McMann: From wrestling to pregnancy to BJJ to MMA
This is number thirty-two in Jack Brown’s series of interviews with MMA fighters and personalities, and for this particular interview, we’re pleased to feature former Olympian and UFC women’s bantamweight, Sara McMann. McMann won the silver medal in her division in wrestling at the 2004 Olympics in Athens and she has medaled in wrestling at numerous other world championships. As an MMA fighter, she is undefeated 6-0, with her most recent win coming against Shayna Baszler, in the main event of Invicta FC 2 last July. She is scheduled to make her UFC debut later this month, against Sheila Gaff, at UFC 159. Please enjoy the conversation below.
Jack Brown: You are well known for your accomplishments in wrestling. How were you first introduced to the sport and why was it such a good fit for you when you were young?
Sara: McMann: I started wrestling when I was in the ninth grade, but I was introduced to wrestling when I was three years old because my older brother started when he was six. It was a great fit for me because the practices were extremely hard and no two practices were alike.
JB: You’ve medaled in wrestling championships numerous times, including your silver medal at the 2004 Olympics. What was your most satisfying accomplishment in the sport?
SM: My most satisfying accomplishment was a tournament in 2003. I had just come home from competing in Russia, and I was sick, but I beat four different world medalists to win the tournament. This was before I had ever medaled at Worlds, so I believe it was a pivotal tournament for me.
JB: What led to your transition to MMA and what do you recall about your debut?
SM: I had decided to retire from wrestling and wanted to be a mother. While I was pregnant, I learned that I was not finished being a competitor and decided to try BJJ. One of the wrestlers told me to try MMA too because he thought I would enjoy it. Once I started striking, I totally fell in love with it, and it’s been a love/hate relationship ever since :-). The only thing I really remember from my debut was how unnaturally calm I felt before the fight and that getting hit didn’t hurt as much as it did in practice because of my adrenaline.
JB: Your last fight was the main event of Invicta FC 2. What was your experience like with the WMMA promotion and how was it to be headlining their event?
SM: Shannon Knapp and Janet Martin run an excellent show. They are professional and down to earth at the same time. It is apparent that the needs of the fighters are a high priority for them. Everyone is treated fairly and every fight is important to them. It was an honor to headline the event. My only complaint was that I didn’t really get to watch the rest of the fights because I love watching them! It was a good problem to have.
JB: You are undefeated with a record of 6-0. Which fight was your best performance thus far and why?
SM: I’d say that my best performance so far was against Raquel Pa’aluhi. I had to use the most of my variety of skills, and she was an extremely tough individual, so it was an action-packed fight.
JB: Where have you been training, and how do you think you have evolved as a fighter?
SM: I train primarily at Revolution MMA and at Limestone College wrestling. I also like to make a lot of trips to New York to train with Marcelo Garcia and Zach Makovsky. We drive up to Montreal to train at Tristar too.
JB: You are scheduled to make your UFC debut in April, at UFC 159, against Sheila Gaff. What do you think of your opponent and the women’s 135lb division in the UFC, in general?
SM: Sheila Gaff is a fighter who likes to set a high pace and overwhelm her opponents with strikes. I think that the 135lb division is the deepest weight class in WMMA. Strikeforce and the UFC invested heavily in the weight class and fighters have funneled into that division.
JB: In addition to all your athletic accomplishments, you are well educated and seem to have a number of interests outside of sports. What interests you beyond fighting at the moment and what do you hope to be more involved with in the future?
SM: I am very involved with my four year old daughter. Being a mother is the most rewarding experience of my life, by far. I also hope to use my master’s degree in mental health counseling to help young kids overcome the obstacles that this world poses.
JB: You’ve accomplished so much in your young life and dealt with incredible adversity. Who and what have given you the support and inspiration that you have needed to be successful?
SM: My friends have been a tremendous gift to me through all of my struggles. They are very intelligent, compassionate, and admirable people who have been beside me through the highest highs and lowest lows.
JB: Last question, Sara, and thanks for taking the time to do this. What does it mean to you to be a fighter and how much do you enjoy it?
SM: For me, fighting is a passion. I don’t live my life for money or fame. I love the challenge and the battle. When it is all finished, I just want to give all of my talents and hard work in the ring to the best of my ability.
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