UFC Fight Island: Molly McCann on 'momentous moment' for Liverpool fighters

By Ben CollinsBBC Sport
Molly McCann at her weigh-in for Fight Island
Molly McCann's fifth UFC fight will be behind closed doors on Abu Dhabi's Yas Island

Ten years ago, Molly McCann and Chris Fishgold were working together at a bar in Liverpool.

Now they are UFC fighters, set to star in one of the biggest events in world sport at this moment.

In the early hours of Thursday, those "two little Scousers" will appear on the latest Fight Island show having flown out to Abu Dhabi's luxurious Yas Island with their four-man corner team.

It's a far cry from the Rubber Soul bar, yards from the Cavern Club where the Beatles honed their craft.

"We're working class heroes," McCann told BBC Sport. "We were just kids working on Mathew Street. He was on the door, I was a shot girl.

"Now the Meatball and the Fishman are on Fight Island, getting to live this kind of luxury.

"This is such a momentous moment, having fights on an island in the midst of a pandemic, and it's a mad piece of history for six working-class people from Liverpool."

Having to train in 'a prison cell'

This is the culmination of a fight camp like no other for McCann, who was encouraged to try mixed martial arts by Fishgold. Firstly, her fight in London on 21 March became the first UFC event to be cancelled because of the coronavirus pandemic.

But with UFC president Dana White determined to host events with no fans, McCann kept training on her own to make sure she was ready if called upon.

The flyweight, 30, put a boxing bag in her back garden, where she trained twice a day. "I say garden - I live in a terraced house so it's a yard," she said. "It's like a prison cell.

"But that's how I've come up, that's how I learnt my trade. MMA fighters know how to adapt, it's your job to overcome anything that's thrown at you, and it's times like these when you find out who the real mixed martial artists are."

She also bought a road bike, one day cycling 60 miles to the Welsh border and back. She then had to start acclimatising for the heat of the Middle East after she and Fishgold, 28, got the call from the UFC.

"I was wise to stay on top of it because I knew Dana was going to say 'Fight Island, here we go, you're on'," said McCann.

'This is the price you pay to live your dream'

While Fight Island is luxury, the event is being run "like a military operation". McCann and her team from Next Generation MMA have been tested several times for coronavirus and spent 48 hours in separate hotel rooms at Heathrow Airport before flying out last Wednesday.

After quarantining again on arrival, they had time to enjoy the attractions of Yas Island, where more than 2,500 UFC personnel and island employees will be housed in a 'Safe Zone'.

After flying out business class, the team are staying in a five-star hotel and have relaxed by the pool, played golf and been out on jet skis.

They've also been training together in the dark, to help McCann and Fishgold's body clocks adjust because they will be fighting early Thursday morning local time. But now they've had the weigh-ins, the team are back in quarantine till the fight.

Molly McCann and friends on jetskis at Yas Island
Molly McCann and friends made the most of their time while being out of quarantine at Yas Island

To help pass the time, they've been FaceTiming each other while McCann has read self-help books such as Legacy - on New Zealand's all-conquering All Blacks - and written in a gratitude book every day.

"When you make weight you can normally go for a meal with your team and there's so much gratitude at that table," said McCann. "You're finally there because the fight before the fight is making weight.

"I felt bad for a bit but then I thought 'wise up Moll, this is the price you have to pay to live your dream in this time, this new normal'.

"I'm so grateful that I'm working for a company which is moving heaven and earth to make sure we get fights in."

'To be put on such a stage - I've actually cried a few times'

Fight Island began on Saturday with Kamaru Usman beating Jorge Masvidal at UFC 251. The second event sees McCann face Brazil's Talia Santos in her fifth UFC fight.

Fishgold has his fourth on the same card, a featherweight bout with American Jared Gordon, before Fight Island has another two shows on 18 and 25 July.

The latter features two more Liverpool fighters in action, with middleweight Darren Till headlining against Australia's Robert Whittaker, while featherweight Mike Grundy faces Russia's Movsar Evloev.

"Dana White's picked fighters he knows he'll get good fights out of, and to be picked to be one of them, to be put on such a stage, there's just no words," McCann added. "I've actually cried a few times in my hotel room thinking how lucky I am to represent my city and my country.

"We don't get to wear an England jersey or come out to God Save The Queen, but we'll be going out with our St George's flag. I feel like it's when America put the stars and stripes on the moon!"

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