When Molly McCann received word she would receive a $50,000 “Performance of the Night” bonus after UFC Vegas 36, the joyous and emotional reaction that followed was about more than just an extra paycheck.
As she yelled and cried on a Las Vegas street, being filmed by a teammate, MMA fans saw someone that finally felt like they’d been validated after years of hard work, after tough stretches of fighting and disappointment, after thoughts of retirement and the literal laying down her gloves on the canvas when her MMA career stalled.
To be sure, some of McCann’s reaction was about money and the opportunities it provided after she started on the sport on accident after a push in boxing. It was something bigger, though.
“I just come from nothing, so to win any kind of money is just next level,” she said on The MMA Hour. “But I think for me, it was the recognition of my hard work. It wasn’t even so much the money, but I feel as if I could have been in a few fight of the nights before this one, and I was kind of picked off by the more well-known fighters on the card. So for it to come full circle, I even had my manager, Graham Boylan, in the corner for this fight ... it was just mad. It was like it was all meant to be.”
Seven months earlier, McCann got the MMA world thinking she was done with the sport after a lackluster loss to Lara Procopio at UFC Vegas 18. And it was true that she felt like she was at an impasse after putting all of her effort into something, only to be smothered by what she felt was an opponent hesitant to really engage in a fight.
“I was like, I can’t give any more than I’m giving,” she said. “I come to fight-fight, and I felt like that person I fought, Lara, just came just to hold on and not even try to finish me, literally just try to pin me to the floor or to the wall. If you’re going to beat me, please try and submit me or finish me and put me away, don’t just stall. I had never come up against that kind of fight before. In boxing, it’s like a stalemate, a bit of a journeyman, and I feel like that’s what she was, and I was not prepared for that, because people don’t fight like that in MMA.
“So I just felt like I had been given a rough go of it in terms of drug cheats and just sh*t matchups, and I’ve never turned a fight down. I know, stylistically, I will face styles that don’t really suit mine. But it was just annoying, having that back to back.”
What cameras didn’t see was a conversation backstage between she and her coaches that provided some needed perspective. They told her to think about Michael Bisping, the UFC’s first major star and a UFC middleweight champion after 25 appearances and countless triumphs and setbacks in the octagon.
“You think he’s never sat down like this and felt what you’re feeling,” McCann remembers. “So carry on and keep cracking like he did.”
To get back on her feet, “Meatball” Molly had to change her environment. The local fame she shared with her Liverpool teammates at Next Generation MMA made it tough to get some mental space, so she flew to Spain and started training there. After “96 rounds of rolling,” she competed in a grappling tournament and won. She then linked up with a sponsor and performance coach, Tom Smith, who told her she was settling and needed to push herself again.
In the octagon this past Saturday, McCann did just that, battling punch for punch and position for position with Ji Yeon Kim over three rounds, capturing a unanimous decision to snap her two-fight skid.
“I just had to have a few long words with myself, and I feel like I’m back,” she said.
McCann is currently in isolation per COVID-19 protocols in her native U.K. She believes her hand is badly broken and will get an MRI next week to determine the extent of the damage. The effects of the fight, from the swelling in her digits to the throb in her head, are starting to show after the high of Las Vegas.
Seeing her teammate Paddy Pimblett realize his UFC dream and capture the MMA world’s attention, it took a while for McCann to come back to earth.
Soon, she’ll move on to practical matters, like a new and improved UFC contract and her next opponent. Oh, and a deposit on a house. Money does make a huge difference when you come from nothing.
“I always said all I wanted from fighting was a world title and to have a house bought,” she said. “If you can say you’ve got a fully paid house and your mortage is finished, then you’ve done quite well, haven’t you? To kind of fall into MMA kind of by accident and then to have an amazing career, it’s just mad.”