Main event title shot or not, Sara McMann prefers to remain as far away as possible from the media spotlight.
So that’s why when McMann – who will meet Ronda Rousey next weekend for the UFC women’s bantamweight title – called this reporter on Saturday afternoon, it was just as intriguing as it was surprising.
"I reached out to you to defend somebody who’s worth defending," she said.
Indeed, McMann was calling to defend her fellow U.S. Olympic wrestling mate, Daniel Cormier. She was particularly bothered by the fact that Cormier’s new UFC 170 opponent, newcomer Patrick Cummins, who agreed to fight Cormier on nine days' notice after Rashad Evans withdrew from the bout due to a knee injury, exploited wrestling tradition to attract the attention she so desperately avoids.
"I don’t think people understand what we go through to be prepared for the Olympics," she said. "Wrestling is kind of different than a lot of other sports."
McMann said she was "shocked" that Cummins was running with the story that he made Cormier cry during a wrestling practice a decade ago. And while Cormier hasn’t denied the claim, McMann said Cummins is taking too much credit for an accomplishment he didn’t necessarily earn.
"The coaches are responsible for breaking him, not anybody else," McMann said. "It could be labeled as sadistic. It is so difficult. That’s how we prepare for things.
"During these practices, we are always down on points. We have people rotating in on us. They are people in our weight class that are eating whatever they want, they’re fresh because they get breaks and we don’t. They have no pressure on them. It’s a little bit ridiculous because these practices are designed to break us. These coaches won’t stop until you are flaking out, until you are at your absolute lowest point. That’s the way it’s been in wrestling forever.
"To say that he made [Cormier] cry, that’s just crazy to me."
Cummins was a part of group of wrestlers brought in to help Cormier, a member of the 2004 and 2008 USA Olympic wrestling team, prepare for the 2004 Games at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, CO. McMann, who won a silver medal in freestyle wrestling at the 2004 Summer Olympics, said she’s been in Cormier’s shoes before and reacted in a similar fashion.
"Every single person in there feels that way.
"This is a normal range of emotions that comes when you are being tested like that. It’s so that when you are in the biggest moments of your entire life, you know that you can pull your sh*t together and get it done."
Interestingly enough, Cummins, who accepted the fight Thursday afternoon, has arguably garnered more media attention over the past few days than McMann has leading up to her title fight, which was announced on Dec. 28. McMann said she hasn’t noticed the apparent minimal coverage because she doesn’t pay attention to the media. She also said, if that’s true, there’s no one to blame but herself because she tends to avoid interviews.
"That’s the great thing about fighting Ronda, she’ll sell the show. And that’s fine with me.
"I don’t really need other people to believe in me, to know what I can do. I would have never been able to wrestle or even start MMA if that’s what I needed beforehand. Being a little unknown, I’m happier that way."
McMann is a fairly sizable underdog going into Saturday night, but not as big as the newcomer Cummins, who enters his UFC debut just 4-0. They will share that in common come Saturday night. But while McMann believes Cummins’ time in MMA will come, she's not supportive of how he got to the big show.
"I think Pat is a really great athlete, and I think this is going to be a tough fight, but I think that poking the bear and getting Daniel this pissed off, I don’t think it was a good idea," she said. "I don’t think he’s someone who breaks down when he gets pissed off. I think he’s someone who goes for blood. I don’t think that was the right approach to get into Daniel’s head.
"Pat Cummins is dangerous because he has nothing to lose and everything to gain. That’s a very dangerous opponent. But to release that he somehow has some kind of advantage over Cormier, I just have to say no.
"He’s painting the picture that Daniel is some little wussy, for lack of a better word, for having experienced this, when anybody who is worth a crap has been pushed to this limit."
And with that, McMann steps out of the spotlight before she'll unwillingly be forced back into it on fight week in Las Vegas.