By Jillian Bullock
Now that it’s official, according to UFC President Dana White, women will fight in the UFC. White who had always been an outspoken critic regarding women fighting for the number one MMA organization recently changed his tune when he inked a deal with Strikeforce bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey. During an appearance on The Jim Rome Show, White stated: “Yes, it’s official. Ronda Rousey did sign with the UFC. She has the credentials, the pedigree; I mean everything. She has the whole package.”
Rousey, the first U.S. woman to win a medal in judo, even took to twitter: “Okay I admit it…I’m officially a @ufc fighter SO excited! Can’t wait to debut! Let @danawhite know who you want my 1st opponent to be!”
So what could have possibly made White do a complete about face considering that as early as a few months ago he still was adamant about the UFC never inviting women fighters into its fold? Rousey’s rising stardom, her popularity, her impressive perfect professional fight record (9-0), and her potential to be a cash cow for the organization may have helped reverse White’s decision.
THE GOLDEN CHILD
When White describes Rousey as “a f—ing dude trapped in this beautiful body,” that is part of what he means by having the “whole package.” But he also speaks about her aggression and how exciting she is as a fighter. In each of the California native’s amateur and professional fights Rousey has become known for finishing her opponents with her signature move, the armbar. Her fights have all been stopped with this move during the first round.
HOW THE UFC WILL LOOK NOW?
Now that Zuffu, LLC, the parent company of the UFC and Strikeforce, has decided to close up shop on Strikeforce after the last event in January 2013, other female MMA fighters can sign on with UFC in order to help build the women’s division. According to National Post publication, White is considering only one weight class for women in the UFC – 135 pounds – when matches are scheduled.
Even though White looks to add a match featuring women fighters in 2013, the division will need to build slowly in order to make it a success. There are many great women fighters in MMA, including Tara LaRosa, Maroles Coenen, Miesha Tate, and Sarah Kaufman. But it seems the biggest draw for the first women’s match – a headlining fight – would be between Rousey and ex-Strikeforce featherweight champ Cristiane “Cyborg” Santos, who is currently on suspension after testing positive for an anabolic steroid – stanozolol. Santos originally defeated Hiroko Yamanaka by a first-round TKO on December 17, 2011. However, she was stripped of the title, the result of the fight was overturned, and she was placed on suspension for one year.
With only a few months left before she can return to fighting, White is psyched about a fight between Santos and Rousey. However, Santos has not expressed interest in fighting Rousey because she would have to drop weight from her current 145 to 135. If Santos refuses to meet the weight requirement her career will be uncertain.
Regardless of whom Rousey fights for her debut match in the UFC, White told MMAJunkie.com that it will be on a UFC pay-per-view card. Standing behind his decision to add women to the biggest stage for MMA fighters, White is also considering adding Rousey and another female fighter to the ranks of coaches for male fighters on the UFC’s reality show, The Ultimate Fighter.
WILL AUDIENCES WATCH FEMALES FIGHT IN THE UFC?
Even with the UFC backing women fighters there still seems to be a great deal of resistance among MMA media, fans, sponsors, and even male fighters as to how popular females will be in the organization.
Here are the reasons for some of the opposition:
- Many people in power, including Dana White until recently, feel female fighters aren’t marketable in a professional fight.
- Fans don’t want to see females fight. Just like women aren’t allowed to serve in combat positions in the military because nobody wants to see their daughters, sisters or mothers returning home in a body bag, the public doesn’t want to see female fighters do “battle” in the octagon.
- Some people feel women don’t possess the same excitement, skill, or talent as male fighters.
- Like many of the fans, some MMA fighters don’t want to see females fight either. Fox Sports noted that even UFC Welterweight champion Georges St. Pierre had reservations. After White announced the addition of Rousey to the UFC roster, GSP stated: “For the woman who fights, I say it’s good for her, and for the girls that fight, but me personally I have a hard time watching the girls fight. It’s the way I grew up maybe, the mentality is different; I’m old school. I have a hard time watching girls fighting.”
However, that statement didn’t go over well with Rousey or her rival Tate, who both were in agreement when they blasted GSP and called him ignorant. Tate was so infuriated with his statement that she listed the following on her official website: “I think the problem with GSP’s view about WMMA is that he doesn’t have one. If he hasn’t ever watched us women fight then he can’t say how he really feels about it because he’s ignorant.”
CAN WMMA BRING IN THE MONEY?
Despite those who are for or against women fighting in the octagon what is most important is profitability. Can women fighters bring in the money for the UFC?
Women MMA fighters have already proven they can draw a crowd and make a profit. Before MMA darling Gina Carano retired and went off to Hollywood to use her fighting skills in action movies, she opened the doors for women in mixed martial arts and marketability. With a huge following and immense popularity, Carano was able to pull in big numbers during TV bouts and ticket sales. In fact, when she fought Santos in 2009 it drew the second-highest rated MMA fight in the history of Showtime.
To further dispel the myth that female MMA fighters wouldn’t be marketable in the UFC take a look at Rousey, who is even more popular than Carano ever was. Case in point – she hasn’t even stepped one foot in the UFC octagon and yet she is already the fifth biggest star. If you were to Google her name the proof would prove that she falls in line behind Anderson Silva, Jon Jones, Chael Sonnen, and Georges St-Pierre. Earlier this year, she appeared in the annual ESPN Magazine body issue, which helped Rousey make an even bigger name for herself. In addition, to people’s surprise Rousey was also the first, and the only, MMA fighter to land a feature story in Sports Illustrated magazine. Considering all the other male MMA fighters and UFC champions who could have been chosen, Rousey getting this covert article proves she is definitely marketing material.
FIRST MATCH FOR WOMEN?
On the same day that Rousey signed her deal with the UFC her mortal enemy Tate also announced she inked a deal with the organization. Tate, who holds a professional fight record of 13-3, lost the bantamweight crown to Rousey this past March.
She posted her news via Twitter – “So Stoked to be fighting for the @UFC it’s been a dream of mine for a long time! SO happy it’s finally come true.”
It seems only fitting that these two warriors should be the first match for the women’s division considering Tate wants a chance to regain the bantamweight title. But whatever match is set, if White can manage to sign more female fighters, like Rousey and Tate, this historic moment in UFC will be a major success for women MMA fighters, the UFC, and of course, the fans.
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