Every athlete has his or her own way of dealing with the feelings of anxiety and nervousness that precede important moments. Some bottle up the emotions and use them as fuel. Some see sports psychologists to tame them. Others choose to simply ignore them.
Sara McMann combats those natural feelings of uncertainty by making peace with the worst possible outcome. Losing is never a goal, but when you're an athlete, it's virtually certain that it is an experience you will have at some point of you career.
McMann, a 2004 Olympic freestyle silver medalist, has had an athletic life mostly filled with success. Aside from her Olympic medal, she's won major international competitions like the Pan American Games, has captured a grappling world title, and is currently undefeated in MMA at 6-0. There's been far more ups than downs, and McMann has gotten through it all by constantly reminding herself that losing is not a dead end.
"People probably wouldn't believe the way I let myself talk," she said on Monday's edition of The MMA Hour. "It's before fights to reduce the pressure, but sometimes I'm just like, 'You know what? Every fighter has a loss in their career.' Any way I can minimize losing being that scary of a monster, it takes pressure off of me.
"You know what? GSP's lost, and Anderson Silva, and they're phenomenal," she continued. "They just had to take a little bit longer road, a detour on the way to the top. When I really feel those things, I think I take away that humongous fear of what a loss can mean and I make it not such a bad thing -- something I still don't want to happen -- but then I’m free to go out and perform to best of my ability."
McMann (6-0) faces Sheila Gaff on the UFC 159 prelims this weekend in the third women's UFC match to date.
The first two had huge stakes. At UFC 157, Ronda Rousey and Liz Carmouche headlined the event, and after a rollicking first round, Rousey check-mated Carmouche with her signature armbar submission to retain the championship. Then, at the TUF 17 Finale, with a coaching slot opposite Rousey on the line, Cat Zingano came back to stop Miesha Tate on strikes in the third round. Rousey and Zingano will now be featured on the next edition of TUF.
For a while now, there have been backers who believe that McMann will be the most challenging matchup for Rousey, assuming her wrestling prowess will be enough to stop Rousey's judo throws, and leading to a standup fight that will be far more competitive than the typical Rousey matchup.
McMann believes that her 16 years of wrestling would not only negate Rousey's throws, but leave her with an advantage. That said, with Rousey and Zingano soon to be locked away for the show's lengthy taping followed by training camp and a fight, McMann said there is no reason to expect her to challenge for the belt anytime soon. And that's just as well, as she's focused on improving before she gets to the championship level.
"I’ve never talked to Dana White," she said. "I’m pretty sure he could pick me out of lineup but I don't know him, really. I've met Joe Silva and Sean Shelby before, but everything goes through my manager. He might have an idea, but my job is to train to get better and be ready when those opportunities come up."
McMann said she wants her fight with Gaff to be a good standup fight, but believes she has a major advantage on the ground. Her hope, she said, is for "a good, little war."
Like always, she is ready to win, but prepared to lose. It's not a sensation McMann is too familiar with, but her willingness to brace herself for the worst eventuality fills her with confidence.
"It's just to say, I’m not going to be beheaded. I'm not going to be thrown to the wolves afterward," she said. "A couple peole are going to say, 'Oh, that was a great fight, too bad she lost' and other people will say,' Yeah, we're glad she lost.' And that's the worst that's going to happen. My pay will probably change a little bit or my sponsorships might change a little bit, but even that, if you're someone who wants to reach the top, you know that there is going to be stumbling along the way, hard fights. It's not going to be a fluid, straight path. I accept that. I think that it makes me fight without fear. If you go out there and you fear losing, you can be a little bit stiffer, your timing can be off. You're thinking about the outcome more, not about what you should be doing in each moment of the fight, and that is the enemy more than the actual loss."