BEHIND THE SCENES MMA ARTICLES & INTERVIEWS
Women’s Mixed Martial Arts on the Big Stage
By Christopher ‘sLapDatSuCKa’ Jester
When UFC President Dana White eyes something that can be very lucrative for him, he finds every way to get what he wants. The same can be said when he witnessed the potential draw of Strikeforce Women’s Champion Ronda Rousey. Rousey appeared to come out of nowhere; figuratively and literally snapping off arms by armbar along the way to a championship belt. A successful title defense later, Rousey, whom some would call a fluke waiting to happen, disappointed the fans who wanted to see her fail. Ever since then the women’s mixed martial arts star has skyrocketed to a significant fighter in the sport.
And with that, so has the possibility of the inclusion of women’s MMA in the grandest stage of them all – the Ultimate Fighting Championship. Yet, it was no easy approach to the thought of including women into the most successful mixed martial arts organization. Dana White turned down the idea for years stating that women’s MMA was not profitable nor had it any depth. That must have changed with the sudden rise of Ronda Rousey, who has become women’s MMA biggest star.
However, in a recent interview with Sports Illustrated, Dana White stated that women fighting in the UFC is “absolutely going to happen”. This is a far cry from where he stood on the situation a year ago. Ronda Rousey is likely to take much of the credit of White’s sudden change. The 135 pound Olympic Gold Medalist Judoka has became relevant because of her brash way of speaking and her snapping submissions. This tool helped her get a title shot against then Strikeforce Champion Miesha Tate. Whether it is never going out the first round and all of her wins are by armbar submission, or the way she talks a good game, Ronda Rousey is without a doubt marketable. This has made her a precious commodity to the UFC, and Dana White surely knows now is the opportunity to cash in on this source of income.
Giving one woman credit for the sudden change is a bit too much, however. While it may be partially true that Ronda Rousey has played her part in helping Dana White change his mind about women’s MMA, none of this could be possible without Strikeforce and Invicta FC. Zuffa-owned Strikeforce may be one foot out of the door but it was them that helped put women’s MMA on television. Big names like Gina Carano and Cris Cyborg became synonymous with women’s MMA due to Strikeforce. Gina Carano was the first major figure in this division, and helped pave the way for women like Rousey. However, Invicta FC has to take some credit too. The all-women promotion proved that it could be a draw and put on great competitive fights between women all by themselves. Although still a fledgling company, Invicta FC is a blueprint to women’s success in this sport.
There are major draws in the women’s divisions besides Ronda Rousey. Sarah Kaufmann remains one of the more prolific strikers in the women division outside of Cris Cyborg once she returns. Marloes Coenen, Sara McMann, Shayna Baszler, Liz Carmouche, and Kaitlin Young are all names that are familiar to fans of women’s MMA. But what is it that remains the biggest problem of including women in the UFC?
The fans. Who knows if the fans are ready for women in the UFC yet? Invicta FC works because it has separated women fighters into their own organization. Therefore, fans who want to see women fight can go watch an Invicta FC event. The same cannot be said once they are included in the UFC. UFC fans may not be ready to see women fighting in the Octagon.
Some UFC fans do not take kindly to the launch of new divisions. Take the new UFC flyweight division for an example. Some fans ridicule this 125-pound male division. The recent John Dodson versus Jussier Formiga fight was met with an overwhelming amount of boos. Even the first Flyweight championship between Demetrious Johnson and Joseph Benavidez was faced with criticism from the audience. Given that the lighter weight classes has had a tough time trying to make their place in the UFC, it is hard not to say that the women’s divisions are going to be any different. It is more likely that they will get a rougher experience from the fans.
Unfortunately, this all ties back to Ronda Rousey. Will including the women’s divisions falter if Ronda Rousey were to lose her title? Possibly, but only if she were to lose to someone who is not as big of a draw as she is. This is why a superfight between her and Cris Cyborg on UFC soil makes sense. All criticisms aside about Cris Cyborg, she is a formidable challenge to anyone. Moreover, what could be more exciting than how both women take out their respective opponents? Whether it is Rousey’s arm-splitting armbar’s or Cyborg’s powerful strikes, the UFC will need exciting champions to keep the women’s divisions afloat.
At the present moment, all of this is just talk. Until the UFC brings the women’s divisions into its fold, it is all wait and see for the fans. Nevertheless, women’s MMA will have its benefits and its pitfalls. Any true fan of mixed martial arts will not mind seeing two competitive fighters going to war despite their gender. Some however may say otherwise, which makes the inclusion of women in the UFC a potential disaster for Zuffa. It will have to become more about the women’s divisions as a whole rather than one woman. But regardless of the situation, seeing women one day in the UFC says a lot about the growth of the sport.
Follow Christopher “sLapDatSuCKa” Jester on Twitter @sLapDatSuCka
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