When Sara McMann decides to do something, there’s no stopping her. With a relentless training regimen and desire to succeed, McMann pushed herself to become the nation’s best female wrestler. In 2004 she became the first American woman to win an Olympic silver medal in freestyle wrestling. Throw in a silver and two bronzes at the World Championships and a couple golds at the Pan American Games and it was clear she had accomplished her goal.
Now, with wrestling behind her, McMann has set another lofty goal: to become the best female mixed martial artist in the world. “I’m not in a hurry. Things are progressing very well right now,” McMann said. “I don’t have to fight the top names in the sport right away, I’m patient. But from the moment I decided to do this, the top women had targets on their backs.”
McMann’s idea of patience is a little more fast-paced than normal. She turned professional in mixed martial arts in 2011 and in less than three months posted four victories, including a win over Tonya Evinger, then the No. 9-ranked woman at 135 pounds. To open 2012, she will fight No. 5-ranked Hitomi Akano in Honolulu on Jan. 21 as part of a televised ProElite event on HDNet.
“Sara may be the most focused fighter I’ve ever worked with,” said longtime MMA manager Monte Cox. “She sets her goals, maps out the course to go after them, and gets the job done. Will she make it to the top of women’s mma? I sure wouldn’t bet against her. It won’t be long until the best in the world are looking over their shoulders — if they aren’t already.”
For her efforts in 2011, McMann moved up to No. 9 in the world rankings byMMArising.com and she received the “Mighty” Mia Hayes Inspirational Female Fighter of the Year Award last month. The award is named in honor of courageous amateur fighter “Mighty” Mia Hayes, who lost her lengthy battle with cancer last year. It recognizes a fighter who has provided inspiration to others by persevering through adversity. McMann’s brother, Jason, was murdered in 1999 and shortly after her Olympic success, she suffered the loss of her then-fiancé, Steven Blackford, in an automobile accident.
“My life is really filled with the highest of highs and the lowest of lows,” McMann said. “I’ve come to accept the fact that that’s the way it’s going to be whether I like it or not.”
It was a tough start in MMA too, as opponents found a variety of reasons to turn down or back out of fights. At one point, Cox says nine straight scheduled opponents found a reason not to get into the cage. “I had promoters tell me they called all over the country and couldn’t get a replacement,” Cox said. “They said we should take down Sara’s wrestling videos on YouTube because she was scaring everybody off.”
Things took an upswing last year when McMann signed on to fight for ProElite. With a solid budget and a TV deal, the promotion has been able to keep McMann busy. “Sara is the real deal and I think she will be the best in the world, if she isn’t already,” said ProElite promoter T.Jay Thompson. “We were going to bring her along slowly and let her get experience. But she’s so good we had to change our plans. Now she is co-headlining our next show and fighting the No. 5-ranked woman in the world. There’s no holding her back.”
When not training and fighting, McMann, now 31, managed to secure a master’s degree and become a mother. Her daughter, Bella, was born in 2009. She also does volunteer work for Habitat for Humanity and Safe Homes and traveled to Sri Lanka with some Olympic teammates to help victims of the Tsunami rebuild homes.