Q&A: Sara McMann talks intensity, Rousey and counseling

Former Olympic silver medalist Sara McMann has redefined herself as a mixed martial artist and faced the likes of Ronda Rousey, Amanda Nunes, Miesha Tate, Tonya Evinger, Jessica Eye and Alexis Davis. Currently on a three-fight win-streak, McMann fights unbeaten Brazilian Ketlen Vieira this Saturday (September 9) at UFC 215.

Before that, though, McMann took some time out to speak with Fighters Only contributor Tony Reid about a number of subjects relating to her eventful MMA career.


Question: If you could choose one fight from your career that every MMA fan should watch, which fight would it be?

Sara McMann: I really like the Sheila Gaff fight. I think I got a takedown in the fastest time in UFC history. I haven’t practiced the mounted crucifix that often but in practice, when I was going live, I caught it a bunch of times on different partners. Even though I hadn’t drilled it I got it naturally in the fight. That was a great fight for me.

Q: What was the most memorable moment from any training session you have been involved in?

SM: When I first started going with the Muay-Thai guys that came from Anderson’s (Silva) gym, a guy that was bigger than me side-kicked me in the solar plexus and it literally bent me in half. I was circling and said, “That was a good one.” Everything else I can share is probably way too perverted.

Q: What do you remember about your first ever fight?

SM: Before my first amateur fight my only idea of what it felt like to get hit was by men in practice. When I got into a fight with the girl who had a boxing background, I got hit a couple times and if you could have zoomed in on my face you would have seen me smile. I was thinking, That didn’t hurt! You are in trouble now. At that point I had no reason to not be able to come in and impose my will on her. My adrenaline was going full force. The punches didn’t hurt and they wouldn’t prevent me from keeping a safe distance and imposing my wrestling… I was like, “You are going down little girl.” (laughs)

Q: Who is the best opponent you have faced so far?

SM: Obviously, the best person I fought would be Ronda (Rousey) because she won. There has not been an opponent that is better right now.

Q: How do you get pumped before a fight?

SM: It’s something I borrow from my wrestling career. I don’t want to hit a wall during competition. In a wrestling tournament you realize that your first match of the day you might be a little rusty. Everything isn’t firing perfect. By the second or third match of the day you have all the energy and are fired up and in full competition mode. What I did in wrestling was I would wrestle a live match before the tournament started to get that first match out of me. It gets the burn out of your muscles so you don’t hit the wall. Before a fight I do something very similar. I get a super-high heart rate and my rolling is very live-oriented. I protect myself, I don’t want to get hurt or cut, but I go hard in warm-ups. People look at me like I’m crazy – they can’t believe how intense my warm-up is. When I go out there for the real fight I have already had my first fight.

Q: What job(s) did you have before becoming a fighter?

SM: I did construction for one summer between my senior year of high school and my freshman year of college to make money. That was awesome. I love being outdoors. I love doing work and seeing something created out of a hard day’s labor. My dad worked for the same construction crew and we were digging footings and laying block. It was hard work. I would come home after work and relaxing never felt so good. We would get up at the crack of dawn to get to the site and I just liked it. That was before my body was beat up. (laughs)

Q: You have a degree in theatre from Lock Haven University. You also do a lot of volunteer work for Habitat for Humanity. If you weren’t a professional mixed martial artist, what would you be doing for a living?

SM: I have a master’s degree in counseling. Whenever I decide that my body doesn’t want to be a professional athlete anymore I will be a counselor for kids. I hope that I can still put on my gi and work my way up through the belts system in Brazilian jiu-jitsu under Marcelo (Garcia). Maybe I will go back and get my doctorate, too.

TR: Who are your favorite fighters to watch?

SM: I love watching Frankie Edgar. Super high-paced, a lot of action, explosive takedowns, and excellent hands. I like watching Jose Aldo. I am partial to the little guys. Zach Machovsky is an excellent fighter. I am a huge fan of ‘The Karate Hottie’ Michelle Waterson. She is awesome. I like watching Carla Esparza, too.

Q: The Miesha Tate fight didn’t go your way, but in light of the fact you campaigned for it on social media are you a believer in the power of an online presence?

SM: I didn’t know how well social media would work as far as letting the UFC know and letting the public know how much I wanted this fight. Usually everything is done in the dark, behind closed doors. I began to experience the fact that I was finding it hard to get fights because nobody wanted to fight me. I don’t prefer to use social media but, at the same time, I’m not just going to let my career go down like that. I am at least going to give it a fighting chance and do the best I can to say I know there are girls out there that will fight me. I just had to figure which ones would fight me and ask them. So I asked Miesha and she said any time any place. That was all I needed to hear. She said, “Yes, let’s book it.” It was a very high-profile fight.

Q: The call-out you issued and Miesha’s response was probably the nicest, most civil in the history of the sport…

SM: Yeah, it just goes to show you don’t have to hate each other and be vicious towards each other. Sometimes the matchup itself is enough to make it a fight people naturally want to see. I don’t have to disrespect people, I actually call out people I respect. I’m not calling out someone because I think they are a terrible fighter. If I called out all the girls I knew I could beat wouldn’t that make me kind of sandbagging it and look for easy fights? No, I’m saying, “I think you are really good fighter, let’s get it on, let’s do this!” I don’t have to hate anybody. We are all out here doing the same thing. I want to go out there and compete and do the best I can.