History was made this weekend just a short drive down the 57 south from Cal State Fullerton.
UFC 157 took place on Saturday in front of a sellout crowd at Anaheim’s Honda Center, with the main event featuring two female fighters in a championship tilt. This marked the first time that two women had ever battled in the “octagon,” and with the entire world watching, they took center stage.
The fight may have only lasted one round but that round showcased dramatic back-and-forth action from both fighters. Early on, the heavy favorite Ronda “Rowdy” Rousey found her foe Liz Carmouche on her back trying to sink in a rear-naked choke. However, Rousey shook Carmouche off of her back and took control of the fight. With about a minute to go in the round, it was clear that Rousey was attempting her signature move -the armbar- and forced Carmouche to tap out with only 11 seconds to go in the round. Rousey successfully defended her UFC bantamweight championship title.
With the victory, Rousey remained undefeated (7-0)—all first round victories, and all by the way of the armbar. Through Rousey, the sport of women’s MMA has not only put female fighters in the forefront, but also has created a bonafide superstar to lead the sport to new heights not ever seen before. I believe that Rousey can single-handedly make women’s MMA the most popular sport for females.
Another female fighter that reached the 7-0 mark may have initially changed the mind of diehard fans about women in the sport. Five years ago on national television, Gina “Conviction” Carano demolished Kaitlyn Young in a bout for the now defunct EliteXC organization. Carano had a great skill set with great work ethic and the looks to match.
Much of the same can be said about Rousey when she was featured in last year’s ESPN The Magazine’s “The Body Issue.” Her sex appeal, however, is outmatched by her competitive nature and will to win. In addition to the UFC women’s bantamweight championship and an undefeated record in MMA, she took home a bronze medal in the 2008 Olympics in Beijing in the sport of judo. Rousey also stated that a career in MMA for her would not be possible if it weren’t for Carano.
Rousey is fast becoming one of MMA’s biggest stars. Nothing makes this more apparent than the fact that Rousey is the single reason that the UFC ever even considered having a women’s fight. Outspoken president of the organization, Dana White, had made comments for years that UFC will never have women competing.
This all changed months ago as Rousey took home her first championship in the now-defunct Strikeforce organization. White saw potential in Rousey as a superstar, and even made comments in December that the women’s bantamweight division in the UFC would essentially be “the Ronda Rousey show.”
Since Rousey’s introduction to the UFC, White has been nothing but supportive and has pushed Rousey into the spotlight as the representative of women’s MMA in the organization. This is a far cry from his initial comments that there would never be a women’s fight in the organization.
Rousey was not the only interesting story regarding women’s MMA in that cage, as her opponent brought another dimension to the historic event. Carmouche, Rousey’s opponent, was the first-ever openly gay fighter to step into the UFC’s octagon. Carmouche is openly lesbian and a veteran of the Marines who served when the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy was in effect. White has been very vocal with praise for Carmouche and her bravery regarding her sexual orientation.
The fight at the Honda Center on Saturday amounted to the highest attendance there has ever been for a UFC event there with 15,525 in the arena. This is especially staggering when taking into consideration that the UFC has held many events in the same venue, including their very first nationally televised free event UFC on Fox in November 2011. Though final pay-per-view numbers will not be released for a couple days, all indications point to very strong numbers that even eclipse the UFC’s Super Bowl weekend card, which is one of their marquee cards of the year.
The sky’s the limit for Rousey and the sport of women’s MMA. As it continues to grow, I believe that Rousey can help make women’s MMA the biggest female sport in the world. Mixed martial arts is the fastest growing sport in the world, and the female divisions of the sport will follow it.
There has been a drastic difference between the coverage that male sports get when compared to the amount that female sports get. However, the exposure that Rousey has received from this last fight is a step in the right direction. Even White himself stated that Rousey gets more media attention than “any UFC fighter ever.”
With the WNBA decreasing in viewership and attendance, the U.S women’s national soccer team only getting exposure during the Olympics and World Cup and the Williams sisters in tennis getting older, Ronda Rousey may be the greatest hope for more exposure for women in the sporting world. If conquering her past challenges is any indication of how she will handle her growing media attention, Rousey will not be going down without a fight.