Lina Länsberg (Facebook)

Observations in Women’s MMA: UFC Liverpool and Bellator 200

UFC Fight Night 130 in Liverpool, England, and Bellator 200 in London served up a number of significant fights that have had an impact on the women’s bantamweight and flyweight divisions. Here are the key stories to come out of these two events.

Molly McCann’s UFC Debut…

Entering the weekend, Liverpool native Molly McCann was the biggest flyweight prospect from her country. She’s a striker at heart and has the aggression, physicality, strength and power to find success. As impressive as McCann has been in her six-fight winning streak, she hasn’t shown the balance or depth of skills necessary to compete in the UFC.

The obvious issue is her one-dimensional and rather shallow wrestling game. McCann isn’t really a factor as an offensive wrestler. She is a complete liability on the defensive end, too. She leans heavily on her physical attributes and aggression to limit takedown finishes and to scare off opposition from takedown attempts for fear of being punished with strikes.


This falls right in line with her underdeveloped ground game. McCann can’t keep fights on the feet, create scrambles or get back to a standing position constantly when taken down. She can be forced into extended grappling exchanges and lacks the awareness, savvy and technique to neutralize, counter or attack on the ground.

The second and more concerning issue is the lack of connectivity in McCann’s striking. She is a headhunter, which is a terrible thing to be when one has no real takedown defense. She also has an inconsistent jab and a propensity for throwing single power shots instead of combinations. This limits the effectiveness of her power, aggression and physicality. It also makes her very predictable, which could expose her defensively and limit her offensively. If you’re going to be one-dimensional, the least you can do is be very measured and layered in that dimension. McCann is not.

McCann and her camp have clearly been coasting on the concept of “don’t fix it if it’s not broken.” This is fine — you don’t need to fix something that isn’t broken — but a fighter and their camp can always improve. McCann’s camp hasn’t done that. This is what led to her being thoroughly outclassed on the ground and essentially neutered on the feet by Gillian Robertson. McCann was at a tremendous technical disadvantage with such porous wrestling defense and grappling, but there are specific things she could have done to better her chances.

First, there’s the jab, up jab, body jab and jab feint. These strikes would have helped her control distance and keep Robertson from changing levels. Furthermore, it would have set up McCann’s power shots by blinding Robertson with the jab or feinting and getting Robertson to show her hand, which makes it easier to counter her.

Second, McCann could have punched to the body. Most mixed martial artists aren’t used to or comfortable with body shots, so they have no real ability to counter them, much less maintain their poise or aggression when being strafed with them. The body is always available to be hit, which helps an opponent find a rhythm on the feet, control her opponent’s forward pressure, puncture her gas tank and have her hands/arms in position to defend takedowns more effectively.

Finally, McCann could have lowered her stance a bit more. As the shorter fighter, she would make it that much harder for her opponent to change levels. She would also make it that much easier to punish attempts with strikes and keep from standing tall when pressuring or throwing, which would limit the opportunity to be taken down.

McCann could have also worked on circling and setting traps to force Robertson to over-pursue or overextend. This would have set the table for Robertson to be countered or, at the very least, improve McCann’s ability to defend and punish takedown attempts. In a division full of effective takedown artists and high-quality grapplers like Lauren Murphy, Roxanne Modafferi, Barb Honchak and Alexis Davis, the holes McCann has in her striking essentially serve her up for takedown attempts. The Brit lacks both the width and depth of skills to defend or counter those attempts, which once again exposes her extremely shallow ground game.

McCann needs to get better sparring and face opponents who can routinely take her down, control her and submit her. She needs to take her lumps in those realms and develop the seasoning to allow her to maintain her poise and develop the patience, structure and awareness necessary to implement counters, defenses and attacks on the ground.

You can’t just game-plan a whole aspect of MMA — not if you want continued success. In spots, the tweaks to her approach to stand up and the techniques she uses can limit an opponent’s ability to press a grappling exchange. McCann needs to retool and refine her overall wrestling and grappling. Right now, it’s just not good enough, especially given the one-note approach she has to striking.

…and Gillian Robertson’s Win

Robertson has the look, athletic talent, aggression and a finisher’s mentality. Mix that with a surprisingly savvy counterpunching stand-up game and a submission-, transition- and scramble-heavy grappling game, and you have a woman who could be a problem moving forward — if given the time to develop.

The UFC loves to ruin prospects by giving them too much too soon. It did this with Paige VanZant, for example. The organization should not go the same route with Robertson. Her offensive wrestling is still a little too reliant on athleticism and aggression. Her aggression still hasn’t been tempered, and her dependency on scrambles to get off when grappling is going to be problematic for her as she moves up in the division.

Right now, Robertson’s ability to get fights to the ground and finish them is good enough. However, this is only due to the level of competition she’s seen. Robertson has faced comparably inexperienced opponents like Emily Whitmire and one-dimensional, underdeveloped fighters like McCann. She does not need to be served up to a Valentina Shevchenko, a Modafferi or a Sijara Eubanks right now. The UFC should keep giving her winnable fights against comparable opposition. She can fight and does have potential, but it can quickly get beaten out of her if she is moved too far too fast.

