This was UFC President Dana White’s response when asked in Jan. of 2011 when we’d see women fighting in the Ultimate Fighting Championship.
He was wrong. Just over two years from that comment, White found himself sitting cage side watching a pair of females headline a UFC pay-per-view event.
UFC 157, which took place a few weekends ago on Feb. 23, was the first UFC card to feature women’s mixed martial arts. Ronda Rousey and Liz Carmouche fought for both the women’s bantamweight title and acceptance in the male-dominated sport.
The UFC’s dive into women’s MMA was sparked by one thing: Ronda Rousey. This isn’t speculation. White has admitted it as such.
The company saw Rousey as the perfect vehicle for the sport. She’s a young, attractive and wildly talented fighter with an edgy personality. She also holds an Olympic bronze medal in judo.
The UFC probably didn’t take on women’s MMA because it was the right and fair thing to do. In reality, the owners saw dollar signs. Rousey was starting to become a popular figure within the sport, and they decided to build the division around her.
I have no problem with the UFC’s strategy. Women’s MMA needed an ambassador, and Rousey more than fits that role. If anything, it’s a bold and admirable move by the UFC — especially when the promotion is still struggling to wrap the public’s heads around men’s MMA.
Now, after dumping all of its stock into her, how would the UFC handle a Rousey loss in her debut? We’ll never know. She further proved why the company made a sound investment by beating Carmouche in a dramatic scrap.
Rousey-Carmouche went better than the UFC could have ever imagined. If I were any more of a conspiracy theorist, I’d claim it was scripted.
Early in the fight, Rousey shook off a vicious neck crank attempt from Carmouche. She then got on top of Carmouche and secured her signature armbar to close the title match with only seconds remaining in the first round.
Rousey faced adversity and came out on top. She looks beatable, yet still comes off as a feared killer. Ka-ching.
What makes the historic night even more powerful was that everyone was watching. The event tallied an estimated 500,000 pay-per-view buys. Male or female headliner, that’s a great number.
The UFC sold more tickets to 157 than to any other event it’s held at the Honda Center in Anaheim, Calif.
What do Brock Lesnar, Cain Velasquez, and Anderson Silva all have in common? They couldn’t put more butts in the seats than Ronda Rousey and Liz Carmouche.
The press coverage was just as wild. White said 157 set a record for media attention given to a UFC card. In the lead up to the fight, Rousey did a piece for HBO while Carmouche was out getting interviewed by Larry King. The event transcended the usual UFC audience.
The mass viewership only makes the results of the fight more important. I can’t stress how significant it is that the average Joe didn’t tune in for a sloppy backyard fight between two girls. Instead, they saw a display of technical skill and ability expected from a high-level men’s bout.
The UFC didn’t just put on the first sanctioned female fight. Women’s MMA has been around for ages. There’s even an all-female promotion, the Invicta Fighting Championships.
What the UFC is doing for women’s MMA is comparable to what the NBA did for women’s basketball. It’s giving the sport a legitimate league, an equal platform.
I don’t think the quest for acceptance ended at UFC 157. Women’s MMA has a long way to go before it’s truly established. But with the UFC in its corner, I like the sport’s chances.