"I look at it like preparing for the Olympics. The moment they called me and asked me is about the same
exact time you have to prepare once you’ve made the Olympic team." - Sara McMann
Sara McMann doesn’t have an Instagram account. She only tweets sporadically and posts to Facebook even less. Her official website hasn’t been updated in close to a year.
While having a strong social media game is a must for many fighters under the UFC banner -and something the company likes to see from their athletes - McMann prefers to go about building a name for herself the old fashioned way.
“I think that sometimes when people shift their focus to getting their name out there, they’re putting the cart before the horse. If you put the work in, if you’re ready for the competition and you go out there and win, your name will get out by itself. What you do and what you put in will speak for itself - you don’t have to seek it out.”
And McMann’s resume certain speaks for itself.
A silver medalist in freestyle wrestling at the 2004 Summer Games in Athens, the 34-year-old has posted seven consecutive victories to begin her mixed martial arts career, including a unanimous decision win over veteran Shayna Baszler and a first-round stoppage of Sheila Gaff in her UFC debut last April.
But where many fighters with her credentials and with less impressive winning streaks would be calling out opponents and lobbying for a title shot at every turn, McMann has happily remained well outside of the spotlight.
“Sometimes people think they want more and athletes give more and more and more - they share so much information - but it leaves no air of mystery, and that’s kind of not as satisfying.”
McMann isn’t mysterious, she’s private, preferring to keep her life outside of the Octagon as under wraps as possible, and stating up front the stories she doesn’t intend on sharing with the MMA media and the ravenous fans that want to know every juicy detail about the most irrelevant elements of a fighter’s life.
When she was forced to withdraw from a scheduled bout with former Strikeforce champion Sarah Kaufman last year, McMann didn’t offer any specifics - she said the matter was personal and left it at that, declining to comment further and telling journalists in advance that it was something she wasn’t going to discuss, even several months after the fact.
“A lot of people were pretty respectful,” she says of reporters acquiescing to her desire to keep some things private. “Since I had already not talked about it, they didn’t bother wasting their time asking. It doesn’t bother me - I know what I’m okay to talk about and what I’m not, so it doesn’t bother me or fluster me. It’s not up for negotiation.
“I think it would be different if I said, `I want a bunch of sponsorship money and I’m not going to give the media what the media wants.’ I’m not saying that. I understand that my privacy will probably come at a certain price, and I just look at it and say I’m willing to pay that price for my privacy.
“I didn’t know very much about Chris Weidman before he was announced to fight Anderson Silva,” she says, offering the once anonymous challenger from Long Island as an example of a fighter who rose to the top while flying under the media radar. “But I’m telling you, the second he beat Anderson Silva, I knew who he was.”
It’s an apt example and fitting comparison, given that McMann has the opportunity to duplicate Weidman’s move from relative unknown to undisputed champion tomorrow night at UFC 170.
Despite her lone appearance in the Octagon coming nine months ago on the preliminary portion of the UFC 159 fight card, the UFC tabbed McMann to share the Octagon with women’s bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey, announcing the bout just hours after Rousey dispatched rival Miesha Tate for a second time in late December.
The matchup is as intriguing as they come - the first ever pairing of two Olympians under the UFC banner, with McMann having the kind of pedigree on the mat that had many fans and critics believing she would one day be the person to challenge the dominant judo bronze medalist-turned-face of women’s MMA Rousey inside the cage.
While she didn’t expect it to happen this quickly, McMann will be fully prepared when the cage door closes on Saturday night.
“I thought there would be one more fight before, and if different things hadn’t gone on, I would have fought Sarah Kaufman and then had a title fight, so I anticipated that that is sort of how it would go.
“But because I had to miss that one - the UFC already know that they have a very good fight on their hands. I think it probably could have sold better if I had one more fight and they could have used that opportunity to build it - let everyone in the public know - but for me, it doesn’t change what I bring to the table and the fighter that I am.
“One fight isn’t going to make a difference in being more or less prepared for this title fight.”
And McMann is prepared.
When she got the call to make her UFC debut, the Lock Haven University graduate who also holds a Masters in mental health counseling from Gardner-Webb University likened the experience to her first few trips to the World Championships in wrestling.
This time around…
“I look at it like preparing for the Olympics,” McMann says of preparing to face her fellow Olympian tomorrow night inside the Mandalay Bay Events Center. “The moment they called me and asked me is about the same exact time you have to prepare once you’ve made the Olympic team. You have two-and-a-half months, roughly, to put your best foot forward to compete in the Olympics. That’s kind of how I’ve approached things, and I’ve trained accordingly.
“And this is probably the most enjoyable training camp that I’ve had so far because it has so much more of a grappling focus, and that’s what I really enjoy. With other people that have a much stronger threat in striking, I’ve had to dedicate more time in those areas, but I will always be a wrestler at heart, so this camp has been more enjoyable in that aspect.”
When the pairing was announced, everyone immediately envisioned a grappling battle -McMann’s wrestling against Rousey’s judo, the outcome decided by scrambles and transitions, slight mistakes and sheer force of will.
Though that could very well be the case, McMann isn’t banking on it.
“Truthfully, every single fight that I’ve ever had, not one of them have gone as I expected,” she admits with a laugh. “So I’ve learned from those previous lessons to just prepare the best that I can, and we’ll see how it ends up. I’m certain that whatever I think, whatever idea I have in my head, it’s going to be different.
“Neither of us is suddenly going to become world-class strikers, but I think in the position that you get in with higher level athletes, it becomes a lot harder to predict. Things don’t go as you planned, and you’re so far past Plan B and Plan C with someone that truly comes there to beat you.”
Instinct and heart take over, winners and losers determined by who has the greater will when the chips are down.
McMann may not have a massive social media following, but she has those traits in spades. She’s capable and prepared, focused and ready, and if tomorrow night ends with the words “And new” echoing through the venue, it will be the people she holds closest to her that she’ll share the moment with, not the anonymous masses on Instagram.
“I probably will just feel tremendous joy for me and my family and the people around me. It’s going to be a tremendous victory for all of us - everyone who sacrificed and put time into this. I’m going to be happy that everything that they dedicated to me ended up paying off well.”