Sara McMann has no pressure on herself.
She's not the first women in the UFC, she's not the first on free television, to fight for a title and she's not even the first mom. Hell, she's not even the first Olympic medal-winner.
McMann has long been considered one of the best prospects in the women's bantamweight division, and it was no surprise she was one of the first females signed by UFC.
Thankfully, the other ladies inside UFC have already broken down the walls, with Ronda Rousey vs Liz Carmouche headlining a pay-per-view and the number one contender fight between Miesha Tate and Cat Zingano stealing the show on The Ultimate Fighter 17 Finale.
McMann's UFC debut will be much lower key, taking place on the FX prelims portion of UFC 159 this weekend (April 27, 2013) when she battles knockout artist Shiela Gaff.
The unbeaten contender spoke to MMAmania.com about gaining experience, rounding out her game and making a big splash in her UFC debut in this exclusive interview.
Check it out:
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): You're making your UFC debut this Saturday night. How are you feeling heading into the fight especially after the incredible performances the other girls have put on thus far?
Sara McMann: I feel really good. I'm excited to compete again. I feel like I haven't fought in forever and I would like to be much more active in that department. I'm definitely excited. I don't know if I ever viewed it like I had something to prove or that any of the girls did. I've been watching women's MMA the past four years and I know how hard these girls fight and what they bring to the competition. I already knew they'd bring it.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): I remember after your tough decision win over Shayna Baszler at Invicta FC 2, you said you didn't feel you were ready for even an Invicta title shot yet. Was it almost a relief that you weren't thrown into the UFC title picture immediately with this fight against Gaff and you'll have a bit more time to keep gaining experience and to improve?
Sara McMann: Yeah, I think it's not a great thing but I'm a perfectionist and a technician. I want to be a great fighter in all areas. I don't want to just be a wrestler who's getting by in the other areas. There's no substitute for the time and work you have to put in to build the muscle memory. I feel like every day I inch closer to the fighter that I want to be but I probably will end my career and still wish I was better at a kick or a particular submission. I'm like that. I want it all.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): How important is it for you to have a fully well-rounded skillset before you get into title contention?
Sara McMann: Being an Olympic level wrestler is great because it gives you the option of choosing where the fight takes place. That being said, you still have to really know what you're doing in both areas, standing and on the ground, if you want to fully take advantage of that ability. What's the point of being able to keep the fight standing if you can't strike for a lick? You'd better have the striking to back it up.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): How close do you think you are to being in a position to get that big knockout on the feet? We've seen several top wrestlers become pretty good knockout artists like Dan Henderson and Johny Hendricks already.
Sara McMann: I really don't know. I have power in my hands and I've had it since I started fighting. I think it's more about whether I can place it at the right time and at the right spot. As far as the strength to score a solid knockout, I've had that since my early days of wrestling. I'm forcing myself to stand on the feet and learning the ins and outs and how to set things up. I'm not gonna force it or pressure it. It'll come at its own time. When I can relax and just throw it out there, that's when it'll happen.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): What's the thing you've enjoyed the most about the transition from wrestling to mixed martial arts?
Sara McMann: I think for me, it's like I get to explore all these new different tools in combative sports that were illegal in wrestling. It's just an expansion of a lot of the skills that we build in wrestling and you just get to take it one step farther.
One of the things I like the most about MMA is you can be a great fighter and someone else can be a great fighter and they can have completely different skill-sets. It's amazing to me that your skills can vary so widely and you can still be an amazing fighter. It lets you really build yourself into the fighter you want to be.
You don't have to stick to any certain thing, like you have to have this specific skill, or this boxing background or this coach or you'll never make it in MMA. That's not how it works. Maybe you're a great kickboxer and you hardly use your hands. Maybe you have terrific knees. I like the variety.