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'I am going to make it': Perseverance builds toward another UFC opportunity for Montana's Marnic Mann

Posted at 9:16 PM, Apr 25, 2024
and last updated 2024-04-25 23:16:21-04

BOZEMAN — Chasing a dream isn't easy in sports, but those who make it to the top of grand stages have to bet on themselves if they want to make any dream a reality.

For one Kalispell native, she did exactly that in her pursuit of becoming a high-profile fighter, and on Saturday she'll make her second appearance in the Ultimate Fighting Championship as she represents Montana on the biggest stage.

MMA continues to grow around Montana, and this Saturday, taking front and center on this week's UFC Fight Night card, will be Marnic Mann. Mann and her opponent, Ketlen Souza of Brazil, are slated to be the fourth fight on the card, which begins at 2 p.m. in Las Vegas at the UFC APEX.

Born and raised in Kalispell and a 2011 graduate of Glacier High School, Mann, 31, played every sport growing up — from basketball, volleyball, soccer, track and field, hockey, and even motorcycle racing — but found combat sports and boxing in the latter half of high school.

"I started with boxing. And then it was later I started doing the grappling aspect, I trained for probably about a year or so," Mann told MTN Sports. "And then that's when I had my first MMA fight. And yeah, I guess kind of just went from there."

Went from there soon translated into a budding career in the sport.

Mann went 4-0 as an amateur fighter before turning pro where she quickly went 5-0, and got a shot on Dana White's Contender Series. It was there she suffered her first pro loss, but Mann didn't panic.

"It was the first time I have ever lost a fight," Mann recalled. "First time ever being stopped, first time ever being knocked out. And the fear of the unknown went away from that. And then, I'm always nervous about people's criticism, as well. So kind of all that stuff happened at once and I'm like, I'm okay, this is okay. And the worst thing that I could do is just feel sorry for myself and stay down.

"There was a point in my career, when I first started MMA there, you know, I was winning all my fights and stuff, but I was getting so nervous to compete, that I didn't want to do it. And then I was honest with myself that I'm letting my own fears dictate what I'm doing.

"So it's just confronting those things and being honest with yourself and keep pushing forward, because I can't let my nerves hold me back from things that I want to do, or else I wouldn't be here right now. You know, I made it to the UFC, I wouldn't have been able to do that if I would have quit any of the times I wanted to quit."

What followed was Mann getting right back into the fire and having an active year, and in September of last year it paid off as she was called back up to the UFC to make her debut, making her the second woman from Montana to officially make it to the UFC behind Butte's Ariel Beck.

"We have a lot of talent in Montana," Mann said. "And sometimes I feel like we're not recognized. When people fight us, they always say that we're super, super tough. And people would tell me that you're never going to make it while you're living in Montana, you're not going to be able to make it and I remember making a post on my social media saying, watch me I am going to make it, and I did."

Her husband, Gage Saunders, also is a professional MMA fighter.

The two met through competing and fighting, as they grew together.

"She's just a lot more confident in herself," Saunders said. "She believes in herself more, she's proven it to herself several times now, you know, she's beat really high level girls now and proving to herself that, you know, she can do this. So once you believe you can, you can.

"It’s super cool. When we started seeing each other, she was still an amateur. She hadn't gone pro yet. So I've got to watch her. Everything about her has changed, like how she fights, her body's changed, her technique has changed. Everything's evolved, except she's still the same, like genuine person that she's always been. So it's cool seeing her get to get her opportunity, because she deserves it."

There's a balance the two share on their paths, as they share this sport not just as teammates, but as a married couple, and the nuances that come with it.

"Being here together, it can be hell," Saunders said with a laugh. "We just went from one of us cutting weight to the next one cutting weight. When you're in camp, you can't really do anything fun, you know. So you kind of got to be comfortable with like, your date night is gonna be at the gym.

"Probably not going to get the same dinners for months on end together. But it's worth it because we get to share like kind of a special experiences that most people never, never get to experience."

The two moved to Bozeman a few years back where they now live and train. It was there they met Sammy Ater, one of Mann's primary training partners, who has helped her get to this point.

"I'm just so proud of her," Ater said. "I see her pretty much every single day of my life and she's working so much harder than I've seen anyone else work. She puts in the time, she puts in the effort. When she's here she's not just going through the motions. She's really making sure that she's present for every single moment that she can be."

But at the end of the day, it's a dangerous sport that can invoke fear and harm.

You have to be built different to pursue it, so for Marnic, why fighting?

"It just was something that I always felt like I should do," she said. "I knew I was strong, I knew I was tough. It's something that scared me a lot too. But there's things that if it scares you, you should probably do it. You know, sometimes we live too much in being in the comfort zone. So things people don't like to be uncomfortable or vulnerable. But that's where you grow as a person.

"Thing is with MMA it's super beautiful. It's a bunch of different arts put together. And it's just a beautiful thing. And you're an artist, and you get to show people, like the whole world, this is your canvas and you're going to make art in front of everybody. Maybe not everybody's going to like it. And that's okay. Not everybody likes the same stuff. But I love my art."

It's the artist's turn to showcase her skills once again, and that self-belief and never quit attitude have the Montanan ready to compete once again in the UFC for the Treasure State.

"I think they're lying if they say they're not scared," Mann said. "I'm a pretty genuine honest person about it. Maybe nerves, but also nervousness can also be like excitement as well. And I'm super excited and super prepared. So it inflicts a lot of different emotions. But I've learned that I just absolutely love what I do. I love this."