As she gets set to fight Miesha Tate this weekend at UFC 183 in Las Vegas, Sara McMann is finally talking about the extraordinary events that surrounded her UFC 170 title fight with Ronda Rousey.
Namely, that her father, who was content to play out the string and die when his cancer came back, opted to go through a course of chemotherapy again to see his daughter fight for the belt.
McMann appeared on the MMA Hour on Monday and discussed the turn of events that convinced her father to continue his fight against his lymphoma.
"He chose not to do chemotherapy, so he was just choosing that he was going to live with the cancer until it killed him…and the cancer that had come back was very aggressive," she told Ariel Helwani.
"He’d gone months of deciding that he wasn’t going to go through chemotherapy and he wasn’t going to live. The fight happened, and it was basically presented to me as, if you don’t take this fight you may never get a chance to fight Ronda, that she may go into movies and this might be the only opportunity. I was really struggling with it, because I hadn’t been training. Things were really hard for me emotionally. I’m a huge daddy’s girl, so it was really hard for me.
"But when I accepted the fight, he was the first person I told about it. And he decided because of [the title fight], he was going to go through chemotherapy because he didn’t want to die before he got to see me fight."
McMann said that the lymph nodes in his neck were swelling so bad that "he was literally on the brink of death" before he opted to do the chemo. He’d even gone so far as to divide all his things and got all his affairs in order. She said it was the reason she had to pull out of the fight with Sarah Kaufman
"We had hospice nurses coming to our house," McMann said. "Every time that I drove up there I was very aware that that was the last time that I was probably going to see my dad. He cut it so unbelievably close to death that it’s ridiculous.
Her father’s slow decline was so hard to take that at one point McMann said she began taking antidepressants. But when matchmaker Sean Shelby presented her the Rousey fight, she knew that the training would break her from the gloom.
"I needed something," she said. "I’ve trained my whole life. Training is a coping mechanism for me. I knew I needed to prepare for something. I needed to be in a practice room. Not practicing made it hard to deal with my dad."
Though her father’s still suffering some of the aftereffects, McMann says he’s responded very well to the chemo and that his cancer is now in remission. And it all started with her getting that title shot.
McMann lost to Rousey that night in Las Vegas via TKO early in the first round, after taking a knee to the body which doubled her over on the fence. It has been since debated as to whether or not it was an early stoppage by referee Herb Dean. Though she hopes a win over Tate will be enough to convince the UFC to give her a rematch, she took home some silver linings from that first encounter.
"Essentially no matter how that [Rousey] fight would have gone, I got more time with my dad," the 2004 silver medalist Olympic wrestler said. "It was going to be a win for me either way."
McMann rebounded with a victory over Lauren Murphy at UFC Fight Night 47 this past August in Bangor, Maine, winning a split decision. That had led her into this big spot against Tate, a fight that will head-up the preliminary action before the pay-per-view portion begins.
McMann had kept hush on her and her father’s story in the lead-up to the event last February. When asked months back by MMA Fighting about why she didn’t want the remarkable story to get out, McMann said that she didn’t want to take anything for granted, and that there was still a long way to go in the process. She wanted to keep the thing private until she knew things were headed in the right direction.
On Monday, McMann said that enough time has elapsed where she feels she can talk about it all.
"I’m a lot more comfortable now because the situation is a lot further in the past," she said. "Now I’ve had a lot of time to come to terms with it."