Kay Hansen made headlines for all the right reasons this past weekend in her UFC debut, but her time in the spotlight hasn’t been all wine and roses.
Following her third-round submission win over Jinh Yu Frey this past Saturday at UFC on ESPN 12, Hansen’s story had several feel-good hooks: She won on less than one week’s notice, finished the former Invicta FC atomweight champion with an armbar that drew the appreciation of Ronda Rousey, helped a gambler cash in on a five-figure wager, and accomplished those things six weeks shy of her 21st birthday.
Hansen has been one to watch since she started her career with Invicta at the age of 18, though it was more than her potential that had folks talking. On more than one occasion, the Californian showed up on weigh-in day wearing gear with strong political messaging, including a pro-life top and another that showed her support for right-wing provocateur Candace Owens.
With a whole new audience discovering her after the big win in her UFC debut, Hansen’s past came under renewed scrutiny and she directly addressed one person on Twitter who voiced their displeasure at a previous wardrobe choice.
“I was very young and in a manipulating and toxic environment during that time in my life,” Hansen replied. “I was also very young. Views and opinions evolve as well. Take all of this in to account before you jump on a hate train.”
MMA Fighting reached out to Hansen so that she could elaborate on the situation and she said having and broadcasting those kinds of opinions was the result of outside influences, specifically her family. She also pointed to her youth as making her particularly susceptible to manipulation.
“It’s crazy because all those pictures and stuff are from when I was 18,” Hansen said. “I’m not ready to share my story, per se, but in the short sense, like I said, I wasn’t in an environment where I was able to think for myself. I was manipulated and kind of heavily influenced into portraying myself in a certain way. Whether it was for marketing purposes or whatever, I was kind of in an environment and I didn’t know how to get out.
“And I was 18, so I was easily persuaded. It’s just dumb because I’m getting a lot of heat for things that I didn’t even want to do myself at the time. I was literally 18. That’s the hardest part I think about making my debut so young on such a big stage with Invicta. Everyone messes up when they’re 18, but no one sees it. No one gets scrutinized for it because no one knows about your mess-ups when you’re 18, but me it’s like everything is on social media. People are so quick to think they know me and think they know what I believe in and what my views are. Man, I was 18. I’m 20 now. For a little over a year now, I’ve been out of that environment I was referring to. I’ve been able to be my own person and have my own views. I’m not even the same person that I was in those pictures.”
Though Hansen declined to provide further details about the “personal home life” issues that led to the controversial wardrobe choices, she also doesn’t feel the need to justify herself nor share that part of her life until she is ready.
Having been a pro for a couple of years now, she’s accepted that having a public persona means dealing with reactions and input from strangers, both good and bad.
“I moved out a little over a year ago,” Hansen said. “Since then I’ve tried to find a way to be—I’m just figuring out who I am because I was told who to be for so long. One day I’ll come out and tell my story, but it’s still kind of fresh and I’m still figuring out how to move on from it. It was an at-home situation, for sure.
“It just kind of sucks that it was all on a big stage and it’s something I didn’t want to do in the first place. Now it’s coming back and people are like, ‘I hate you.’ Cool, you probably hate me either way, so whatever.”
At 20, Hansen is in a key stage of maturation. Unlike most people her age however, she now has to develop under the public eye, which means also figuring out how she wants to present herself to a fan base that will only grow and become more critical with every fight.
All Hansen knows is that she doesn’t plan to market herself with the kind of controversial messaging she employed in the past and that her three younger sisters are the ones she cares about influencing the most from now on.
“I’ve kind of got a little taste of it,” Hansen said. “My social media’s been blowing up since my fight. It’s kind of made me want to chuck my phone. It’s just too much right now. I don’t know, I’m just gonna do the same thing I’ve been doing. I try to be as genuinely me as possible. If you listen to my post-fight interviews, I’m just trying to be honest. I feel like there’s too many people trying to put on a fake persona, and I did it too when I was 18, but I learned from it. I think people want to see genuineness, so I try to be as raw and honest and genuine as possible. I’m just gonna keep trying to do that.
“I have little sisters and I’ve seen how they’ve reacted to me getting signed to the UFC and winning my UFC debut. Just the impact that I’ve seen on them, it kind of puts into perspective, like, even little girls are going to look up to you. All I can do is be genuinely me and that’s all I’m gonna try to do as best as I can. The last thing people need is another fake persona of someone in the public eye.”