The last time Molly McCann stepped into the Octagon, the narrative surrounding her highly anticipated performance was drawn away from her, to focus on other external factors during fight week.
When the 31-year-old revealed she’d be fighting on the birthday of her late father, the cornerstone of her impending fight shifted from a story of resilience and bouncing back from a loss to a story of handling the emotional weight she’d be carrying with her into the Octagon.
“I wasn’t going to try to make it as much about my dad. The day is what it was,” McCann explained in her fight week interview with UFC.com ahead of her bout this weekend at UFC Fight Night: Brunson vs Till. “And then it got made into a really big thing, and I really got caught up in that moment. At the end of the day, as much as I am a perfectionist to the game and my craft, I got stuck in my feelings.”
The emotions she was hoping would fuel her ultimately turned on her in the Octagon, creating a level of adrenaline too intense to handle, and hindering the imperative ability to think clearly while engaged in a fistfight.
“When I got that armbar in the second round, I wasn’t able to think clear,” McCann said. “And then I wasn’t able to come out in the last round. Everyone knows in the last rounds, I go up through the gears in my fights, where my opponents normally start quick and then dip.”
Having fully processed the hurdles that halted her momentum last time around, the flyweight has since made a transformation in mindset that could pay dividends: putting herself at the forefront of everything she does.
“I don’t know how I’ve given more; I can’t put it into words, I can’t describe it, but I have. I live on my own, I’ve segregated myself from certain friendships and relationships and completely zoned in on this. I have a new mind coach working with me every single day.”
McCann shared that the day following her unanimous decision loss to Lara Procópio in February, a performance coach reached out to her, stating they “know you’re f***ing better than that.” After seven months of putting in the work, a new “Meatball” has emerged.
“What I’ve learned is to treat every day like it’s my fight. Imagine being on a calorie deficit, training with people who are a little bit bigger than you; my mindset was, ‘Right, well this is your fight. Go and have it.’ Especially when we do fight runs and fight simulations, I’d play through the morning like it was the fight. I’d listen to the same playlist, I’d drink the same coffee or energy drink, the team treated it a bit like a fight night. Sometimes something just flips and something just switches, and I’ve kind of had that. We’ve just turned a corner here.”
McCann said she finds herself turning a corner both mentally and physically, as the COVID restrictions in England are slowly being lifted, allowing for the proper training and preparation for a fight.
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“I’ve actually been able to use a weights gym and I’ve been able to have all my scientific tests like what anyone would have over here at the (UFC Performance Institute) would. So you can obviously see in my physique, I’m in probably the best shape I’ve ever been in, which is a big difference compared to the last fight,” the Liverpool native said, flexing her arms.
“I’ve had training partners allowed to come in and spar; I’ve not had that for the last two camps. I’ve had long range boxers coming in, long range Thai boxers coming in, and it’s gone well. The coaching team’s pulled out the bag for this one, I think, because Paddy (Pimblett) and I are both on.”
Sharing the Octagon with the popular UFC debutant and longtime Next Generation teammate Paddy Pimblett, among other compatriots, has been a bit of a blessing in disguise for McCann.
“You know when people are on an 0-2 run, and when someone’s career rides on a fight,” McCann explained. ”But there’s more pressure on them. It’s the last fight on my contract, I need a good performance, but they’re taking the heat for me, so I can just come in under the radar, give a Fight of the Night performance, and then just f*** off.”
The “two blonde bombshells” will fight back-to-back on Saturday’s card, with McCann headlining the preliminary card and Pimblett kicking off the main card on ESPN+ — and McCann wouldn't have it any other way.
“Even though he’s my little bro in the gym, he’s like my big bro, really,” McCann said of Pimblett. “He’s the one we’ve always strived to become like. He was the (Cage Warriors) world champion, so I was like ‘I want to be like Pads,’ you know what I mean? Then I got my break into the UFC and he’s followed. So, we’ve always had amazing performances together when we fight on the same card.
“He fears no man; Paddy fears nothing. Sometimes I can get into my feelings, so I take a bit of his self-belief. He’s just really good for my mindset.”
Armed with the unbreakable drive that only a Scouser could possess, McCann is ready for what could be a career-defining fight against Ji Yeon Kim.
“When I was given the name, I just thought, ‘Finally, I’m going to have someone who wants to dance the dance.’ I believe she thinks the same,” McCann said with a grin. “This fight was made for me, and this fight was made for her, and whoever implements their gameplan best obviously is going to win.”
While this fight card is taking place more than 5,000 miles away from the streets McCann calls home, it makes no difference in the end, as Liverpool is more of a mindset than it is a few streets and plots within a border.
“That’s little Liverpool in there, come Saturday,” McCann said, gesturing to the Octagon behind her. “I just think it’s going to be an honest fight. I’m going to want it, she’s gonna want it, she’s coming off a loss, I’m coming off two. I just know what kind of war that’s going to bring."
The work has been put in, the conditioning done, leaving one thing left to do come Saturday:
“Rumble little meatball, rumble.”
Don't miss McCann vs Kim this Saturday at UFC Fight Night: Brunson vs Till. Please note the special broadcast time: Prelims begin 1:30pm ET/10:30am PT and the Main Card kicks off at 4pm ET/1pm PT on ESPN+.