Molly McCann’s remarkable rise from payday loans to UFC fame

There were times when I just thought, ‘What the hell is life worth living for?’

Molly McCann cuts a lost figure as she recalls what life was like less than a decade ago.

And it’s not that surprising, considering how far she’s come — from serving sandwiches to star of the octagon.

The 32-year-old recently secured his second straight UFC London win in four months, a thunderous spining-back elbow sending American Hannah Goldy on deck.

The victory catapulted McCann to global fame, earning praise from hip-hop artist Drake, The Rock and UFC President Dana White – a notoriously stubborn figure.

Molly McCann has celebrated success this year with two stunning KO wins at UFC London. (Photo: Getty)

“On St. Patrick’s Day 2013, I served sandwiches at a sandwich shop. I literally worked in the Subway,” recalls McCann, who also worked two jobs at a bar in Liverpool to help pay for her studies.

The fighter’s previous job at the sandwich chain is the inspiration for her nickname “Meatballs”.

Born and raised in the Norris Green housing development, an area plagued by poverty and gang violence, McCann admits she “had to get Wonga loans” because she didn’t qualify for college finance.

Despite the obstacles in her path, McCann completed her degree in Physical Education at Liverpool John Moores University, one of the UK’s most prestigious sporting institutions.

After graduating, she worked as a personal trainer, but that—as well as her burgeoning fighting career—was put on hold when her father was diagnosed with cancer.

McCann told JOE, “There were times I was just like, ‘What the hell is life worth living for?’

“I cared for my father and had to take a break when he died.”

Molly McCann’s father Paul Pearson died before she made it to the UFC (Picture: @meatballmolly)

McCann initially competed professionally for the Shock ‘n’ Awe and Cage Warriors promotions, but says she lost more money than she actually made from the competition.

She recalls being disappointed with the £5,000 in prize money spent on winning her first title, the Cage Warriors Flyweight Championship.

“I thought, ‘Will I ever get to this point? Is it worth it?'”

Six straight wins paved the way for her move to the UFC in 2018, but her time with the world’s biggest promotion wasn’t without struggles either.

McCann lost to Gillian Robertson in her UFC debut and has been beaten twice since. Losses in 2020 and 2021 amid the coronavirus pandemic left their future uncertain.

However, McCann hit back to defeat Ji Yong Kim on the undercard of fellow Liverpool player Darren Till in September 2021 before winning twice at UFC London this year.

The key to McCann’s rising fame was the way she won her last two fights.

Both Goldy and Luana Carolina were decked out in a twisting elbow, the kind of finish that easily lends itself to social media virality and catching the attention of A-listers like The Rock.

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,” says McCann, “I keep looking back at all the news.”

She acknowledges the influence of her fighting style on her popularity.

“In the space of four months, I completed two spinning back elbow finishes. There have only been five in the history of martial arts and I’ve managed two.”

Becoming a UFC superstar isn’t without its setbacks, however.

“I didn’t really leave the house scared because of the change in life and how different people are.

“It’s gone from people just being like, ‘Hiya, are you okay?’ when they come up to me and scream or hand me their babies to take pictures of. It’s a crazy place if you’re not used to moments like that.”

McCann has earmarked Valentina Shevchenko — the biggest pound-for-pound fighter in the UFC and the current flyweight champion — as her ultimate conquest.

Shevchenko has been described by fellow British player Tom Aspinall as the best all-rounder in the UFC and McCann admits there is still work to be done before she reaches that level.

After her victory over Goldy, McCann sees Valentina’s sister, Antonina, as a more realistic perspective in the immediacy.

“I never call anyone, it’s not my job,” she said.

“But when you talk about legacy, prestige, honor, who’s the best in the game? It’s Valentina. Am I Valentina Ready? no, come on Am I Antonina ready? Let’s see. I think it’s me

Valentina Shevchenko is currently the number one fighter in the UFC roster. (Photo: Getty)

“It’s not a diss but I really think this is an amazing fight and I know if they do a fight camp for me if I ever make it to Shevchenko they will have the blueprint. But I will also I have the blueprint because I know how to beat her sister. So with the utmost respect I said her name because I think she’s the best.

McCann may have a few more wins to pick before she ventures her hand on the champion, but MMA is ultimately an entertainment business.

Fighters with the biggest fan bases are increasingly influential, and this could prove crucial to McCann’s rise to the top.

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