Sara McMann’s initial reaction to her first UFC opponent, Sheila Gaff, wasn’t delight, but pause.
“At first I had to think about her because I didn’t think she was in my weight class,” McMann told MMAjunkie.com (www.mmajunkie.com). “But I thought I saw her fight as high as 145. If she’s comfortable fighting that high, 135 is no problem.”
McMann (6-0 MMA, 0-0 UFC) and Gaff (10-4-1 MMA, 0-0 UFC) meet April 27 at UFC 159, which takes place at Newark, N.J.’s Prudential Center. Main-card fights air on pay-per-view following prelims on FX and Facebook.
McMann, an Olympic silver medalist and one of the first 10 female bantamweights signed to the UFC, is used to big challenges on the wrestling mat and inside the cage, where she’s ranked in the top 10 of her division.
Gaff, though, was a different type of challenge, as she soon saw.
Immediately after accepting the bout, McMann hunted for footage on the German fighter and found her most recent bout. Gaff’s opponent tried to touch gloves and instead fielded a swarm of punches and knees that left her flat on her back, unconscious.
Is she ready for that?
“I usually don’t touch gloves, so I didn’t really think about it,” McMann said. “Even other people touching gloves, there’s always a risk for anybody doing that. That’s why I assume that when you touch gloves in the beginning, that’s when you’re touching gloves. I don’t start out slow, so I don’t worry about it.”
McMann said it won’t make much of a difference whether Gaff fights dirty or fair when they meet.
“People do that in wrestling, so I guess I’ll just be a little more aware of it so it doesn’t throw me off my game,” she said. “Sometimes the ref catches it, and sometimes they don’t. I really go out there more for my game plan.”
McMann, 32, could have a significant weight advantage over the 23-year-old Gaff, who usually fights at 125 pounds. And her wrestling style should pair well with the German’s blitz.
“I like a high, intense pace too,” she said. “That’s good for me. I didn’t see a lot of her ground work. It’s intense, which is what the UFC wants to see. They want people who are exciting and getting after it, so I think that’s good.”
She also expects prime placement for their octagon debut. One of her manager’s conditions for accepting a fight in the promotion was a spot on the event’s PPV main card, so she anticipates a big audience.
Previously, she fought for the upstart Invicta FC promotion, where crowds were smaller. If her measured tones are any indication, fighting at the 18,000-seat Prudential Center shouldn’t be an issue.
“I think it would be something that I’m really comfortable with,” McMann said. “A lot of my competitions in wrestling toward the latter end of my career were all higher level matches. Fighting on smaller things was kind of an adjustment for me to get myself up and get myself ready. But going back to the higher level, pressure situations is kind of comfortable to me.”
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