Few things are more disappointing for a mixed martial artist than a loss in their UFC debut. When Molly McCann lost to Gillian Robertson, she couldn’t bare to look anywhere but the ground, but it was the people of her hometown Liverpool that helped lift her back up.
“I’d walk down the street, get people in the car go, ‘Next time, Meatball. You got it,’” she said. “My self-worth and self-esteem were at lower than low, and I dealt with a bit of anxiety and depression and post-traumatic stress from being put to sleep, waking up in that cage, and you got all these people still screaming your name, and you don’t know what’s going on. I was reliving that moment every day, and I don’t know, I’m better than that.’”
The change of emotions came as a jolt for McCann, who had secured the Cage Warriors title just three months prior to her UFC debut. She had even competed in the same arena, and she said that she went “from ecstasy to agony.”
After getting back into the gym, McCann revamped her team, bringing in a new nutritionist and a new strength and conditioning coach. Two days before weighin in, she said she sat just three pounds over the flyweight limit.
On top of an adjusted team for her fight camp, McCann also committed herself to 100 days of jiu jitsu after losing by submission. Those 100 days turned into 150, and the Liverpool-native now says she finds herself submitting black belts in training.
Her demeanor, although understandably eager to get into the Octagon, comes off like a simmering calm instead of brash. She even wished her opponent, Priscila Cachoeira, good luck when she ran into her in the hotel elevator.
“I’m not going to be emotional in this fight,” McCann said. “I’m not going to brawl in this fight. She’s going to brawl. If you look at us stylistically, I’m a technician, and she’s a bomber. Boom, put you to sleep. I’d be stupid to try to sit and exchange with her.”
Of course, there will be some emotion as she walks to the Octagon in the O2 Arena. Her dad was born in Bermondsey, so while London isn’t Liverpool (and neither should ever be mistaken for the other), it does still feel like a home away from home for her.
“To fight in The Big Smoke, in the capital, nothing quite compares to that,” McCann said. “When I think when I walk out, my song is going to be playing, all the scousers are going to be screaming. All the cockneys are going to be screaming. Everyone is going to be screaming because they’re going to want this little meatball to win.”
If she gets her hand raised, she’ll become the first English woman to win in the UFC. While that’s obviously a big feat and would put her in the proverbial history books, she’s already finding herself making an impact outside of the cage.
On this year’s International Women’s Day, Liverpool echo released a list of “100 inspirational Merseyside Women to Celebrate,” including McCann, and the news couldn’t have come at a better time.
“I was feeling like s***,” McCann said. “I wake up and see this, and I thought, ‘Yeah.’ I’m not this kind of girl who’s going out in bikini shots on Instagram. I’m the kind of girl that’s trying to make a difference and change lives and live my life in a way that people want to do and show people like, ‘Yeah, I was a bit depressed. Yeah, I had anxiety. It’s not all sunshine and rainbows,’ and for me to be placed in that list, I was like, ‘Oh my god.’”
McCann’s focus – a mixture of determination, craved redemption, and the classic blue-collar toughness associated with people from Liverpool – radiates off her, and while she compared this fight week to “Christmas day every morning,” nothing will bring more satisfaction than a win on March 16.
“My martial arts journey, it’s been amazing,” she said. “The amount of mixed martial artists, friends and family who’ve helped me along the way, I just cannot thank enough, so it’ll be, once I win on Saturday, it’s like, I’ve finally done what I set out to do.”
Zac Pacleb is a writer and producer for UFC.com. You can follow him on Twitter @ZacPacleb.