Skip to content

Molly McCann: How combat sport is leading way for equality and eliminating need to define sport by gender

In second of four-part 'Inspiring Inclusion' series, UFC fighter tells Sky Sports how combat sport is removing need to look through gender lens; McCann will be on Sky Sports News for International Women's Day on Friday; watch all-female card on ONE Championship live on Sky on Saturday

Please use Chrome browser for a more accessible video player

Molly McCann hails the impact of MMA on her life and becoming a role model in the UK

For Molly McCann, the epic duel between Natasha Jonas and Mikaela Mayer in January epitomised the respect women's boxing has garnered and indicated how combat sport is leading the way in stripping the need to define sport by gender.

The UFC athlete was ringside for the all-action encounter at Liverpool's M&S Bank Arena where fellow Liverpudlian Jonas retained her IBF welterweight title with a close split-decision win over American Mayer, before reviving her own career by ending a two-fight losing run with a first-round victory on her strawweight debut last month in Las Vegas.

"I was at the fight for Jonas-Mayer. You watch that and you see what women are about," McCann told Sky Sports.

"You've got two Olympians, a mother [Jonas is mum to eight-year-old Mela], two fighters who have been denied world titles and they're still showing up and they're still gracious in victory and defeat."

Please use Chrome browser for a more accessible video player

Highlights from a huge IBF welterweight title clash between Natasha Jonas and Mikaela Mayer in Liverpool

Ahead of International Women's Day on March 8 and its 'Inspire Inclusion' theme, McCann talks of being "lucky" to belong to a sport striving for equality - but recognises hers is a different story to so many other sportswomen.

"Before MMA, it was when I was boxing and playing football that was where the barriers were for me," the 33-year-old, who made history two years ago when she became the first woman to feature on the main card of UFC London at The O2 arena alongside Brazil's Luana Carolina, said.

Having taken up karate, kickboxing and Thai boxing in her younger days before she started boxing at 12, it was just over a decade ago that McCann made the transition to MMA after an ankle injury forced her to retire from football following a five-year spell at Liverpool.

Latest MMA Stories

"When I came to MMA, they embraced me. They embraced Molly McCann's culture, how hard I work, my fighting style. I can sell tickets, everyone likes to watch me fight, so I feel like the gratification and respect I have from men and women in what I do is probably my proudest achievement in the sport."

molly mccann
Image: McCann is glad to have helped inspire other girls and boys keen to get into combat sport

For an athlete who had battled hardship and heartache growing up due to her mother's alcohol addiction, McCann's resilience and passion to overcome whatever hurdles might lie ahead in her sport shine through.

"You're going to have certain role models who have a linear road to the top - and I'm not that person," she said.

"I'm the person that gives everything they've got, they don't cut corners but still they don't get what they deserve. But life isn't always what you deserve, you get what you work for and when the hurdles come and you fall at that hurdle, you've got to get back up and carry on running - or you're just going to feel sorry for yourself.

"I have sat there, 10 pints of Guinness deep in the little Irish pubs in Liverpool feeling like a piece of s*** and then I see the kids, the little girls and also the men being inspired by my story and that I'm here to show people that I can do it and it's going to be the hardest way, but that's what I was forged to do."

She feels proud to have played her part, alongside other leading female fighters and boxers who are rewriting history with their own extraordinary careers.

Less than two years ago, Claressa Shields versus Savannah Marshall was the most-watched women's professional boxing event in history when more than two million viewers tuned into the first all-women boxing card, making it the biggest audience for a live women's sport event ever on Sky.

Two-weight undisputed world champion Katie Taylor has already headlined at the iconic Madison Square Garden when she faced Amanda Serrano and has ambitions of boxing in Las Vegas one day as her status and appeal transcends sport.

Please use Chrome browser for a more accessible video player

Mayer and Gary Logan discuss who is the current GWOAT of boxing - Katie Taylor or Claressa Shields

These forces of nature are making it a less painless one for the next generation to navigate.

"I feel like the girls who are coming up now in the sport, this will annoy you, but they've got it so much easier than any of us ever had it and the ones before me and I feel that if you can't get it now, you're never going to get it," McCann said.

"We're built that bit differently in MMA. We've faced that much physical adversity every day, we're just used to it now. It doesn't mean anything to you. It's just like whatever, I'll get it tomorrow, I'll get it tomorrow.

"But I'm aware that sometimes in other sports, like your football and things, they struggle with the pay and they want more equality along the board. I'm very fortunate that the company I work for, I have that equality whether that's to do with my sexual orientation, or my pay grade. I'm exactly the same as the boys who are in my position, so I have touched lucky."

That is not to say she has not suffered misogyny, social media abuse and other pitfalls throughout her career.

McCann has been honest about the brutality of social media abuse, revealing in an interview with Sky Sports back in December 2022 that she can "take a beating, but sometimes the internet makes it a harder, harder place".

Doing her best to ignore the keyboard warriors, she has also learned the art of when and where to "pick and fight battles" when closer antagonists are at play.

"I'm a coach for the national team [English Mixed Martial Arts Association] and when I went to the World Championships in Serbia, the disrespect I received from different nations because I'm a woman, that was tough.

"If I wasn't a national team coach and I was just 'Meatball' fighting in the UFC there, I'd have ended up having it with some of them because how dare you treat me that way, pushing into me, moving me out the way, just being quite disrespectful.

"I feel like being women we have to learn grace and we have to learn when to pick and fight battles and which ones you have to sometimes concede a battle to win the war - and that was one of those moments for me."

It is a mantra that McCann continues to run with as she looks to build on her career off the back of her brilliant UFC win last month and declared "say less, do more".

"I think being visible and transparent and winning and operating in a correct manner now is what it needs to be," she said.

"I feel like we can really hose this narrative of 'it's not equal' it's quite negative, but I'm in a world where women are championed for what we do and I think maybe our sport needs a bit more admiration and maybe other sports can correlate and coincide with what we do - because we're doing a really good job."

Watch All-Women's ONE fight Night 20 live on Sky Sports Arena from 1am on Saturday morning

Anthony Joshua's heavyweight showdown with Francis Ngannou takes place on Friday March 8, live on Sky Sports Box Office with the main event expected around 11pm. Book Joshua vs Ngannou now!

Get Sky Sports on WhatsApp

Sky Sports WhatsApp channel

You can now receive messages and alerts for the latest breaking sports news, analysis, in-depth features and videos from our dedicated WhatsApp channel. Find out more here...

Around Sky