EXCLUSIVE: Sara McMann refutes Daniel Cormier’s critique of fight ‘panic’

After losing to Julianna Pena by submission at UFC 257, eighth-ranked women’s bantamweight Sara McMann understands she has some ground to make up in her jiu-jitsu game. However, she does not agree with UFC commentator Daniel Cormier’s third-round critique about how she handles difficult moments in a fight.

McMann on Cormier: ‘No, not correct in that. I don’t feel panicked’

During the ESPN+ broadcast of UFC 257, the former two-division UFC champion, and ESPN announcer, said he believed the Olympic silver medalist does not handle discomfort well in her fights and even claimed McMann had a look of panic at the start of the final frame.

“I think one of the biggest issues Sara McMann has had over the course of her career is when she becomes uncomfortable. And I believe that Julianna Pena recognized at the end of round two that she was making Sara uncomfortable. She was making her fight in a way she doesn’t want to, and now you can see the panic in the face of Sara McMann, as Julianna Pena gets going.”

Daniel Cormier, During UFC 257 Broadcast

When asked by MixedMartialsArts.com about Cormier’s comments, McMann noted she could never recall a moment in any fight where she felt panic. However, she does admit in some instances fatigue has gotten the better of her.

“No, he’s not correct in that. I don’t feel panicked,” McMann told MixedMartialArts.com. “I don’t know, I can’t really recall in a fight feeling panicked. I’ve felt before the round started, I’m already feeling the fatigue. You know, I came in to some fights where I hadn’t had the training that I needed, I had an injury during the camp and ended up being healthy by the time the fight came around, but I wasn’t able to push my body like I needed to. Then in the fight, I felt it. It’s not that I feel panic. I think that if I got into a position where someone was on top of me, just raining down punches, maybe I would feel that.”

McMann on Cormier: ‘I’m not perfect at MMA, he’s not perfect at commentating’

Despite the negative critique, the 40-year-old holds no ill will towards her former fighting colleague. Nor would she if the comment came from a member of the media without fighting experience. McCann explained her thinking through the scope of the third round ground exchange that eventually led to her submission defeat.

“From what I would gather from that, he was speaking maybe from his experience. And if I had a heavyweight, or a light heavyweight male on top of me in that same position, I’d probably be panicked. I’d be in a lot more danger. The strikes that were getting through, they weren’t actually reason to cause panic if that makes sense. But no, I don’t really get upset, because I learned a long time ago having been with a few guys in long-term relationships, that people aren’t mind readers,” McMann says. “They can kind of look and make the best guess. But I got taken down into side control. That’s a very tough position to be in. So, I don’t hold it against anybody, or even people who’ve never fought. You’re trying to understand why, and sometimes it’s correct and sometimes it’s not. But It’s not like any of us are perfect. I’m not perfect at MMA, he’s not perfect at commentating, journalists aren’t perfect at understanding [fighting]. I guess I just cut people a little more slack.”

Sarah McCann

McMann readily acknowledges “The Venezuelan Vixen” beat her fair and square. However, she also admits adapting to her first camp during a pandemic (her previous fight came in January 2020) was a difficult learning curve. As she had to curate her training plans, and was unable to work out of her usual camp headquarters at Team Alpha Male. 

“It definitely wasn’t optimal. I just had different things come up—like I’m sure everybody did—that made it difficult. It takes a while for you and a coach to have a certain amount of understanding and trust with each other. Every coach calls combinations out differently. Everyone has their preferences. With jiu-jitsu, people have certain preferences in one way, and if you’ve kind of been wired to take certain routes because of a certain coach when you have differences it’s just not easy to immediately assimilate to that,” said McMann. “Also not having access to the same partners that you’re used to. At Alpha Male, I had certain high-level partners, and [for this camp] I had to constantly be seeking out and asking people to come in. Whereas before, I could just show up to practice. Now I had to put in a whole lot more work on the front end.”

McMann: ‘It’s not that I neglected my jiu-jitsu’

McMann’s recent setback was her third submission loss in her last four fights. The Brazilian jiu-jitsu purple belt wouldn’t go as far as to call her submission skills an Achilles heel, but she does confess the lack of attention towards it during the early days of her career has left ground she is still trying to make up today.

“I’ve been working diligently towards my jiu-jitsu for a while, and I just understand things don’t come overnight. I was talking to someone else earlier, and at the beginning of my career, I paid a lot more attention to [learning] striking, trying to get to my wrestling, trying to be able to hit hard, avoid getting hit, and stuff like that. I focused a lot on that. It’s not that I neglected my jiu-jitsu, but I only have so many hours in the day. I have to maintain my wrestling. My body only has so much energy, so I have to pick where I put my focus, and in hindsight, maybe I would have given more submissions on top [with] a little bit more attention. Jiu-jitsu is its own entire sport, and it’s a difficult sport. It’s not like I was finished [with one specific technique], it’s just that when somebody gets a really good position; especially if that person is a black belt it’s very tough to defend.”

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