"Choose who you're fighting for."
The words uttered to a young Molly McCann by her mother have helped shape the fighter she is, and has always been, both inside and out of the octagon.
Whether advocating for the rights and acceptance of her LGBTQ+ community or for the overall improvement of the quality of life for fellow Scousers, her presence and impact are felt widely throughout Liverpool – so much so that on any given day, you may see McCann walking through the streets of her city, waving at someone or shouting "You alright, lad?" down an alleyway at a familiar face every ten steps or so.
"I'm fighting for equality and for those who need a voice because I'm in a position to speak," McCann said in an interview after a day filled with training. "But even when I wasn't, every one person and every one vote makes the difference, doesn't it? It's one grain of rice that can tip the scale. I feel like I have to do more, I feel like it's my calling."
The calling has come in many forms – from engaging in political rallies and speeches to her peers, to working with people recovering from addiction, to now working with an organization called Weapons Down Gloves Up that is quite literally changing the future of Liverpool.
It's a miracle, but not a surprise, that McCann has enough hours in the day. Forget being a professional athlete who spends more than half of her year in fight camp, "Meatball" has found a way to check every box, balancing her obligations gracefully, all without dividing her attention or effort on any front.
One of the biggest fronts comes in the form of Weapons Down Gloves Up – an organization working to change the future of Liverpool both by reducing violent crimes and creating a path for its youth to follow: getting kids off the streets and into a structured, professional setting.
The eight-week program guides young adults between the ages of 16-24 through four weeks of martial arts courses focused on self-defense to reduce the risk factors that lead to weapons violence.
With Liverpool experiencing a significant "decrease of funding in the city, that means there's a lot less youth club sports centers, recreational centers and opportunities for children, which probably leads to them getting up to no good," McCann explained. "Which obviously puts more pressure on parents. And some parents don't have the resources to put the children into things.
"I was saved by sports as a kid. I think it's well documented in my history and what I've been through and what my mum always tried to do. If my mum couldn't afford it, we was lucky enough that people would give my mum money or give me money to go and do (organized sports) because we just had a good group of people around us. Look at how I've turned out because I was given structure, discipline and an opportunity to be great at something."
The next three weeks of the program prepare participants with the qualifications and tools necessary to succeed in full-time employment, with the final week of the program focusing on interview prep for job placement that follows the conclusion of the program, organized entirely through Weapons Down Gloves Up.
The program boasts a 100 percent success rate in terms of participants being placed into full-time employment at the end of the eight weeks, with a 93 percent retention rate at those jobs after a year.
"What we're doing is working. We're doing it how every charity should be run – it's not about profit, but about the kids getting over the line and having a job," McCann said. "It's not just about getting them there, but keeping them in full-time work or full-time education, if that's what they want to do."
The program is run almost entirely off volunteers and donations, with McCann volunteering up to three times per week – even during fight camp – and people can get involved with helping the Weapons Down Gloves Up program by volunteering their time or space, or making a donation to the organization.
"Just to give a few kids a chance, I think it's a legacy to leave within the city," McCann said. "We're giving these kids a chance to change their lives."
This story first published at UFC.com.