Molly McCann and Conor McGregor have walked similar ground throughout their careers.
Both made their first combat sports steps within boxing before moving to mixed martial arts and winning world titles in Cage Warriors before moving on to the UFC, and this weekend McCann will compete for the first time inside Madison Square Garden — the arena in which McGregor became the first man to win a major mixed martial arts main event bout when he claimed the 155-pound world title from Eddie Alvarez in November 2016.
And ahead of McCann’s bout with the 9-1 Erin Blanchfield, she told the assembled media in New York about some words of wisdom she received from McGregor.
“I messaged him going, ‘How do you handle this? Because you can blow up and then you can blow up. I just couldn’t quite get my head around how some people are with you,’” McCann said. “He was just like, ‘When you’re in the gym, it’s just the gym. Don’t let no one else in. Keep everyone outside. Always remember it’s just fighting. You’re a cage warrior. That’s what we are. We’re Cage Warriors champions.’
“He said some mad things about, ‘Valentina is going to get a Mac spanking’ and all these things. It was so poetic, and it was so lovely. My partner, Ellis, printed it off and put it in a sign at MSG. It’s in my front room. So every day, if I’m struggling or I’m feeling good, I don’t get ahead of myself, get a big fat head, and walk around with ego. It’s to stay grounded and realise that I’m just here to win. The rest of it, the external factors mean f*ck all.”
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Much like McGregor has learned in the past decade or so, stardom comes at a price and McCann says that her days of anonymity in her hometown of Liverpool — and indeed elsewhere — are over.
“Post-fight, I’ll enjoy an ale, enjoy doing the media with everyone,” she said. “Then, when you get home, it absolutely kicks you in the face, because you’re not normal any more. I can’t just walk a little Frank and Patty down the streets anymore. So what I’ve had to do is leave a private life, because my life is not private anymore.
“That’s been something that not everyone has had to deal with. When we start fighting, I think we start to just win a belt. We don’t start for fame. We don’t really start for the money. It’s about the prestige and the honour of winning that belt.
“I’m very fortunate. I suppose that people want to know and that I’m that approachable. But it’s weighed heavy. I’ve just learned how to handle it now. Do you know like me, I never want to not give everyone every a bit of time I’ve got. I want to make everyone feel special. But when you’ve got hundreds of people a day that can drain your energy.
“I’ve learned to lay boundaries, be respectful to the people when they want to speak to me. But if I ain’t got time, it’s not the end of the world if I say no. That’s been the hardest thing, but I’m learning.”