When Sara McMann steps into the Octagon for her second fight under the UFC banner it will be as a main event fighter, and first anchoring a pay-per-view event. Scowling at her from the red corner will be UFC women's bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey.
McMann was announced as Rousey's next opponent following UFC 168. While Knockout of the Night bonus winner Travis Browne answered a question from the media at the post-fight press conference, UFC president Dana White, standing at the MGM Grand podium crookedly taped a poster atop the MGM logo. The poster featured the images of Rousey and McMann. When asked about the print, White said, "Rousey versus McMann in February. That's the headliner."
The announcement came as a bit of a surprise, especially since just days before White had said that No. 1 ranked contender Cat Zingano was "The number one, she's numero uno."
Zingano was bumped by the No. 4 ranked McMann due to the fact that Zingano will not be fully recovered from knee surgery for the February 22 date of UFC 170. However it must be noted that White did declare Zingano "Numero uno" while knowing full well that she was most likely not going to get the next shot at the UFC title.
According to McMann and Rousey, they were both told in advance of UFC 168 that, absent any lingering injuries stemming from the December 28 fight between Rousey and Miesha Tate that they would compete at UFC 170.
When the conversation took place with McMann informing her she would get the winner of the Rousey versus Tate contest she was not expecting the call. McMann told Ariel Helwani on Monday's MMA Hour, "Truthfully, I don't know how it works. I never knew when I was going to get the shot. I'm just trying to be patient and keep getting better every day, so when it did come along, I was the best possible fighter I could be. It definitely was surprising, but I wanted it for quite a while and to be the world champion was my original goal when I started. So, it was a welcome surprise."
McMann is 7-0 as a professional fighter and has a long list of accomplishments in wrestling, including a silver medal from the 2004 Olympics in Athens. However, she does only have one UFC fight to her name, a first round TKO win over Sheila Gaff at UFC 159.
McMann was scheduled to face Sarah Kaufman in August, but withdrew from that bout for personal reasons. That lack of Octagon experience has led some to question if this is the right time for McMann to face Rousey for the title. She believes it is, "My significant other and I both felt like this couldn't have come at a better time. It feels very right to us. That's what makes us very excited about it because if it had come off some kind of controversy or like, different fights have a different feel to them, some with a more negative perception. This one just feels like the perfect timing."
Rousey's judo based style was effective against Tate's wrestling at UFC 168, but that's not something that McMann is too concerned about heading into UFC 170. McMann sees Rousey's style as something she's already seen and dealt with in her training, "Truthfully, we've had a lot of girls who grew up doing wrestling and judo. There's a lot of girls who've had that crossover, and they bring that to the wrestling aspect. I think that's as close as we can see in how wrestling and judo will mix and apply. Before this fight, I already knew that happens. I've seen lots of good grapplers get launched by judo people trying to shoot double legs. That was something I've known for a long time."
Rousey's next challenger knows that beating the fighter that is arguably the biggest star in the UFC right now will be no easy task, "In my mind, there's not one specific area that I want to win, that I think is going to make a huge difference," McMann said. "I need to win in every area to be the champion. If it goes to decision, it's very hard to beat the champion. So, you have to dominate in every area. That's how I feel."
McMann does see some weakness with Rousey's style, but there was no way she was going to reveal those during her interview with Helwani, saying, "That would be the same as telling her trainers, ‘Hey, why don't you work on this before the fight?'"
As for her training for her shot at the title, McMann said she has been preparing in some form for this fight for a long while, "I've been training for this fight for a lot longer than just a month. I'm the kind of person that believes if you want to win a world championship like the one in wrestling, you don't start when you make the world team. You start the day after the world championships previously. You start looking at who are your people you need to prepare for and you start building that muscle memory. So, it's been a long time."
Rousey's armbar has become her signature move, and with good reason, she has ended all eight of her professional bouts with the hold. McMann said she has been working for a long time on avoiding that particular submission, "The goal is not to be little tough girl once you get in the armbar. The goal is to not get armbarred, and that's the same for every fight. It's great to have a good chin, but it's a whole lot better if you just don't get hit."
On February 22 we will see if McMann can be the first fighter to avoid Rousey's trademark fight ending maneuver.
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