Sara McMann at UFC 159
On April 13, 2013, at The Ultimate Fighter 17 Finale, Cat Zingano destroyed her opponent, Miesha Tate, with devastating knees to the face that caused the referee to stop the bout in the third round. The win gave Zingano the right to face UFC champion Ronda Rousey for the women's bantamweight title later this year.
However, Zingano hurt her knee, requiring surgery. This injury not only halted the undefeated fighter’s immediate title shot opportunity, it also prevented her from coaching opposite Rousey on TUF 18—the first co-ed version of the series.
The UFC scrambled and eventually replaced Zingano with Tate. Since she lost to Zingano, the UFC’s decision to substitute Tate for the Colorado native remains questionable. Given the shallow pool of women in the UFC, only one fighter would have served as the perfect replacement for Zingano—undefeated MMA combatant and Olympic champion Sara McMann.
McMann and Her Dominance
McMann’s wrestling is exemplary. She won a silver medal in the 2004 Olympics and owns a host of wrestling titles dating back to 1998. Her dominance in wrestling is, for the most part, unparalleled in the women's bantamweight division.
McMann’s accomplished wrestling background has translated well into the world of MMA. She uses her grappling skills to dictate the pace and dominate her opponents. The Olympic champion’s world-class wrestling, accompanied by her undefeated streak, made her a worthy candidate to coach TUF 18.
Her wrestling also made her a legitimate threat to Rousey's belt.
Steven Rondina of Bleacher Report wrote about McMann's possible advantage over Rousey.
McMann, on paper, is the most likely to dethrone Rousey, and could arguably be favored if the two fought today.
Wrestlers have historically had the edge against Judoka in MMA, and there are very few wrestlers on par with McMann.
The Projected Uneventfulness of Tate vs. Rousey II
On March 3, 2012, then Strikeforce bantamweight champion Tate met Rousey with the title on the line. The bout was anything but competitive, as Rousey took Tate down within seconds of their first exchange. The bout ended with 32 seconds left in the first round, as Tate struggled to escape an armbar. The former champion lost her belt and incurred some ligament damage for her troubles as well.
Tate’s last career win was over Julie Kedzie on August 18, 2012. At the post-fight conference, the former Strikeforce champion exclaimed that she was not ready to face Rousey just yet. She stated:
I'm not going to ask for that at that point because I don't feel that I deserve it. I think that I need to take a couple fights and I need a better performance than that. I think the fans deserve something better, and I know that I can deliver better than that.
In the end, Tate vs. Rousey I showcased Rousey's dominance. Her world-class grappling skills far surpass those of Tate. Given the ease with which the UFC women's bantamweight champion defeated Tate the first time—accompanied by Tate's recent loss to Zingano—it is difficult to believe that Tate vs. Rousey II will end any differently.
Olympian vs. Olympian
A matchup between McMann and Rousey had all the trimmings to be a ground-breaking event. Using TUF 18 to build up two Olympic champions who both hold undefeated MMA records would have not only produced an epic battle, it would have also done wonders in advancing the progress of women’s MMA.
In an interview with ProMMAnow.com, McMann responded to the UFC’s decision to substitute Tate for Zingano.
I don’t think that the UFC says that they operate on like a strictly title shot earned opportunity. They promote it like they have the discretion to choose who they want to fight for title shots.
The UFC, you know, like it’s part sport, part entertainment and, you know? It’s not like this is the first time that they’ve ever done that. I think that these decisions were made behind closed doors long before it got out to the public.
With McMann as a TUF 18 coach, the UFC had the opportunity to strengthen and bring more credibility to its brand by choosing a more deserving contender to face Rousey. Instead, the world’s largest MMA organization decided to bank on two fighters who have history with each other to deliver high ratings for the long-running reality television show.
Ultimately, McMann deserved the coaching spot opposite Rousey on TUF 18. The Olympian's elite grappling skills will most likely allow her to remain undefeated and extend her reign as a top-notched contender until she faces the UFC’s bantamweight champion.