Gina Mazany Falls to Lina Länsberg

Gina Mazany’s loss to Lina Länsberg at UFC Fight Night 130 was a big hit to Mazany. Mazany faced a fairly one-dimensional striker who isn’t hard to find. Länsberg is on the decline. She isn’t as durable or well conditioned as she was previously, and she is beginning to become very hittable and fights in a style and range that guaranteed opportunities for Mazany to ply her trade.

With all those things working for her, Mazany was still unable to eke out a win, much less generate any really definitive offense to indicate that she is moving in the right direction. She got the fight she wanted. It was grinding, physical, punishing and busy. Mazany even managed to exhaust Länsberg, particularly noticeable by how easy the “world-class” striker was touched up by the willing but incredibly limited Mazany at boxing range.

However, these moments of success were both short-lived and muted. Länsberg outworked, dismantled and beat up Mazany. She punished Mazany with combos of elbows and knees to the body, sapping Mazany’s energy and taking away any advantages the Xtreme Couture fighter may have had in youth, pacing or style.

Mazany fought her fight, but she seemed unaware of whom she was fighting and how that played into her hands. Mazany repeatedly clinched, getting into extended exchanges along the fence and working for takedowns. This allowed Länsberg to find comfort and flex her clinch-fighting chops. Mazany was unable to control position, which hindered her ability to get in position to get clean takedowns or to gain control when takedowns were achieved. This was due in large part to Länsberg’s aforementioned skill in the clinch and the fact that she had the fence behind her, which allowed her to work her way back up to her feet.

Mazany is a tough, durable, punishing, grinding, aggressive fighter. However, much like in McCann’s case, Mazany’s skills in her style of fighting are both shallow and thin. This limits any and all success she could have as a result. Due in large part to her predictability, lack of options and inability to develop any cohesion between her wrestling and grappling, Mazany has been exposed as both underdeveloped and underskilled.

Mazany found a way to lose a fight where she had the advantage, both stylistically and physically. She is still young and seems to have the attributes to be better than she is, but it’s going to take a more concerted effort in both her physical, strategic and technical preparation for her to make any real headway. At this level, with good-but-limited physical tools, a fighter can’t just outhustle, out-fight and grind out everyone.

Meanwhile, Länsberg has shown that she isn’t on a contender’s level. She neither has the power, youth or athleticism to supplement her striking or to allow her to navigate her lack of refinement in the areas of wrestling and grappling. Länsberg has a contested win over Lucie Pudilova, a decisive loss to Aspen Ladd and now one clear win over the least-experienced, least-seasoned and least-developed girl in the promotion.

Länsberg is a barometer by which prospects can be gauged. Her value as one of the best fighters in the division is tenuous at best. She is experienced, poised, durable and mentally tough, but she’s also still painfully one-dimensional in a division that may be thin but is full of fighters who have the athletic, technical and strategic skills necessary to expose her and definitively defeat her.

Bellator’s Flyweights

Kate Jackson is a journeywoman. She’s good in many areas, but she’s not great in any one area. It’s this functional effectiveness across the board that allows her to stay relevant in the ever-changing landscape of women’s MMA.

There isn’t a range where Jackson can’t compete, survive and win in, regardless of level of opposition. The awareness and situational IQ that comes as a result of competing often and exploring all aspects of MMA gives her a high value as a barometer of what a fighter has to offer and where they need to grow to achieve their potential.

Jackson will outhustle, outsmart, outclass and maybe scuff up opponents a bit. However, she won’t ruin a prospect or be particularly punishing to an established veteran who may have had one war too many. Jackson has enough wins, name recognition and skill to justify putting her in on short notice against a highly ranked contender or a champion. Fighters like Jackson are a necessity in combat sports. They do more to shape the direction of divisions and the development of stars than any promotion, coaching staff or fight team ever could.

Anastasia Yankova was thoroughly undressed by Jackson at Bellator 200. Yankova is a kickboxer with an extensive kyokushin background. She has shown aggression, activity, durability and a surprising technical acumen, comfort and awareness on the ground. What she lacks is balance and savvy, which was highlighted in her fight with Jackson.

Jackson forced Yankova into spots she wasn’t used to being put into. The Brit fought her on every level in every position and knew when, where and how to punish, rest and control. The feel, the nuance, the layers of knowledge and the experience is what determined the outcome of their fight.

Yankova lacks the more subtle aspects of grappling. She was nowhere near athletic enough to make up for the lack of refinement and seasoning needed to overcome the gap in experience, quality of opposition and pacing. Yankova’s blend of physicality and activity wasn’t enough against an opponent who has been in action against better levels of athlete and more developed strikers, wrestlers and grapplers. The Russian can fight, but there are levels to this. Yankova hit the max at Bellator 200.