Pictured: Invicta FC 2 headliner Sara McMann. Photo by Esther Lin
Sara McMann is one of the most intimidating fighters in women's MMA today.
The undefeated bantamweight has quite the track record, winning the silver medal in freestyle wrestling at the 2004 Olympics in Athens and is regarded as one of the most successful female wrestlers in United States history.
Obviously, her offensive grappling is her strong suit.
McMann has had trouble finding fights with opponents backing out or coming up with excuses not to face her, but that's no longer the case now that she's fighting with a professional organization like Invicta Fighting Championships.
The elite wrestler will be taking on veteran submission specialist Shayna Baszler in the main event of Invicta FC 2 this Saturday night (July 28, 2012) in Kansas City, Kansas and she spoke to MMAmania.com during a special guest appearance on The Verbal Submission about her frustrations, her development and what she expects against Baszler this weekend.
Check it out:
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): You were scheduled to have a fight a couple weeks ago and everything kind of fell apart at the last minute and you ended up doing a jiu-jitsu match instead. Can you explain what actually happened?
Sara McMann: Oh my lord. That show? That show was a disaster. I kind of had a little suspicion, Now that so many opponents have done this, I start to get little hints that trigger me long before it comes to the actual show. She kind was a little bit hard to reach about a month out and my boyfriend was like, "This is ridiculous. Is she gonna fight or not?" and he got on Facebook and said, "Hey, just checking. Are you still fighting on this show?" and she was like, "Oh, what's the date?" acting lik eshe had no clue what was going on. She had been tagged in two huge pictures because we were the co-main event and acting like she didn't know.
So she was back on board and as we got closer to the event, she started complaining about the medicals and we had been informed over a month out all about the medicals to be taken care of which we had all done before. Every single fighter that came there, even the ones brought on the last couple days before the fight, the promotion and commission worked with them tremendously to get you to a doctor to get your medicals taken care of to make sure the show would go on and I think she used the excuse that she didn't have her medicals.
She just didn't want to fight. For whatever reason, I don't know why people back out but she just didn't do it early enough and I couldn't find a replacement and eventually, all I could do was a grappling match which was the only competition the commission would allow. I'm definitely happy to be with Invicta against an opponent like Shayna Baszler. I feel a million times moore confident in both of those.
Especially because this is my profession as a fighter. I don't own a gym, I just fight right now. If you don't want to fight me, don't accept the fight in the first place. Coming from the wrestling world where people crave the challenge and want to face the best people, having people back out is a complete mystery to me.
Why be a fighter if you are scared of losing? There are plenty of jobs in the world where you aren't faced with that uncertainty. Go do those jobs. I know it sounds ruthless but you're taking away from the people who actually want to do this.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Well at least you did get to go out there for the grappling exhibition and you won by submission. I know it's not what you were hoping for but at least you got a little experience considering you're facing someone who's a great grappler like Shayna Baszler for this fight. Every little bit probably does help.
Sara McMann: Yeah and that girl I faced, she's been doing it for quite a while, like at least nine years. She felt pretty good and I have 100 percent respect for her. She took that grappling match on like a day or two's notice. I have total respect for her and none for that girl who backed out.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): You have a three fight contract with Pro Elite and you've had two of those fights. Are you planning on finishing out that contract as well?
Sara McMann: Yes. All the shows that I'm with are non-exclusive. I kind of like it that way. It gives me a little more freedom and I can go and basically face all the girls who aren't signed with Strikeforce and I can compete against them. That way I can fight all the people in the weight class that I want to fight and then I can go ahead and fight in Strikeforce. It takes a little more flexibility for their shows. Pro Elite, I don't know when they're planning their next show but I will probably be on that show. If it takes them a little bit longer, they're perfectly fine with me fighting for other promotions in between. I've had great experiences with Invicta even before this upcoming fight. I know Shannon Knapp and I'm happy to fight for then.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Let's talk about this upcoming fight. Your last fight was against Hitomi Akano, the "Girlfight Monster" who's a submission-based fighter, a Megumi Fujii protege. Do you feel like that was exactly the type of experience you needed against a veteran grappler to prepare you against Shayna Baszler who's one of the best submission based catch wrestling fighters in women's MMA?
