UFC London: Molly McCann on Conor McGregor, Everton pitch invasion and KOs ahead of sharing another O2 Arena card with best friend Paddy Pimblett

Author Photo
Molly McCann after weighing in for her fight with Hannah Goldy

When Molly McCann invaded the pitch at Goodison Park while celebrating her beloved Everton securing Premier League survival in May, the UFC fighter known as 'Meatball' knew she would be recognised because of one of the knockouts of the year exactly two months earlier.

Inspired McCann picked up a Performance of the Night bonus for detonating a spinning back elbow to end Luana Carolina's contest at UFC London in March. Arguably the most memorable moment of the card, it sparked wild celebrations between McCann and Paddy Pimblett, her fellow Liverpudlian and best friend in the sport who beat Rodrigo Vargas by first-round submission on the same night.

"The internet blew up off that elbow," McCann reflects ahead of her flyweight fight with American Hannah Goldy, when she will return to the O2 for a second successive scrap. "Everyone realised, ‘f*** — she is who she says she is’.

"From that last fight, my life completely changed, in terms of sponsorship. I don’t have to go into a fight now worrying about rent and bills, all that kind of stuff. Pressure creates diamonds and I’m ready to keep creating.

"Half the card earn probably more than I earn but it’s just that extra: when you’re in camp, you just want to be thinking about improvements and getting better.

"When you have to think about money and survival post-camp, it can be detrimental to your thought processes.

"When I’m in the cage, if I’m in a compromising situation, I don’t want to be thinking, 'if she moves here, I’m not going to be able to pay my bills.’ Every fighter, by hook or crook, finds a way to make it work, [even if] you have to have two jobs out of it."

McCann is motivated as much by avoiding the perils of fame as the hugely-followed 32-year-old is by her achievements.

"That spinning elbow means f*** all on Saturday, doesn’t it?" she asks, describing how she has gone from being known as "bevvy girl" to "elbow girl".

"That’s not going to win me the fight, living off the last fight. But what it has done is given me the belief and mental fortitude to know what I’m capable of. I’m really finding my feet in the UFC and I just want to find consistency.

"Notoriety means f*** all. None of it’s real. Just because I can go out and more people know my name, it doesn’t change me as a person. It doesn't change my family’s life.

"Liverpool’s got a really good way of keeping you humble. I’ve tried to be more of a role model — to drink less and do more for my community. I just want to be a world champion."

MORE: Paddy Pimblett on 'divvy' Rishi Sunak, Jake Paul, Darwin Nunez and why bout with Jordan Leavitt at UFC London will be his last UK fight 'for years'

Three months after becoming Cage Warriors champion in February 2018, McCann was beaten by Gillian Robertson in the second round of her UFC debut — although she says her win over Carolina taught her more than that defeat.

She responded with three successive wins, including a victory over Ariane Lipski in South Carolina a year later when she admits that nerves kept her from eating all week and she was "constantly drained".

"It has just been really important to keep my feet on the floor," she says. "You could see when Conor McGregor was in flow and had those amazing finishes, and when he was being a bit manic and a little bit everywhere because he was feeling the pressure a bit. Nothing’s ever been normal in my life. I don’t feel like I’m touching my potential yet."

The playful presence of Pimblett, who fights Jordan Leavitt in a lightweight bout after McCann faces Goldy on Saturday, helps.

"Do you know how many trolls I get online from the Americans going, ‘why do you call him Patrick?’" she says. "That’s his name.

"He calls me the Meatball and I call him Patrick. It’s been that way since he had braces and I was working in Subway.

"It’s a bit of a mad one. We’re kids from Liverpool who grew up on council estates with nothing. The good thing is, we epitomise being a bit Scouser.

"Some people might not like it but I know everyone back home is proud of us. We try to be honest, we try to tell the truth and be funny. We try our very best to give paying customers and working-class people what they deserve."

MORE: Nate Diaz questions whether UFC, Dana White are holding him hostage for fight against Conor McGregor

Like McCann, Liverpool fan Pimblett is increasingly asked about the challenges of staying focused with a celebrity profile and is always questioned on football.

He was less supportive than usual when Everton recovered from 2-0 down after 53 minutes to beat Crystal Palace 3-2 and avoid relegation in May.

"I was in the main stand, upper tier," says McCann. "I managed to hang down into someone’s box: ‘love, can I get down there?’ She was getting ready to catch me.

"I was with Dele Alli, Seamus Coleman, Frank Lampard — I got to them all. I had flares, blue in my hair for I don’t know how long.

"I had to do a UFC interview the next day and I had no voice left and my hands were still blue. Those who don’t understand just don’t matter.

"Paddy was saying he hoped we go down. When Liverpool lost the league and Champions League, I didn’t need to rub it in Paddy’s face because Everton hadn’t won anything but it was bittersweet.

"I have got an Everton poster in the changing room and he goes ‘get that down’ before he comes in."

In the octagon this weekend, McCann and Pimblett will aim to stay on the up and up.

Ben Miller Photo

Ben Miller is a content producer for The Sporting News.