Sara McMann finally arrived on the big stage at UFC 159 with a first round TKO win over Sheila Gaff. The highly touted prospect showed off her skills to her biggest audience to date.
McMann entered the sport as a professional in 2011. Her wrestling pedigree, as a former Olympic silver medalist, instantly perked up the ears of the MMA community. She honed her skills on the regional circuit as Ronda Rousey made waves and quickly vaulted toward the top of the sport.
The two have always been linked together, and speculated who would win. Rousey has been more dominant in her career, and many view McMann as the biggest legit threat to her crown. Is that the case?
It is a hard question to ask, and even harder to answer. I believe it may be more accurate to say McMann has the potential to be Rousey's biggest threat.
The biggest threat to Rousey's crown may be her next opponent: Cat Zingano.
Rousey has had a significant athletic and technical advantage over her opponents to date. That is not to discredit her opposition, but rather to marvel at just how good Rousey is. Zingano will be the best athlete she will have faced when they meet later this year. More importantly, she will be the most well-rounded.
That is the difference, right now, between Zingano and McMann.
McMann is still working on her striking and submission skills. She is working on them diligently, and we have seen good improvement in a relatively short amount of time. This was highlighted by her fights in 2012.
In January of 2012 she fought Hitomi Akano. The Girlfight Monster is a noted submission specialist, but she is not very strong. McMann powered out of numerous bad spots in that fight. It was not proper submission defense that allowed her to avoid being caught, but the sheer strength difference between the two. That raised many questions about her submission defense.
Her next fight was against Shayna Baszler. Another submission specialist, but someone who would not be so mismatched in the strength department. McMann's submission defense was much improved in just the six months between the two bouts. McMann also got to show off some of her improved striking in the bout. She picked up a unanimous decision over Baszler.
Since that time McMann has been to several different MMA training gyms, including the elite Tristar in Montreal. Training at a camp like Tristar will help McMann in her quest to be the top bantamweight in the sport.
We still have questions about her all-around game, but her elite level wrestling can hide those flaws quite well. McMann will likely have to fight one more time before getting a title shot, and the biggest test awaiting her could be Alexis Davis. A fight like that will tell us if she is the biggest threat to Rousey's crown.
As of today, Zingano looks to be Rousey's top threat. However, McMann is a fast learner and she is getting plenty of time to perfect her craft before taking a run at the UFC gold. By the time McMann gets her shot at Rousey, presuming she defeats Zingano, she very well could be every bit of Rousey's equal.
A Rousey vs. McMann matchup will be one of the most anticipated fights of the upcoming year.