You know the saying goes “never say never.” For years UFC President Dana White stated that female MMA fighters would never fight in his organization, but now he’s eating those words. In a recent Sports Illustrated article White announced that a women’s division being added to the UFC roster “is absolutely going to happen.”
So why did White have a change of heart? It has a lot to do with Ronda Rousey, the current and undefeated bantamweight Strikeforce champion. White was so impressed with Rousey’s amazing fight performance in 2012 that he had to give strong consideration to making a dramatic change in the Ultimate Fighting Championship. In fact, Rousey will be the first female fighter to sign a deal to compete in the UFC. A timeframe for when this move will materialize isn’t known at this time. As Rousey’s manager Darin Harvey noted she still has three fights under her Strikeforce contract.
White has contended for a long time, as recently as early 2012, that female fighters have no place in the sport’s highest ranks due to the lackluster interest from MMA fans, the lack of competition among the women’s divisions, and the quality of fighting. But Rousey, 25, has excelled as a MMA fighter, which caught White’s attention. With her stellar professional winning record – she beat six opponents by submission with an armbar in the first round of each fight – White was convinced he may have been wrong. When the California native beat former champion Mishea Tate in 73 seconds in the first round of their match in March it was then that White seriously started contemplating adding a women’s division.
Part of White’s reasoning for not adding women to the UFC roster in the past has been the lack of good female fights. However, he recently expressed in an interview with Yahoo! Sports that with fighters such as Tate, Cris “Cyborg” Santos and Sara McMann, who he considers first-rate fighters, this is an opportunity to bring a major addition to the organization.
White definitely feels Rousey is the right female to spearhead this dramatic change when it comes to introducing the new division to the fans. And this is why: “People who are nasty and technically sound and have that attitude, I love them. She’s an Olympic medalist and she’s got a great history, but she’s in the gym all the time. She’s a dude in a girl’s body. She loves to beat the [expletive] out of people and she’s serious about getting better. She’s not saying, ‘I’m the champ and I’ve beaten everyone in the first round,’ and taking a victory tour. She’s up there in Stockton working with the Diaz brothers, trying to get better,” White stated in an interview with Yahoo! Sports.
Houston: We Have a Problem
Although it’s great to know that White is committed to a women’s division even if he doesn’t know if it will happen “next month or next year,” there seems to be just one small problem. If the undefeated Rousey beats every female fighter in the first round, and with the same armbar move, how long will the excitement last?
It’s true, Rousey does have the red carpet Hollywood looks along with the MMA abilities to let people know she is the real deal. She does have the right “attitude” meaning brash and outspoken, along with the sound bites that reporters love. She may be the right person to change audiences’ minds about having women in the UFC, especially since she has a large fan base – over 133,000 followers on Twitter. All of this makes the Olympic medalist a marketing dream for White. However, there is only one Rousey who is the ‘star.’ Again, how long will the excitement last?
Also, how will White provide regular fights inside the octagon with such a thin roster of women fighters? This is something he was worried about, which is why he never wanted women in the UFC. Hopefully he will truly develop a women’s division with varying weight classes, actively seek out female fighters all around the world, and not focus all his attention on Rousey. Putting all his hope on the California native would be a mistake since she could get injured and be out of commission for awhile or she might head to Hollywood, like former MMA darling Gina Carano did when she traded in her gloves for an acting career.
Once White does institute a women’s division in the UFC there’s no denying this will be a historic moment for female MMA fighters. Other than women’s boxing being added to the Olympics this year, females fighting in the UFC would be one of the biggest advancements in women’s sports in the past 20 years.
White also intends to have female fighters compete on the same level as the male fighters, including pay-per-view events. Just like the guys who are popular in the UFC, fighters like Rousey and Santos could also make huge paycheck for their participation. This would truly signify that women warriors are making tremendous gains in a male dominated sport. Such a move on the part of UFC and White will also help fill a void for many women who currently train and want to compete in mixed martial arts. Although organizations such as Strikeforce and Invicta Fighting Championships have always supported female fighters the move into the UFC, the biggest stage for male or female fighters, would turn a page in this sport. White’s about-face may prove to be a historic moment for the UFC and women in a world of combat sports.
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