At one point or another during the various stages of the coronavirus lockdown, everyone hit some sort of wall. There was only so much binge-watching and bread-making one could do before the itch to get back to “normal life” became unbearable. Even those who created healthy habits amidst the increased time at home understandably wavered.
Molly McCann, who crowdsourced workout equipment in her local community, also felt the urge to switch things up after doing her fair share of rounds on the heavy bag in her backyard, opting to purchase a road bike. One particularly nice day after training, she hit the road and biked 100 kilometers to the Welsh border.
“No one could believe that I went on my own and that I went and done it,” McCann told UFC.com. “I just woke up and thought, ‘Let’s just go and do it.’ When I got there, I had some lunch, and then I rode back. Honest to God, when I got home, I was wrote off. I ordered a milkshake, a waffle and a takeaway – I think it was a Domino’s pizza, and then I just slept. I was done in for like two days after, to be honest. I can tick off the box now. I rode to a different country and back.”
While that milestone is one of McCann’s highlights during lockdown, she had to celebrate another in an underwhelming way. Instead of celebrating her 30th birthday with her friends in Spain, May 4 came and went like any of the other standstill days during the last few months.
Paired with the stress of living with her uncle, an essential worker, and her grandmother, McCann leaned on her friends and her craft while waiting for life to get back to some sense of familiarity.
“There was quite a lot of stuff I didn’t get to do,” McCann said. “But coming out of lockdown, there’s a lot of good stuff that I’m getting to do, and I got to do.”
One of those things she gets to do is fight. Originally booked to take on Ashlee Evans-Smith at the scratched London card in March, “Meatball” heads to Fight Island to square off against Taila Santos on June 15.
Getting back into fight camp was a blessing of normalcy, but after a long and grueling training camp in preparation for Evans-Smith, McCann knew she needed to tweak her approach a bit.
“I just said to my coaches, ‘Please, can this one just be about me expressing myself and having fun?’” she said. “Obviously, everything is planned, and we have a regimen, but I don’t want it too regimented because I need to enjoy this. I’ve just spent from December ‘til now getting ready for two different fights. I just need to have fun now. The hard work has been done.”
In a way, the requested freedom is well-earned. McCann’s 2019 was quietly one of the better campaigns of the year. She bounced back from her debut loss in 2018 with a resounding win in London, becoming the first Englishwoman to get her hand raised in the Octagon. She followed that with a commanding performance against Ariane Lipski a couple months later in her first bout in the United States and capped the year with one more win, a unanimous decision over Diana Belbita in Boston.
Looking back, McCann sees how each bout provided a window into her career and where she is headed next, but as she approaches her first bout of 2020, she is going in without any preconceived notions about how she wants to go about her business.
“I feel like the first win in London is 100 percent who I am,” she said. “Then I feel like the fight after (against Lipski), that’s who I’m becoming. I feel like the Diana Belbita one was supposed to be the finish just to cap it all off, but obviously, it wasn’t. I thought I was going to get a really good grappling performance against Ashlee Evans-Smith, and that didn’t come, so now I’ve got this next fight, and I think that with everything that’s happened, I’m just taking each day of life as it comes now. It’s not, ‘I’m going to get the finish,’ or ‘I’m going to perform this way.’ I’m just going to go in and do my thing and set the tone and make sure she marches to the beat of my drum.”
As her fifth walk to the Octagon approaches, McCann is her usual mixture of absolute confidence and humility. She believes her biggest evolution has come in the speed of the fight. A self-described “honest” fighter who can get a little ahead of herself when things heat up, McCann said she focused on a more patient and measured approach while still “looking f****** good.”
Santos, who lost her UFC debut to Mara Romero Borella, is 15-1 with 11 of those wins coming by first-round stoppage. That track record lends itself to anticipating a fast start to the bout, for which McCann is always game, but she is mostly focused on dictating the pace of the fight.
