Molly McCann has found a glitch in the system.
A bit like a glitch in The Matrix, there is an element of deja vu to it. In McCann’s case, however, there is no black cat slinking by. For the Liverpudlian, the signifiers have been much less subtle: spinning elbow knockouts (KO), both at the O2 Arena, occurring barely four months apart.
In March, it was Luana Carolina who found herself on the receiving end of a brutal finish by McCann – a knockout deemed arguably the greatest in the history of women’s mixed martial arts. In July, Hannah Goldy was struck by the same spinning back elbow that stopped Carolina, before a flurry of punches finished off the American.
“If you watch all the training footage on my Instagram and the UFC’s, during the whole camp [for Goldy] the spinning elbow and the set-up was there,” McCann tells The Independent. “The UFC put out a video that week of me hitting pads, and I must have threw about nine elbows.”
Just three days out from July’s edition of UFC London, flyweight McCann told media that her knockout of Carolina would mean nothing come the night of her clash with Goldy, yet the strike ended up being pivotal in “Meatball”’s first-round victory over the American.
“What I kind of meant was: That elbow and the notoriety I gained from it in March meant nothing come fight night, but obviously it’s a tool in my arsenal now,” McCann explains.
“It was near enough like a 360-degrees spin that I done, and that much ferocity and torque as quick as I spun round... People my weight don’t knock other people out in women’s MMA, they just don’t, but I feel like I’ve found a way to make it happen. I feel like I’ve found my timing and I’ve found a little glitch.”
Furthering the feeling of deja vu for McCann is the fact that her friend and fellow Liverpudlian Paddy Pimblett followed each of her recent victories with his own on the same nights, submitting Rodrigo Vargas at the O2 Arena in March before doing the same to Jordan Leavitt last month.
“Since me and him have started, our careers have been intertwined,” McCann says of the rapidly-rising UFC lightweight. “That was like fight number eight on the same card for us, so it’s nothing different. It’s all I’ve ever really known. And the times I’ve lost, he hasn’t been there.
“If we were offered the right fight in the right place [on the same card], of course we would take it, because it’s just more fun. Like, imagine going and living your dream on your own, or imagine doing it with your teammate and one of your good friends. I think until the wheels fall off, we may as well keep riding the train.”
If anything, the wheels seem to have been oiled. McCann’s win against Goldy was her third in a row, ensuring the 32-year-old equalled her best UFC run since joining the promotion in 2018. The result also saw McCann enter the rankings at flyweight, a division ruled by Valentina Shevchenko.
After defeating Goldy, McCann proceeded to call out the champion’s sister Antonina, knowing that the Kyrgyzstani’s link to Valentina could combine with “Meatball”’s own momentum to fast-track the Scouser to a title shot.
“I never say who I want, I never call people out, it’s not my style,” McCann says. “But what I did say was just in terms of legacy, and what an honour and a privilege it would be to fight [Valentina].
“It could go against me because when I beat [Antonina], Valentina will have done a camp pretending to be me and know me inside out, then she’ll have another [to prepare to face McCann herself]. But it goes in my favour, because I would have had two camps for her – two southpaws, two Thai boxers, two movement patterns that are the same. Antonina’s just longer, Valentina’s just shorter. I just respect them both so much that it was with no disrespect that I called [Antonina] out.”
McCann’s reserve of respect for the Shevchenko sisters is as deep as her respect for politicians is shallow, the Liverpudlian having led fans at the O2 Arena in a “f*** the Tories” chant last month but also now hitting out at Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer.
Commenting on the Conservative leadership race between Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss, McCann says: “You can’t trust either one of them. I’m not saying Starmer’s any better... well, I’m not saying he’s notâ any better. I just think the state of politics at the minute is a joke.
“You’ve got one who won’t even go and stand on the picket line, who’s supposed to be a Labour party leader, and he’s just not leading the way he should be. Then you’ve got Sunak. It’s just like: ‘Oh, my God, you are all mental.’ Then I can’t even start with Truss, because it’s just like [ex-prime minister] Theresa May all over again. Do you know what I mean? It’s just such a shame, such a shame.”
McCann’s willingness to speak so openly about topics such as politics and her sexuality has resonated with fans in the same way that Pimblett’s frankness has. Both fighters’ careers, as McCann says, are intertwined. Yet “Meatball” and “Paddy The Baddy” are paving their own paths, too.
It is unclear where McCann’s will lead, but the Briton has momentum on her side as well as ever-swelling support from an increasingly-invested British audience. “I feel like I’ve been battered, just with the amount of love and the amount of people who’ve been in touch,” McCann says. “Life has just completely spun on its head yet again.”
Life will keep spinning, just as McCann has to devastating effect in the Octagon.
“Every time you think it can’t get bigger, it does. I can’t really put into words how mad my life is now.”