Sara McMann became the third woman to win a fight in the UFC, and the third to do so by finish, as she defeated Sheila Gaff by first-round TKO Saturday on the undercard of UFC 159: Jones vs. Sonnen in Newark, N.J.
McMann, the first American women to win a silver medal in Olympic wrestling when she accomplished the feat at 2004 Games in Athens, extended her unbeaten record in professional MMA to 7-0 with an impressive display of grappling punctuated by a stoppage due to strikes at 4:06 of the first round over her German opponent as both made their Octagon debuts.
Gaff (10-5-1), who had before never lost by knockout, was aggressive from the opening bell, running forward and looking to strike, but she was taken down immediately by the accomplished wrestler. From there, McMann used her wrestling prowess to control Gaff on the mat before they eventually got back to the feet.
From the clinch late in the round, McMann absorbed a number of knees from Gaff, while working hard for a single-leg takedown. She finally got it and moved straight to mounted crucifix. From there, she displayed her grappling savvy to keep Gaff in a hopeless position with her head vulnerable to a steady onslaught of punches. After about a dozen blows that the 23-year-old Gaff was unable to stop, the referee finally stepped in to end it.
"I was trying to get some elbows in there too, but I didn't have the right range for it," McMann said. “But I thought if I keep executing it and make sure I can keep her in that position and she can't roll through, they're going to stop it."
McMann now joins UFC women’s bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey and Cat Zingano as the two previous female winners in the Octagon. Rousey won by armbar over Liz Carmouche at UFC 157 on Feb. 23 in the first-ever UFC women’s fight and Zingano stopped Tate by TKO at The Ultimate Fighter 17 finale two weeks ago.
The 32-year-old McMann, who last competed in Invicta FC in July, said she drew on her past experiences in major competitions -- including the Olympics and a half-dozen wrestling world championships -- to prepare herself for the big stage of the UFC.
"I just kept telling myself all week, this is the kind of pressure at world championships ... which helped me to deal with nervousness from the size of the crowd and everything," McMann said.
The last two fights of the preliminary card on Sportsnet featured a couple strange finishes.
First, Strikeforce veteran Ovince St. Preux made his UFC debut a winning one, but only after a controversial referee stoppage sent the fight to the judges’ scorecards before the end of the third round in a rare technical decision.
After two rounds that saw a more aggressive St. Preux earn a slight edge even as both fighters seemed to gas in the middle frame, his light-heavyweight opponent Gian Villante took an accidental eyepoke just a half-minute into the final frame. Villante immediately pulled away in visible pain. Crouching by the cage, the referee asked him without any delay, “Can you see?” Villante replied no, and the ref then said the fight’s over.
Not realizing the referee was going to call off the fight so abruptly, Villante pleaded to say he could keep fighting, but the referee insisted it was too late.
By rule, a fight stopped due to an unintentional foul in the final round must go to the judges with them having to give a full score for the partial final round. The three scored it 30-28, 30-29 and 29-29 for a majority technical decision.
The result led many on Twitter to call for the eyepoke rule to be amended to allow a fighter to have five minutes to recover before a decision to stop the bout is made, similar to the case of a groin strike.
The very next bout also ended with a referee stoppage as Rustan Khabilov won his second UFC fight by TKO after a suplex just like his debut -- only this time it was due to a thumb injury sustained by his opponent Yancy Medeiros.
The Russian Khabilov, who won in spectacular fashion in December, showed off his Sambo skills, eventually lifting Medeiros for a slam. While he didn’t quite get the full suplex, he did manage the takedown and after a little more action, Medeiros told the referee to look at his hand. It was discovered that he’d dislocated his thumb, leading to a TKO stoppage win for Khabilov at 2:32 of the first round.
Earlier, bantamweight Bryan Caraway won by guillotine choke over Johnny Bedford with just 16 seconds left in what was the third latest submission in UFC history in a three-round fight.
Caraway, who infamously lost a split decision to Takeya Mizugaki in his last fight in March after his girlfriend Miesha Tate told him she thought he was up two rounds and could “coast” in the third, didn’t take any risks this time around. Displaying strong wrestling through the first two rounds, Caraway came on strong late in the third. From top position, Caraway pulled Bedford into a full guard guillotine but it wasn’t tight enough, so he rolled over into mount to finish it off.
The only other two UFC fights to end by submission later in the third were Forrest Griffin over Mauricio (Shogun) Rua at UFC 76 in September 2007 (4:45) and Cole Miller over Jorge Gurgel at UFC 86 in July 2008 (4:48).
In two online prelims, (Super) Steven Siler defeated Kurt Holobaugh by unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28, 29-28) after pulling away with superior striking in the third, and Cody McKenzie took Leonard Garcia down at will in a unanimous-decision victory (30-27, 30-27, 29-28) to hand Garcia his fifth straight loss.