Each of these fights, for various reasons, highlighted not only the beauty and excitement of female combat inside the Octagon, but also showed fans of both sexes that fist-to-face combat was finally on a level playing field.
Zingano, Tate, Rousey, and Carmouche were brought to the UFC in late 2012 as part of an “Original Six” of sorts. Along with 2004 Olympic Silver Medalist Sara McMann and Invicta/Strikeforce vet Alexis Davis, these six female combatants marked the first wave of women in the UFC, and have been swimming through unexplored waters.
This Saturday at UFC 159 in New Jersey, one of the most accomplished fighters in the group will be making her UFC debut.
Sara McMann is the first American woman to win a silver medal at the Olympic games. She’s also one of the inaugural female signees of the UFC, entering the Octagon with a spotless record.
In addition to those benchmarks, she helps out at Habitat for Humanity and is a constant pillar for young people in her community. At McMann’s current pace, Hillary Clinton probably has a small Hoover-esque file on her as we speak.
Joking aside, this 6-0 undefeated bantamweight has been making waves in the MMA world since her professional debut in 2011, but on Saturday steps into the brightest spotlight of her career.
“When it came to the Olympics there was a tremendous amount of pressure,” said McMann in a recent interview on the Great Debate Podcast on MMAWeekly.com.
“Having gone through that experience and knowing that I can trust my skills under that kind of pressure, it definitely makes me feel a lot more relieved. I always have nerves. It doesn’t matter if it’s a tiny jiu-jitsu or wrestling tournament in the middle of some little gym.
“I have nerves because I kind of need them to compete. But I don’t think it will be anything different than what I normally experience for competition – even if it’s for the UFC.
“And that’s very much because part of the way I approach things; I very much have blinders on. Until the competition is over, that’s when I step back, open my eyes and realize what I just did.”
After the original match-ups of Tate vs. Zingano and Rousey vs. Carmouche were announced, many pundits assumed that a Davis vs. McMann match would follow. That wasn’t the case. Davis was lined up with Rosie Sexton, while McMann is set to face Germany’s Sheila Gaff.
At 10-4 in her professional career, Gaff is a journeywoman of sorts. She is known for a bum-rush style, trying to overwhelm her opponents, but as McMann says, planning for any given narrative in the fight game is a dangerous practice.
“I know anything can happen in a fight,” she said. “And just because a person fights someone one way doesn’t mean they’ll fight that way against other people.
“So I take it a little more like, these are the potential threats I know of, but I don’t marry myself to a game plan. Because anything can happen, and you better be ready to make split-second decisions in the middle of the fight.”
For McMann, the fight on Saturday is about more than a one-on-one competition between two fighters. This is a showcase for a newly minted women’s division. A division that she is quick to remind you has been garnering plenty of attention as of late for it’s obvious fan friendly approach, as witnessed by Tate and Zingano’s Fight of the Night performance.
But for this silver medalist, the pressure to live up to those previous fights is irrelevant.
“It doesn’t put any pressure on me because I know the style I like to fight,” stated McMann.
“My fights will always be exciting because of the pace I like to set. And I really think the other girls have the same mindset.
“I think it takes a different kind of girl who decides she wants to do MMA for a living. They enjoy that kind of aggressiveness. So all the girls you’re going to see are going to be pretty aggressive girls. I doubt you’re going to find a boring girl’s fight.”
There is little doubt that the two inaugural female fights inside the UFC were anything short of classic, and McMann doesn’t intend to follow up with anything less.
Going forward, it’s no longer a question of “how long is women’s MMA going to last,” but more of “how far is this going to go?”
If Sara McMann and the Original Six have anything to say about it, this is just the beginning, and there is a lot more to come.
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- Liz Carmouche