There were times when I just thought, ‘Why is life worth living?’
Molly McCann puts on a desperate face as she recalls what life was like less than a decade ago.
And it’s not so surprising considering how far he’s come – from serving sandwiches to being an octagon star.
The 32-year-old recently picked up a second consecutive UFC London victory in four months, a thunderous elbow knocking American Hannah Goldy to the deck.
The victory catapulted McCann to global stardom, earning plaudits from hip-hop artist Drake, The Rock and UFC President Dana White – an infamously stubborn character.
“On St. Patrick’s Day 2013, I was serving sandwiches in a sandwich shop. I was literally working in Subway,” recalls McCann, who also worked two bar jobs in Liverpool to support his studies.
The fighter’s former job at the sandwich chain is the inspiration behind her nickname, “Meatball.”
Born and raised in the Norris Green housing estate, an area plagued by poverty and gang crime, McCann admits she “had to get Wonga loans” because she didn’t qualify for student finance.
Despite the obstacles in her path, McCann nevertheless graduated from Liverpool John Moores University, one of the UK’s most prestigious sporting institutions, with a degree in physical education.
She worked as a personal trainer after graduating, but that was put on hold – along with her budding fighting career – when her father was diagnosed with cancer.
McCann told JOE: “There were times when I thought, ‘Why is life worth living?
“I was breastfeeding my dad and had to take a break when he passed away.”
McCann first fought professionally for the Shock ‘n’ Awe and Cage Warriors promotions, but says she lost more money than she actually made in competition.
She remembers being disappointed with the £5,000 prize handed out for winning her first title, the Cage Warriors Flyweight Championship.
“I thought, ‘Will I ever get there? Is it worth it?'”
Six straight wins paved the way for his move to the UFC in 2018, but his time with the biggest promotion on the planet was not without its challenges either.
McCann lost in her UFC debut to Gillian Robertson and has since been beaten twice. Losses in 2020 and 2021 amid the coronavirus pandemic have left his future uncertain.
However, McCann fought back to defeat Ji Yong Kim in September 2021 on fellow Liverpudlian Darren Till’s undercard, before winning twice this year at UFC London.
The key to McCann’s rise to fame has been how she has won her last two fights.
Both Goldy and Luana Carolina were adorned with a twisting back elbow, the kind of finish that easily lends itself to social media virality and catches the eye of stars like The Rock.
ANOTHER elbow that turns for the collection! 💥
— UFC Europe (@UFCEurope) July 24, 2022
The actor and WWE icon shared footage of McCann’s victory over Goldy on his social media platforms, drawing comparisons to his own legendary People’s Elbow finisher.
“It’s just crazy,” McCann says, “I keep looking at all the messages.”
She acknowledges the impact her fighting style has had on her popularity.
“In the span of four months, I’ve done two back elbow finishes. There’s only been five in the history of combat sports and I’ve done two.”
However, becoming a UFC superstar is not without setbacks.
“I haven’t really left the house with anxiety because of how much life has changed and how different people are.
“There are no more people just asking, ‘hiya, are you okay?’ to them running and screaming or passing me their babies to take pictures with. It’s a crazy place, when you’re not used to this kind of moment.
McCann named Valentina Shevchenko — the UFC’s biggest pound-for-pound fighter and current flyweight champion — as his ultimate conquest.
Shevchenko has been described by fellow Brit Tom Aspinall as the best all-rounder in the UFC, and McCann admits there’s still work to be done before she reaches that level.
Speaking in the wake of her win over Goldy, McCann sees Valentina’s sister Antonina as a more realistic prospect right now.
“I never call anyone, it’s not up to me,” she said.
“But when you’re talking about legacy, prestige, honor, who’s the best in the game? It’s Valentina. Am I ready for Valentina already? No, come on. Am I ready for Antonina? Let’s see I believe I am.
“It’s not a problem, but I honestly think it’s an amazing fight to have and I know if they do a fight camp for me, if I ever get to Shevchenko, they’ll have the plan. But I’m also going to have the plan because I’ll know how to beat her sister. So with the utmost respect, I said her name because I think she’s the best.
McCann may need to get a few more wins under his belt before he tries his hand at the champ, but MMA is ultimately an entertainment business.
The fighters with the biggest fanbases are getting more and more sway, and that could prove crucial in McCann’s rise to the top.
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