Olympic Silver Medalist and Invicta FC Headliner Sara McMann: Sassy and Classy
Undefeated upstart focused on becoming the best mixed martial artist she can be – without making a mockery of the sport
By Joshua Molina
Sure, Ronda Rousey is the talk of the mixed martial arts world, and in some respects, rightfully so.
But there’s another emerging female star who is turning heads – without showing skin, or mouthing off about her opponents, celebrities or fellow Olympians.
Sara McMann will step into the cage on July 28 at an Invicta Fighting Championships card to fight Shayna Baszler, in an event that will be streamed live and for free at InvictaFC.com
Like Rousey, McMann is 5-0, and a former Olympian, even besting her, winning a Silver Medal in freestyle wrestling to Rousey’s Bronze in Judo.
McMann is tough, talented and focused on being the best mixed martial artist she can be – without making a mockery of the sport.
“I am in this much more for the sport aspect,” McMann told Full Contact Fighter. “Earlier in my career I was told to get out there and trash talk and make a scene, but this is my legacy. This is who I am as a person. I am not willing to sacrifice that. I would rather be poor and who I am. This is who I am – take it or leave it.”
McMann won the Silver Medal in the 2004 Olympics in Athens, Greece, becoming the first American woman to win the prize. The victory capped a stellar amateur career, one where she won a Silver Medal in the 2003 World Championships and a Bronze Medal in 2005 and 2007 World Championships.
Coming out of the Olympics, McMann was never interested in becoming an MMA fighter. She was content focusing on grappling and jiu-jitsu. But after throwing a few punches and working on her striking in the gym one day, McMann was hooked on fighting.
“It draws me like a moth to a flame,” said McMann, who made her professional debut on May 28, 2011.
Much of McMann’s MMA training has focused on her striking.
As a top-level wrestler, McMann is pretty much always in great shape and condition – but MMA is a different animal.
“The aim of MMA is to hurt people,” McMann said.
And she’s done plenty of that. She’s also been on the receiving end. She’s had her nose broken twice in her fights and spilled her blood inside the cage.
In wrestling, the fear is of feeling helpless, or getting caught in a move and feeling helpless, she said. In MMA, the fear is of getting knocking or breaking a body part.
McMann may still be perfecting her striking, but her wrestling and conditioning might be unparalleled inside the cage.
The mental and physical discipline that wrestlers learn at a young age helps give her an advantage. For McMann, 31, working hard isn’t something you just do inside the gym. It’s a way of life.
“My transition has been pretty smooth,” she said. “I haven’t really run into areas where I am like ‘I don’t get this.”
The North Carolina-native said her team and people around her has helped push her to the next level in MMA.
“I have really great coaches that can break all of it down,” she said. “I understand the importance of repetition. It’s that feeling that you want to jump off a bridge head first, but instead you do the repetition. You can’t get really good in sports without repetition.”
McMann’s star is on the rise amid somewhat of a golden age of women’s MMA. Stars like Gina Carano, Marloes Coenen, Meisha Tate, Cris “Cyborg” Santos and now Ronda Rousey have launched women’s MMA into the mainstream like a spinning back kick.
And amid the success of the sport, has come some setbacks. Cyborg, the Strikeforce Featherweight Champion tested positive for performance enhancement drugs in January.
McMann is disgusted by the prevalence of PED’s in MMA.
“If someone tested positive in MMA, I am not a fan of theirs,” McMann said. “I understand that people make mistakes but I am not going to support them. You were cheating.”
She also said drugs destroy women.
“I hope that the changes that women undergo physically is enough of a deterrent for girls not to do it,” McMann said. “The side effects to these athletes’ bodies are horrible.”
MMA athletes who use PEDs are committing worse ethical crimes than athletes who take them in non-combat sports, she said.
“You are not going to sprint faster,” she said. “You are not going to swim faster. You are hurting other people’s bodies.”
McMann is thrilled to enter the cage on Saturday. She’s proud to be on the frontier of women’s MMA.
“I think it is growing tremendously,” said said. “Not only by the number of young girls and women who are entering the sport, but people’s perceptions are changing. I think Invicta is the frontrunner of pursuing this. Women are dedicating their lives to this and Invicta is showcasing the cream of the crop and I think it is awesome.”
Strikeforce has been the only major American promotion to promote women’s MMA. Dana White, president of the UFC, believes that there are not enough top-level women to have a women’s league in the UFC.
“Invicta right now has this ability to match people up,” McMann said. “They have the knack of creating exciting fights. We are doing are part training for fights. They are doing their part and giving us a platform and matching us against people.”
Some MMA observers believe that women’s MMA would be in trouble if Strikeforce folds once its contract with Showtime ends next year. Strikeforce is owned by Zuffa, the parent company of the UFC.
“I think Strikeforce is really great and I would hate for all the fighters to have to find a new contract, but Invicta is determined to have a role for great women fighters,” McMann said. “It could be a bad thing or it could be a good thing if Strikeforce were to go away.”
Either way, McMann one day see herself fighting Rousey inside the cage.
“I think that will absolutely happen,” McMann said.
In the meantime, she wishes Rousey would represent herself and the sport with more class. Rousey recently criticized Olympic great Michael Phelps’ athletic accomplishments, blasted Kim Kardashian for not deserving her fame, and went personal in the buildup before her match with Meisha Tate.
“I wouldn’t term her a role model, not one that I would want my daughter to look up to,” McMann said. “She’s intelligent in marketing. Either she doesn’t mind what she is saying or she doesn’t mind riling people up. “
McMann said the two are similar in that they are both top level athletes. But that’s where the similarities end.
“As an athlete I most certainly respect her skills and her throws and submissions,” McMann said. “But as far as something to look up to? I don’t feel like that.”
McMann also said there’s no place for trash talking in MMA.
“I don’t want my daughter to say things to just get people’s attention,” McMann said. “She is getting a tremendous amount of attention. It is not something that I want to do and I am glad that the other girls don’t do that.”
But McMann has some advice for young athletes.
“If you want to be great at this sport you need to work far harder than you ever thought you possibly could – before you ever get anything back,” McMann said. “That is the cornerstone of anyone’s success.”