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History in the making: Sara McMann makes her UFC debut by smashing Sheila Gaff

"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. What's the point of being able to keep the fight standing if you can't strike for a lick?" --Sara McMann, two days before her Octagon debut.


"Fear the Fighter."

That's what Sara McMann's shirt read as she stepped into the Octagon for her Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) debut, which came on the FX-televised "Prelims" portion of the UFC 159 pay-per-view (PPV) fight card, held on April 27, 2013 inside the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey.

On the front, as well as on the back.

That meant that no matter where opponent Sheila Gaff would take their women's bantamweight contest, the message would be clear. This was an individual with a special set of skills, undefeated in her young mixed martial arts (MMA) career and not burdened with breaking any new ground.

First woman to ever fight inside the Octagon?

Nope, that honor went to Ronda Rousey. First on free television? Miesha Tate beat her to the punch just two weeks prior. First mom? Sorry, that was Cat Zingano. How about first Olympic medalist? Looks like "Rowdy" had her scooped on that one, too.

But on the flip side, that meant no pressure.

In theory, anyway.

McMann was dogged by critics in the wake of her unanimous decision win over Shayna Baszler in the main event of Invicta FC 2, which took place back on July 28, 2012 inside Memorial Hall in Kansas City. While it was far from a robbery, there was a sizable portion of the fight community who scored it for "The Queen of Spades."

But that was water under the bridge in the new-look UFC.

Following the influx of top female bantamweights, who were afforded a new place to ply their trade on the success of UFC 157, McMann found herself on a very short list of title contenders before she ever stepped foot inside the Octagon. Partly because of her credentials as an undefeated Olympian, but mostly because the division was so thin you could floss with it.

2013 problems.

But McMann wasn't getting anywhere near the title until she first disposed of Gaff in their "Garden State" showdown. The early betting lines had "The German Tank" a sizable underdog, but the fight was much more dangerous in real life than it was on paper.

In 10 wins, Gaff had never been to the scorecards, crushing six opponents by way of brutal knockout and submitting the other four.

Not that she would ever get a chance to showcase her finishing ability.

That's because Gaff "made a gaffe," according to UFC color commentator Joe Rogan, as the Offenbach bantamweight ran straight ahead at the start of the fight and was taken down less than three seconds into the contest. Four minutes and three seconds after that, she was stuck in a mounted crucifix, eating punches, until referee Gasper Oliver intervened.

Sara McMann had arrived.

The good news is, she's now the number two fighter in the women's 135-pound division. The bad news is, she has to now face Rousey, who has finished all eight of her opponents by armbar. They'll do the deed in the UFC 170 main event this Saturday night (Feb. 22, 2014) at Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas, Nevada.

No pressure.

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