Ronda Rousey has Hollywood, magazines and newspapers beating down her door, but Sara McMann doesn't want any of that. So even if she wins the championship at UFC 170, she's already designed a surprise exit if the spotlight gets too hot.
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As fight setups go, UFC 170 is primed for significant attention. Taking place during the last days of Sochi, both the event’s champion and challenger are former medal-winning Olympians, and world-ranked bantamweight mixed martial artists. Ronda Rousey is fast transforming into a Hollywood star and a consistent headline generator. In other words, the avalanche is coming. While that’s great for Rousey’s fast-growing brand, it’s not necessarily welcome news to Sara McMann, a quiet 33-year-old who will play the role of Rousey’s foil on Feb. 22.
While Rousey’s life seems an open book, McMann is far more guarded and private, choosing to separate her personal life from her professional one. But given Rousey’s rising star, it stands to reason that a McMann upset would generate a storm of interest in her. Particularly because her own story has so many compelling elements to it, McMann has much to share, if only she wants to. Indeed, winning the championship would be life-changing, but not necessarily in a good way.
"I guess I’m as prepared as I can be," McMann told FOX Sports. "I know that some champions get more attention than others. Mine will never be as much of an avalanche as the one Ronda created, because she has perpetuated that. So mine might not be as strenuous as hers has been. She wants to segue into movies and other things, and I don’t. I don’t have to generate as much attention. But I know it’s going to be out of my comfort zone and if it gets too far off, I’ll just get pregnant. ‘See you guys later. It’s been fun.’"
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I know that some champions get more attention than others. Mine will never be as much of an avalanche as the one Ronda created, because she has perpetuated that.
She suggests it with a chuckle, even though it’s not meant to be a joke. No one truly understands the value of family until they’ve lost someone close, and McMann has suffered tragic losses in her past. Her brother Jason was murdered in 1999, and her fiance Steven Blackford died in a 2004 car accident in which she was driving.
Adding to her family has been a longtime wish for McMann, who is the mother of a four-year-old daughter, Bella, and has openly discussed the desire to have another child.
She has noted the difficulty of finding the time to do so while competing at an elite level. In addition to that, she’s always felt that due to her late entry into MMA, she was racing to attain the skills necessary to compete at the highest level before her body was no longer firing optimally.
So in essence, time has been her enemy on two fronts. Can today’s woman really have it all? She’s about to find out.
On the professional front, McMann’s fast rise up the MMA ladder doesn’t come as a huge surprise given her roots as a world-ranked wrestler who took silver at the 2004 Olympic Games in the 63 kg category, but her quick elevation to title challenger does.
The 33-year-old is hoping to have her hand raised yet again at UFC 170 against Rousey.
When McMann first signed with the UFC a year ago, her camp privately insisted that she would take a methodical approach, moving through contenders slowly on an eventual path toward the title. The number quietly circulated to the media was that she would need at least three fights before challenging for the championship.
McMann confirmed that, saying that due to her background, she naturally looks at competition in terms of the tournament format: quarterfinal, semifinal and final. Yet when the UFC called her and told her that a fight with Rousey was on the table, she didn’t hesitate despite only one Octagon experience in her back pocket.
"I said, ‘Yep, let’s do it,’" she said. "I had butterflies in my stomach, I was so excited. I just thought that I’d have to do a little bit more to have the crowd to say we really want to see this fight. And I was wrong about that."
The reason she didn’t need more time, she said, was because she has been considering the possibility of fighting Rousey for nearly two years. As she did when she was a wrestler and focused on the top of the rankings ahead of the filler, she did here in MMA, and that meant Rousey was always in her longview.
So despite the fact that she was only able to compete once in 2013 — she withdrew from another fight for personal reasons she declines to discuss — McMann says she’s ready.
That doesn’t mean that she’s confident beyond all reason. In fact, McMann admits she’s not quite as confident as she was say, during her wrestling heyday.
"I don’t like to have total confidence because I think you can start to take something for granted or you won’t respect something as much as it needs to be respected," she said. "I blow my opponents up to where they are the strongest they ever could be. In my head, I go in there thinking they’re stronger, they’re faster, they’re 10 times the athlete I saw on the video I reviewed, just so if they get anything I can shut it down very early and my responses to their threats are much stronger."
So she’s ready for Rousey as an athletic challenge, but all of the distractions that come with it? The unrelenting spotlight? Well, that’s not quite for her. When she prepares for competition, her focus is extremely narrow, and most everything else is unwelcome and unwanted. On a conscious level, all of this is fleeting for her in a way which most athletes refuse to acknowledge. That ultimately means that if McMann pulls off the upset, MMA could be gaining and losing a star at the same time.