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Sara McMann ready to step in if Nunes vs. Shevchenko falls through again

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Sara McMann

EDMONTON, Alberta -- This time, if something goes awry at the last minute between UFC women’s bantamweight champion Amanda Nunes and Valentina Shevchenko, there’s a competitor ready to be the company’s Plan B.

Nunes and Shevchenko were slated to clash for the Nunes’ bantamweight title in the main event of UFC 213 in Las Vegas in July. But Nunes pulled out of the bout just hours beforehand due to a case of sinusitis. Without a suitable replacement ready, Shevchenko was also removed from the card, and the bout ultimately moved to Saturday’s UFC 215 at Rogers Place.

So Sara McMann is serving notice that if anything happens between now and fight night that causes one fighter or the other to fall out, she’s ready, willing, and able to step in as a replacement.

“I do it in a heartbeat,” McMann told MMA Fighting on Thursday. “I’ll step right in.”

The 36-year-old McMann (11-3), an Olympic wrestling silver medalist and a former bantamweight title contender, meets unbeaten Ketlen Vieira (8-0) in the featured FS 1 bout on Saturday night. While no one from the UFC has told her that she’s officially next in line if something goes wrong again, McMann has already let the UFC’s matchmakers know where she stands.

“I called Sean Shelby and let him know,” McMann said. “I’m already training for a fight, I’ve been in the big fights before, I’m ready for it. If they need me, they know where to find me.”

And if they come calling, they’ll find a fighter who is fresh with the energy of a major change in career trajectory.

McMann had long been based out of South Carolina, but she recently made the move along with her 8-year-old daughter to Team Alpha Male in Sacramento, Calif.

“It was just the right move at this point in my career,” McMann said. “I was ready to go to one of the bigger, elite gyms, but I also didn’t want to go one who has established fighters in my weight class, because you want to be the priority and you don’t want divided loyalties. Team Alpha Male had strawweights. So that was a factor, plus you look at the coaching staff, the depth of the talent there, the positive attitude that starts with [gym founder] Urijah Faber and goes on down, even things like, there’s physical therapy if I need it, everything is all under one roof. The change has been great.”

And yet, it’s not as if McMann was moving for the typical reason fighters switch gyms in their mid-30s: McMann didn’t need to regain her mojo in the cage. She’s won three consecutive fights, including a pair of submissions in her past two.

That was her response to a previous rough patch, one which started with a first-round loss in a title challenge to Ronda Rousey and also included losses to Nunes and Miesha Tate.

“I mean, I’ve had to deal with overcoming losses going all the way back to my wrestling days,” McMann said. “It’s a part of the game, you can sulk or you can go back to the drawing board and figure out a better and a smarter way to do things.

“You can never stop learning and growing. That ties back to my move. Sure, I had won a few fights, but can I bring it even further?”

McMann has also turned heads in recent fights by becoming more assertive on the mic after her recent wins. She’s still the same intelligent and thoughtful person she’s always been, but earlier in her career, McMann had been reticent to seek the limelight.

Not anymore.

“That’s the way the game is played these days,” McMann said. “And that’s okay. Back when I first started, I didn’t feel like I had the standing to say I was going to go out and do this or that, or demand a title shot. But now I’ve proven myself and when I say I want a title shot, I know I’ve got the experience behind me and the words coming out of my mouth are authentic.”

So you can rest assured McMann’s being authentic when she says she’s ready for Nunes or Shevchenko, just in case.