Sara McMann: Oh absolutely. I think that Hitomi Akano, I don't know hwo many of her fights that she's finished by armbar, but her and Shayna Baszler are submission based fighters. I think it's a trend that ground-based fighters that take me on really come in looking to strike because they expect to be put on their back and they're confident in their submissions. She came out throwing and it gave m e a lot of confidence that I could shut down a submission artist.
It definitely gave me a little bit more confidence to open up my ground and pound and some work on my passes. I didn't get to pass as much as I'd have liked against Hitomi and it was a little difficult to get out of her guard but I've been working extensively on that. She revealed a lot of the holes that I have in my game and I'm coming back the stronger fighter and I'm better off for the experience.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): How do you feel your striking has progressed since you got into mixed martial arts? Since your first fight, how would you compare your striking?
Sara McMann: Oh my god, my boyfriend and everyone I know make fun of me so bad for the first fight I had. (laughs) I basically didnt;' have any striking experience and if you just took a thug Italian girl with a little bit of a wrestling background and threw her into the ring, that's exactly what I looked like. I was just swinging for the fences. I was so tired. I was lucky I had wrestling conditioning because I was just trying to take her head off with every single punch.
Luckily now i consider myself more refined and I'm not as much of a human punching bag. It took me a while to get comfortable and not just fall back on my wrestling as soon as I could. Hopefully every fight I keep making improvements. I'm hoping I'm still on the upward swing and I keep getting better at it. There's a huge difference.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Do you have goals for growth in the ground game similar to what fellow Olympian Ben Askren has been able to do? Can you discuss the benefits of having that elite level wrestling to fall back on while adapting to the submission game?
Sara McMann: Yeah, I think that some of the wrestlers that transitioned over, we're not fully learning Brazilian jiu-jitsu. We take those techniques and try to make them our own and Ben Askren has been doing that since he was a little kid. I've heard stories that whenever he would go to these wrestling camps, he would frustrate the councilors because they'd try to teach him a technique and he'd just make it his own.
That's what makes mixed martial arts so interesting is because with Brazilian jiu-jitsu and wrestling is you can learn a technique and take your body type and your strengths and adapt to it. I think he's done a great job with that in terms of jiu-jitsu and fighting. I'm not quite as good as him yet in terms of trusting his body and instincts to do the moves in a completely innovative way.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): There's actually a little bit of history between you and Shayna Baszler where very early in your career, I'm not even sure you'd made the transition to MMA yet, but you ended up grappling with her in some competitions. What was that experience like and how would the Sara McMann of today perform grappling with Shayna Baszler now?
Sara McMann: That's an excellent question. To be honest, that was so early in my jiu-jitsu career that I really can't remember. Everything was really so new to me and I was borrowing a lot from wrestling. I probably made so many mistakes that it was hard to pinpoint it down. The first time I grappled with her was six months after I had my daughter so I'd just been working jiu-jitsu for about four months. I don't think I was a good grappler yet as much as I was still a wrestler.
I fought her two months later in the grappling world championships and I made some adjustments to be able to defend submissions a little better and that made a big difference right away. These last couple years, I've been steadily improving my jiu-jitsu. Even when I'm done with my MMA career, I want to pursue jiu-jitsu as a sport. It's something I dedicated a lot of time to. In this fight, it will show how much I've evolved.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): When you're picturing victory against Shayna Baszler, what do you see?
Sara McMann: Every time I've been asked that, my predictions have been completely wrong. I want to finish the fight but if it has to go, it has to go. I plan on winning every area. I plan on winning the stand-up game, the takedown game and everything. If I can finish it then great, but if I can't, that's a testament to how tough Shayna is.
Sara would like to thank her boyfriend, her agent Hector Castro and her manager Monte Cox. They help make it happen and do the behind-the-scenes work. You can follow her on Twitter @SaraMcMann.
To listen to the complete audio of our conversation with Sara McMann, click here (interview begins at the 1:02:00 mark).