“The fight should always go my way,” McCann said. “I’m under no disillusions on how good the girls is that I’m fighting and the heart and character Brazilians have when they fight, but they’ve never fought a mouthy scouser like me. I think the girl I’m going to fight is going to have to find something she’s never come up with to try and put me away because she hasn’t got the minerals.”
Always apt to in-fight antics (the end of her fight against Priscila Cachoeira particularly comes to mind), McCann is excited about fans getting a better look and idea of all that comes with being an aforementioned “mouthy scouser.”
“I’d like my humor and things to come in,” McCann said. “I talk to my opponent when I’m in there and make mad noises. Usually, you won’t be able to hear that kind of thing, and I can’t wait for you to hear my coaching staff and the instructions they give me. I’ll be having a fully blown conversation with them in the corner when normally fighters are like, ‘Yes, coach. Yes, coach,’ but I’m like, ‘Did I do that good? Should I do that?’”
A fourth-straight win should set up McCann, who is currently No. 15 in the flyweight rankings, for a shot to climb up the ladder in the wide-open 125-pound division.
That said, she isn’t getting too far ahead of herself.
“I only got ranked like last month, so I can’t be Charlie Big Potatoes just yet,” McCann said. “I hope a win gives me a top 12, at least, and I can start calling for top 10s. However, I’m not looking past Taila Santos.”
McCann is also working on opening doors for herself in the future. McCann said she wants to become the “female Dan Hardy,” referencing how the former UFC title challenger transitioned to broadcasting. When she messaged BT Sport asking to study up on punditry and commentary, Fight Disciples’ Nick Peet advised her to start a podcast that could go under his website’s umbrella.
Like everything else to which McCann sets her mind, she went at it in full force, drawing up a proposal that was impressive enough for Peet to say she could go ahead and start on her own.
And so, Coffee With A Chance Of Meatballs was born.
“I went from an academic setting, going to uni and getting a degree to not looking at a laptop since 2013 to having to understand what a MacBook was,” McCann said. “My head was just shook to bits. I literally bought Podcasts for Dummies on my iPhone. I read it all and said, ‘F*** it, I’m going for it.’”
So far, McCann’s guest list includes former UFC featherweight champion Cris Cyborg, Welsh grappler and Brazilian jiu-jitsu champion Ffion Davies and Olympic Taekwondo medalist Bianca Walkden. She also brought on Christie Frampton, whose husband Carl is a boxer, to shed light on the other side of combat sports. The main challenge thus far, she says, is her scouse accent.
“The premise of the podcast was to bring people on who had such diverse stories and if someone is going to spend an hour listening to someone else’s story, it needs to be life-changing,” McCann said. “I just thought if people were really struggling in lockdown, I’ll bring on people who’ve got good points to share, and someone might take one thing from that conversation. It’s gone down so well.”
Although her new life as a podcaster is off to a good start – she hopes to interview Rose Namajunas while they are both on Fight Island – McCann has plenty left she hopes to accomplish in the Octagon. She is still in search of her first UFC finish, but that hasn’t evaded her without plenty of effort. McCann said she feels “more all-around professional” as a member of the UFC roster, managing the ebbs and flows of the fight game at a higher level.
Despite coming off as a fighter who feeds off the crowd’s energy, McCann feels like she is at her best when she walks out focusing on her opponent and her walkout song that she tailors to each event (she said she chose “Welcome to Jamrock” by Damien Marley in honor of Fight Island). She anticipates the bout to feel like a sparring session and has kept her camp’s sessions music-free to adjust to the surroundings a little more.
Even though a worldwide pandemic forced McCann to rewrite her career’s script just a bit, she is still riding the momentum of her all-important 2019. She found her groove last year, and 2020 seems like her chance to evolve and move into the next echelon of mixed martial artists. As her long-awaited fight night inches closer, she is the kind of relaxed that shows just how ready she is to enter the Octagon.
“Just go with it,” McCann said. “That’s all I’m thinking. No expectations. Just taking a sweatsuit, running shoes, speakers and headphones, gum shield and 50 SPF (sunscreen), and I’m f****** ready.”'
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