When Sara McMann steps into the Octagon on Feb. 22, many will question whether she is ready for Ronda Rousey. After all, Rousey is quickly becoming the face of the UFC after only two fights with the promotion.
Unknown to many, McMann has traveled a road similar to Rousey’s. She won a silver medal in wrestling at the 2004 Summer Olympics and has made a successful transition into mixed martial arts. In less than three years, McMann has steamrolled through her opponents and has an undefeated record to show for it.
With the UFC Bantamweight Championship on the line, this will undoubtedly be McMann’s biggest test. But seven career MMA fights, including two against women who have paved the way for women in MMA, have prepared McMann for the UFC spotlight.
McMann vs. Cristina Marks
McMann’s MMA debut held little fanfare. She defeated Marks at University Cage Combat: Revolution with a rear-naked choke just under two minutes into the first round. Utilizing her wrestling background, McMann quickly took down and mounted Marks. She forced Marks to roll over and give up her back, giving McMann the opening she needed for the submission.
There wasn’t anything spectacular about McMann’s debut aside from demonstrating her well-rounded wrestling game. Her striking, endurance, and ability to go toe-to-toe with an opponent wouldn’t shine until she faced Tonya Evinger two months later.
McMann vs. Tonya Evinger
After back-to-back first round victories to begin her MMA career, McMann’s stamina was tested in facing Evinger at Titan Fight Championships 19. In typical McMann fashion, she scored a takedown early and pummeled Evinger throughout the opening round.
McMann’s takedown and submission defense were put to the test as Evinger sank in a pair of inverted triangle chokes that McMann narrowly escaped. McMann won via unanimous decision and improved her record to 3-0.
McMann vs. Shayna Baszler
To date, many consider the most important opponent in McMann’s young career to be Baszler, who she defeated at Invicta FC 2. McMann headed into her first main event after only five professional fights while Baszler was already considered a WMMA pioneer. Regardless, McMann displayed a confidence and resilience that earner her a unanimous decision victory.
McMann abandoned her wrestling game for the most part, standing and trading with Baszler throughout. For every McMann strike, Baszler had a counterpunch. In the end, the judges unanimously decided that McMann won the fight. Unfortunately for Invicta, McMann would leave the promotion soon after.
McMann vs. Sheila Gaff
The significance of this fight to McMann’s career isn’t that it marked her UFC debut, or that she knocked Gaff out in the first round. The importance of this fight to McMann’s career is that she was able to do all of these things on the biggest stage in MMA with only six professional fights under her belt.
Gaff entered the matchup with an extensive fight record, dating back to 2006. Unfortunately, she didn’t prepare for McMann’s wrestling. McMann used a single-leg takedown to maneuver into a crucifix and Gaff was helpless to defend McMann’s repeated strikes. This match, above all, showed that McMann has developed her all-around game to the point that she is ready for a title shot.