Three years ago, Invicta decided to put Shayna Baszler in a title elimination bout. Her opponent was a mere five fights into her career, compared to the twenty pro bouts that Shayna had amassed, but the lack of experience stood behind a tall shadow of pedigree.
What pedigree? The silver medal in 2004 (Athens). Two gold metals at the Pan Ams between 2003 and 2007. And lots of stuff that looks like a foreign language on wikipedia but that I know is important to Sara McMann's history as a fierce competitor.
Last night McMann suffered a brutal loss. She was slow to reset after an ill advised leg kick hindered her momentum, leaving someone seasoned like Amanda Nunes to capitalize with a blistering right hand. The rest, as they say, was violently executed history.
In the wake of McMann's loss, the common narrative that has surfaced is that Sara is "overrated". Or if not overrated, a prospect 'bust'. The female pugilist next door in Ryan Leaf clothing.
But there are a number of philosophical problems with this (not counting the brutality of being compared to Leaf). First and foremost, it undercuts Amanda Nunes' accomplishment. This is by far the best Nunes has ever looked. She's only 27, so she's right at her athletic peak, and appears to be blossoming at just the right time.
When Nunes fought her 7th pro fight, she got reversed on the ground and eventually battered into submission by Alexis Davis. For perspective, McMann's 7th pro bout was for the UFC title.
My other issue with this narrative is that McMann's performance is less a reflection of her value in the bantamweight division, and instead, a marker for WMMA's infancy. How many people gave up on Nunes after she followed up the loss to Alexis Davis with another one only two fights later to the unheralded Sarah D'Alelio?
The ebb and flow of new divisions looks less like the ecliptic and more like the game of chicken Vin Diesel and Jason Statham play in those Fast and Furious movies where nobody swerves, yet everyone lives despite the 120 mph needle. The division is not quite in between a Bill Wallace burp, and Jason Thacker failing to avenge his pillow for the first Ultimate Fighter Finale, but it shares a spiritual hyperspace.
We're not watching "erratic performances". We're watching an erratic division. The lack of experience inherently restricts its matchmaking. It's hard to establish hierarchy out of havoc. Hence why Liz Carmouche could get a title shot despite going 2-2 in her last four. Why Miesha Tate is on course for a Shamrock vs. Ortiz like rivalry with Ronda Rousey. And why Bethe Correia trash talked her way into a title shot.
I'm not making a case for cynicism. These are growing pains. Nothing more, nothing less. Besides, the lack of experience means Amanda Nunes is now a real player in the division. And that's legitimately exciting.
Whether or not this translates into Sara McMann remaining relevant in the division is another matter entirely. Perhaps a new camp, and fresh faces will do her good. Perhaps not. But the division owes her the benefit of the doubt. Bantamweight is far better off with McMann making sure we can separate the contenders from the pretenders if Sara can help determine that for herself.