’ but I literally had zero control over any aspect of my life from 10-19 years old so it’s amazing now, for me and for my support system. I just want to make those who support me proud, that is my only goal.”
Hansen does have a word of advice for those who may be facing a similar situation as she did:
“Get out. I know it’s scary but do not hesitate to do what’s best for you. Just because someone is family or blood, doesn’t mean you should sacrifice your safety and mental health.”
Now, Hansen finds herself in a much better place with her improved independence and autonomy. With a sense of self-reliance, she has developed some amazing relationships with coaches and training partners that she hopes to bring into her upcoming fight against fellow prospect, Cory McKenna (5-1) at UFC Vegas 14.
“This fight coming up will be the first time I feel like I have a legit team in my corner, and it’s an amazing feeling,” revealed Hansen.
After her UFC debut in June, where she beat former Invicta atomweight champion Jinh Yu Frey, Hansen began working with Classic Fight Time in Fountain Valley, CA and 10th Planet Fullerton.
“Since my debut was so short notice, I didn’t really get a camp. And to be honest most fights in my career have been fairly short notice. So this fight coming up will be my first legit camp of my career and it’s been amazing. I feel like I have the perfect fit for my camp and corners for the first time in my career.”
Even though Hansen is in her early twenties, there have already been some big moments in her career, spanning her 9-fight run with Invicta FC.
“I feel like I’m a veteran and an up and comer at the same time,” the 21-year-old said. “My whole career I have tried to just take any opportunity I can and if I don’t have one in front of me I try to create one.
“My second fight of my pro career I lost and got bloodied super bad. And for me that fight was very important. It humbled me and changed my way of thinking. I’ll be honest and say that after that fight I kind of ended up in a dark place, but it also had to do with my life outside of fighting. But it taught me how to rise early on in my career.
“Another important moment was when I arm-barred Sharon Jacobson in the last few seconds of that fight,” Hansen shared. “I was coming off a loss to Erin Blanchfield and begged Shannon Knapp to let me step in and fight Sharon Jacobson last minute when her opponent pulled out. I got absolutely rag dolled for 14 minutes and 30 seconds. Then I pulled off a sub. Just another lesson to keep on pressing no matter what.”
Hansen hopes to apply that ‘keep on pressing’ mantra to her career and hopes that this approach will lead to gold in what is one of the UFC’s more competitive divisions.
“The ultimate goal is the belt, but I don’t just want to be any champion. I want people to want to watch me. I want to be a champion but have the respect of fighters like Cowboy Cerrone or Justin Gaethje. I want to be known for being game no matter what. The strawweight division is stacked. I’m going to take things one fight at a time and work my way up the chain.”