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[Interview] UFC 170: Sara McMann on Rousey, armbar hunting & UFC gold

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On February 22, when UFC Women’s Bantamweight Champion Ronda Rousey meets Sara McMann in the main event of UFC 170, not only will these two undefeated former Olympians fight for the coveted organizational gold, they’ll be doing so as the first two mixed martial artists to meet inside the Octagon as Olympic medalists.

McMann (7-0) , a Silver Medalist in Freestyle Wrestling at the 2004 games in Athens, and Rousey (8-0), a Bronze Medalist in Judo at the 2008 games in Beijing, will usher in a new chapter in MMA’s 20-year history, as this monumental moment will be brought forth by two women, not men.

In a society where women’s sport is sometimes scoffed at and thought of as being a lesser product, the UFC and the women fighting inside of the vaunted Octagon are taking the reigns of a new era in sport, and putting their own authoritative stamp on MMA’s future going forward.

“I think that it’s an awesome thing to do – an awesome experience,” said McMann to Examiner during a recent media tour in support of UFC 170. “It’s nice to be, like, ‘oh, we’re the first ones to do things,’ but I think I get more pride from actually getting the medal, rather than representing it later.”

It’s this humble, yet direct, approach that makes McMann so endearing in her delivery. She’s as equally confident as she is respectful, and it’s obvious when you hear her speak that years of wrestling room grit have rubbed off on her. Of course the milestone of Olympic Medalist vs. Olympic Medalist is not lost on McMann, but she sees the journey to UFC gold as a culmination of a lifetime of hard work and dedication, and the Olympics and MMA are two totally different arenas.

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With her fight against Rousey in the desert rapidly approaching, this ‘go for gold’ attitude is ever-present when discussing her plans to become champion. In fact, as high profile and as heralded as Rousey is, when Miesha Tate squared off with “Rowdy” at UFC 168 in December, McMann didn’t care who came away the victor. Star-power be damned, all McMann wants is to fight the best the division has to offer.

“I wasn’t pulling either way,” said the 33-year-old when asked if she had a preference in opponent.

However, that philosophy didn’t ring true for her handlers, as they were quick to see the obvious value in a fight with one of MMA’s hottest commodities.

“But I know my manager was definitely pulling for Ronda,” she said. “It’s just a much more high profile fight to say it’s two Olympians and all the things that come along with this – undefeated records, and stuff like that – it’s just easier to sell from a management standpoint. But I just want the better fighter. So, if it happened to be Miesha on that night, I would have wanted to fight her.”

With her win over Tate at the end of 2013, Rousey, 26, once again solidified herself as the best female fighter in the UFC today. With an undefeated record, and all of her fights ending via the armbar submission, Rousey’s legend is growing with each limb collected.

The streak has created equal parts praise and equal parts criticism. There is one school of thought that sees Rousey’s streak as the impressive accomplishment that it is, and then there’s another group who view the accomplishment as a direct result of a seemingly one-dimensional approach to fighting. When McMann is questioned as to whether or not, in her mind, Ronda Rousey is, in fact, a one-trick pony, McMann dismisses such talk with a quickness.

“She got an Olympic Bronze medal and I don’t think that’s something people should be like, ‘Oh, well, she’s just a one-trick pony,” stated McMann with a glare. “That’s like saying, ‘oh, so-and-so basketball player, all he does is shoot 3-point shots really well.’ Well, those score a lot of points. I just know I approach it as that’s her strength. I don’t know some of the other strengths or weaknesses that were exposed [in the Tate fight], but I just have to look at her like the athlete she is, and the ways I can exploit it.

“No fighter is one-hundred percent complete. And if you tend towards one direction, you open yourself up to other avenues to attack you.”

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With all eight of Rousey’s finishes coming via armbar, there is little doubt that the streak holds a special place in her own heart. Rousey is a fan of MMA, and she is seemingly an intelligent individual with great acumen for the sport’s history – she knows what the streak does for her and her legacy, whether she admits it or not.

Let’s be real, there are very few coincidences in life, and if you happen to finish all eight of your professional fist-fighting bouts with the same maneuver, chances are, that ‘coincidence’ flew out the window a long time ago.

Despite public rhetoric stating that she will ‘take the fight as it comes,’ and that she doesn’t specifically hunt the arm of her opponents. For McMann, she very much doubts this is the case.

“I didn’t know she said she wasn’t hunting them, because it definitely looks quite deliberate to me,” stated the former Silver Medalist. “I mean, that’s like me saying, ‘Oh, well, you know, I’m not really trying to take them down.’ Uh, well, yes, when I set it up and took a penetration step and grabbed their legs, I was most certainly trying to take them down.

“If she’s not hunting them, it shows it’s something she does naturally without even thinking about it. Which means she is going to go into a preset patterns that can absolutely be exploited. So, either it’s deliberate, or it’s not deliberate, either one has different implications.”

Different implications, but with the same outcome if Sara McMann has anything to say about it.

[Tickets for UFC 170: Rousey vs. McMann go on sale this Friday, Jan. 10 at 10 a.m. PT and are available at all Ticketmaster locations]

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Listen to National MMA Examiner Ryan McKinnell's weekly podcast with Danny Acosta (USA Today Sports, Sirius Satellite Radio), Majority Draw Radio: The Precision of Indecision

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