Olympic Silver Medalist Sara McMann, currently 5-0 in her pro mma career, was gracious enough to talk about some of her wrestling roots and combat sports career.
Sara, thank you for taking some time to answer these questions about your career!
Your wrestling career began in high school competing against boys. How did the experience of being the only female wrestling males shape you as an athlete and as a person?
SM: I had a difficult time initially, but wrestling with boys helped speed up my learning curve. I now prefer the training environment that puts me at a physical disadvantage because it pushes my abilities to their maximum.
You also competed in the first ever USGWA National Tournament in 1998, winning the 129 lbs. championship with 4 victories (2 by pinfall). After competing against boys throughout your youth, how did the female competition compare?
SM: The girls were very tough competitors because they also trained with boys. I was happy to compete against women because it showed me where I really stood as a wrestler.
How has the sport of women’s wrestling grown since then?
SM: It has grown in numbers and in-depth. There are also more collegiate and youth programs that have developed since the addition to the Olympics.
After high school, how did you ever end up in the small west central Minnesota town of Morris?
SM: Minnesota-Morris was the only program at that time that had an all-female wrestling team. So UMM was the only forward-thinking college that promoted women’s wrestling at the time.
What was it like competing that year at UMM?
SM: I learned a lot of technique and gained a lot of experience during my year at UMM. It was a great learning environment also.
How did UMM Coach Doug Reese, who started the UMM women’s program in 1994, influence your career?
SM: I learned how to balance a full collegiate course load while working out twice a day. I practiced with some of the best women in the country and met some of my closest friends there.
Today, 14 colleges in North America have programs sanctioned by the WCWA (32 others compete at the NCWWA level), and it is an Olympic sport. With the rise in women’s mma, do you think wrestling will continue to grow or is growing in the U.S.?
SM: Yes. More exposure and opening minds will help the sport grow.
You have had five pro mma fights and three amateur fights and have yet to taste defeat. Your most recent win was a dominant decision victory over veteran Hitomi Akano. Where do you see your mma career going from here?
SM: Gain some more experience in the cage and then focus on winning world titles.
You have fought twice for the ProElite promotion live on HDNet. Do you have a contract?
SM: Yes, currently a 3-fight contract.
Who is next? Who would you like to fight?
SM: Don’t know yet and I don’t think about who I will fight since things change so quickly in mma. Former Pride and Vale Tudo fighter Walid Ismail, now Jungle Fight promoter, recently began an all-female promotion called Pink Fight MMA (today was their 1st event). There is also an all-female promotion, Jewels, in Japan.
Do you see a promotion with all-female fighters happening in North America someday?
SM: Yes, Invictus is trying to do just that.
Is competing in Strikeforce the ultimate goal? Japan? Brazil?
SM: I want to compete against the best in the world. Wherever that is.
What do you think of Olympic judoka Rhonda Rousey? After just four fights she will be facing Strikeforce Bantamweight champion Meisha Tate on March 3.
SM: I think she is good at armbars, but it takes more than that to be a great fighter. I think that fight will be exciting.
You wrestled Kaori Icho of Japan in the 2004 Olympics Gold Medal Match (and several other times). She is still competing in wrestling, but could you see a rematch in mma?
SM: No, she doesn’t do mma.